One of the constructs to understand VR’s endgame is the metaverse. Inspired by fiction such as Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash and other works, it envisions virtual domains where synchronous and multi-user virtual interaction take place. This is the VR everyone’s waiting for.
We have early versions of this already, considering social and synchronous environments like Altspace VR, VRChat and RecRoom. Future endpoints include greater levels of immersion, photorealism, and all-day use, which could all come with time and underlying tech evolution.
So where are we now in that journey, and what will it take to get there? This topic was batted around at the recent GamesBeat Summit with an all-star panel including Stephanie Llamas, Cathy Hackl and Jesse Schell. It’s this week’s featured XR Talk (video and takeaways below).
Intersecting Social & Immersive
To further define the metaverse, the panel agrees that it’s the intersection of social and immersive media. There are psychological triggers in VR when someone else — even if it’s a virtual avatar — is within arms reach. It’s only possible with immersion and synchronous interaction.
This should resonate during a pandemic when social presence is a scarcity: The same psychological trigger doesn’t happen on Zoom calls. And VR has indeed attracted many converts in the past year. But surprisingly — as echoed by John Carmack — it hasn’t wildly inflected.
In fact, the pandemic may have slowed VR down — and not just because of supply chain impediments that are often cited. Sheltered life precludes social activity that normally spreads awareness of new technologies….like going to a friend’s house and seeing their new VR headset.
So given all of the above challenges, how do we break past the barriers and get non-VR people into VR? According to the panel, cross-platform strategies help. Apps like RecRoom provide good “training wheels” to onboard people through desktop and mobile hardware compatibility.
To quantify where we are and where we need to go, the magic number could be 10 million VR units in-market, the panel agrees ( as does Mark Zuckerberg). That’s where network effects can kick in, along with the likeliness that at least one other person you know has the hardware.
If we look at where we are now, we’re not far behind. The installed base of PC, console and standalone VR headsets in-market today is about 14 million units according to our research arm ARtillery Intelligence. And Quest 2’s continually strong sales indicators could accelerate things.
But an important distinction — as Zuckerberg specified — is that the network effect that kicks in at 10 million units requires that quantity of users on one platform. The above installed base figure is fragmented between several platforms. Still….things are moving in the right direction.
The other good news is that growth can accelerate as VR adoption grows. A flywheel-effect can kick in at a certain point where hardware adoption propels investment in content creation. Then greater content libraries propel more hardware sales, and around we go.
Road to the Metaverse
Meanwhile, what can be done to accelerate this process? Besides the cross-platform approach mentioned above, there are other components that can be developed. Volumetric video is one area the panel espouses, including photorealistic (versus polygonal) 6DoF interactions.
That will likewise work towards another key area of development for VR: forming emotional connections. This is one of VR’s greatest potential strengths, so we should lean into it by building experiences around emotive content such as people, places, art, entertainment and history.
This also speaks to VR’s evolutionary arc beyond gaming. In this sense, its emotional-connectedness could make it ripe for other areas of entertainment. And the brain encoding that’s possible through immersive experience makes VR an effective tool for education and training.
But before any of this, there are fundamentals that need to be developed and optimized. These include accessibility, accommodating corrective vision, and alleviating motion sickness. These and all of the above evolutions will happen gradually and in-step on the road to the Metaverse.
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Solaris: Offworld Combat is coming to PSVR this June with a physical release from Perp Games. According to a First Contact Entertainment representative, the digital version is planned to release a month earlier in May.
Perp Games on Twitter: “We’re not finished just yet. Solaris Offworld Combat is the next game to be getting a physical box release. Coming in June to global markets! Will you be buying it? https://t.co/5sphrqsh10” / Twitter
Solaris: Offworld Combat on PSVR
Originally, Solaris was coming to PSVR late last year around the same time as the Quest and PC VR version of the game but got delayed. Now, it’s slated for release in just a couple of months.
The latest VR shooter from First Contact Entertainment (creators of Firewall Zero Hour) is a sci-fi competitive VR shooter that feels a bit like Quake in VR due to its speed and intense arena levels. It’s a very breezy, fast-paced game that’s accessible and easy to quickly jump in and out of. The closest comparison is probably Hyper Dash.
Soalris is a notable release because other than Firewall Zero Hour, there really haven’t been many options for shooter fans on PSVR. Alvo is coming soon too, but the headset is on its last legs at this point.
The PS Aim Controller continues to be one of the best things about the PSVR platform, so I’m all for seeing more games support it, but it’s a shame games like this didn’t hit PSVR earlier in its life cycle. Hopefully PSVR 2 on PS5 is backwards compatible and it can give late-life cycle games like this one new life when it releases.
Solaris is coming to PSVR very soon with a planned digital release in May and physical release from Perp Games in June. For more on this game make sure and read our Solaris: Offworld Combat review and stay tuned for all the latest in VR.
The VR fitness genre is still relatively new, all things considered. Even though the space is still somewhat niche, it’s absolutely growing at a fast pace as seen by the number of games and players that continue to spring up. How did we get to this point though, you might ask?
Microsoft won a large US Army contract to supply advanced AR headsets for frontline soldiers, based on the HoloLens platform.
The US Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) program aims to equip infantry with AR helmets for situational awareness and convenient display of sensor outputs.
The contract is worth up to $21.88 billion over 5-10 years. While the order has been widely reported as 120,000 units, a US Army statement to Breaking Defence suggests that is the maximum, not a fixed quantity.
Early evaluation units based on HoloLens 2
In 2018 Microsoft won the $480 million evaluation contract for just over 2500 units, based on HoloLens 2 with some modifications and an extra sensor.
The current, ruggedized, upgraded IVAS
The evaluation found the hardware not rugged enough for military use, and identified problems with the sensors at night. Since then the hardware has been significantly upgraded. It’s more ruggedized and houses many more sensors.
The field of view has been significantly increased from roughly 40°x30° to 80°x40°. That’s significantly wider than any other see-through AR headset on the market.
Reported use cases for the headset include:
overlaying icons on friendly units, objectives, threats, and points of interest
built-in night vision & thermal view modes
live picture-in-picture feeds from drones, including the Soldier Borne Sensors (SBS) personal drone
simulated weapons & enemies for training exercises
scanning nearby people for high temperature (COVID-19)
facial recognition for hostage rescue situations
The Army is also testing integrations with vehicles, such as soldiers being able to see-through the walls of the armored vehicle carrying them. That means on dismounting they’ll be situationally aware.
Some Microsoft employees have protested providing technology for the military, but that’s unlikely to have any effect given the enormous potential value of the contract.
IVAS is still in the late testing & evaluation stage, and the scale of deployment will depend on future budgets. But if things go to plan, frontline soldiers could be equipped with these game-changing AR capabilities by the end of the decade.