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It used to be that virtual reality (VR) was the stuff of science fiction. Now, as technology continues to rapidly advance, things we used to only see in Star Trek episodes are available for sale. This is especially exciting for the video game industry.
The gaming world has kept pace with new developments, making use of just about every new technology they can. One of the more popular integrations has been augmented reality (AR), like with the Nintendo DS system and games like Pokémon GO. AR allows users to place objects or games directly into their real-life environment through the use of their device’s camera — but it’s not quite as immersive and engaging as VR gaming. With players engaging with AR at such a high rate, it’s no surprise that VR gaming has been welcomed with open arms. The more widely adopted VR becomes, the more accessible and affordable it is for a larger number of players.
A New Level of Engagement
VR gaming is generally characterized by eye-wear or a headset that allows the user to see the virtual world they’re interacting with. Additionally, there are sometimes hand controls that give the user the ability to touch or trigger different objects within that world. These can be as complicated as haptic gloves or as simple as small handheld controllers.
This equipment allows users to truly immerse themselves in a digital environment. The headsets usually block out all outside visual and auditory stimulus, making it seem as if the user is actually deep within the simulated world in front of them. The added level of being able to actually act within this world via hand controls only further improves how “real” it can feel for the user.
Prior to wearable VR technology, some immersive digital experiences existed — think of those “roller coaster ride” booths you could try at the local mall. They were huge, seated six to eight people, and required an operator to control them from the outside. These types of simulators, however, paved the way for VR gaming.
Some of the earlier immersive video games were in arcades. They usually consisted of an entire booth with a curved screen and chairs that moved or jolted with the game. With wearable technology, however, there’s no need for an entire booth to play an immersive video game that feels as if the user truly is inside the game.
New Opportunities for Brands
As video games have grown and expanded in both their technology and their audiences, more and more brands have recognized opportunities in this industry. Mountain Dew sponsors competitive gaming, and major console companies sponsor popular streamers in exchange for playing their games live. With VR technology spreading to individual homes, there are now even more ways for brands to get in front of gaming audiences.
For example, Google launched a series of cardboard VR viewers ranging from $5 to $20. The viewers are meant to pair with a variety of different smartphones and are the single most low-cost way for a new user to experience VR. Of course the biggest branding move here is on the part of Google as the viewing devices are called “Google Cardboard.”
Now with 3D printing, it’s a snap for brands to create their own custom VR headsets to send home with customers. They can choose the color and shape of the viewer while also taking the opportunity to apply their company logos somewhere easily identifiable. Users get an easy-to-use VR gaming experience, and brands get a simple entry into the user’s home.
This opens up new audiences to brands that they may not have had access to before. In addition to new eyes on their product or company name, brands will also become associated with cutting-edge technology and an exploratory attitude. New users will associate the brand with their VR headset and think of the future.
A Life and Game Changer
With VR gaming reaching more users more easily, video game development companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to experiment with new possibilities. At their core, video games are stories, and when developing technology is introduced, stories evolve. This means there are whole new ways for games to be enjoyed.
For example, the wildly popular game League of Legends, which has one of the best-designed websites in the gaming industry, has recently introduced a 360-degree view VR arena mode. This allows players to enjoy the same game they love in a whole new way. It’s also a huge draw for new players who want to explore VR gaming.
As all these players join VR games together, they can connect with one another in new ways. The more immersive gaming experience can deepen player connections. People playing video games across the world from one another can feel as if they’re standing right next to each other.
However, VR technology has more applications than video games. Some news outlets have used VR experiences as a way to build empathy in audiences around stories that have been hard to tell. For example, The New York Times has an entire digital library devoted to 360-degree films, and The Guardian created a virtual film around the current US prison experience.
Additionally, immersive travel simulators can make it possible for people to see parts of the world they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For people who may not be able to travel easily, this can help show them countries and places they’ve never seen before. This can be especially life-changing for people with mobility issues, who may have trouble getting on planes or other modes of transportation and are thus limited in the places they can go.
Altogether, virtual reality technology has a major impact on the industries that are using it to tell stories — like in journalism and video games — but also on the world in its entirety. This new technology is only just beginning to be explored in all of its capacities. Soon, we very well could have a holodeck just like in Star Trek.