As we close in on the second quarter of 2016, the tech industry is eagerly anticipating the widespread use of VR (virtual reality) headsets.
With consumers on the cusp of being able to purchase hardware for themselves for video games via the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, just what does this mean for the world of sport and sports gaming?
While gaming has been a pioneer for certain types of peripherals and hardware throughout the years, the industry has rarely stuck with anything outside of the steering wheel and pedals and console controller. Historically speaking, consumers just haven’t bought into most of the bold new hardware to play games with.
There are plenty of recent examples of technology in a similar vain to VR, that arguably, failed to truly revolutionise the way gamers play.
A lasting appeal?
Nintendo back in 2007 tried to create a new way to play with the Wii and its Wii Remote, and Sony shortly followed with its answer – PS Move. But both were unsuccessful in revolutionising the way video games were played, despite being popular upon release.
Nintendo sold over 60 million Wiis during its lifetime for instance, but both concepts didn’t evolve past their origin consoles: the Wii and PlayStation 3.
Motion controllers were good for simple games like Sports Champions and Wii Sports, but had limitations when being used for complex titles. Thus, players went back to playing with traditional controllers released with the current generation of consoles. It will give the impression that you’re actually in the game.
Using remote controls via hand motions to play games in the end, didn’t become an industry standard, despite being so popular with casual audiences.
Tony Hawk Ride’s skateboard also didn’t go anywhere, or sell well. Partly because it was expensive, and undeveloped. Critics across the board slated the game for being ‘unplayable’ at times.
The problem is skateboarding in your living room using a mock-up skateboard with no wheels in hindsight was unlikely to work, but that was clearly not accounted for by the publisher Activision.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that gamers just like using conventional controllers in their hands, they aren’t interested in waving remotes, using skateboards or guns in front of their TV’s.
“VR though could well be an exception to this rule,” Joystiq’s Mike Suszek told Elephant Sport.
So just what is VR aiming to do in gaming? And why does it have the potential to become part of the everyday lives and habits of millions of people across the globe?
PlayStation and Oculus have both thrown tens of millions of dollars into developing headsets for consumers to wear, which will provide a sense of immersion never before seen in gaming. It’s an arms race to create the standard for a portion of the tech market which Goldman Sachs claims will be worth $80 billion by 2025.
When wearing headsets, the user’s head movements will control the field of vision in the respective video games on the PC and PS4. Playing a first person shooter with a VR headset for instance, will provide you with a new way to survey virtual battlefields. It will give the impression that you’re actually in the game.
And in terms of sports gaming, it could for instance, make first-person golf and baseball games become possible.
“Baseball games could well be popular with PlayStation VR,” predicts Suszek. “If you were at the plate in a game with a view from the batter’s perspective in a baseball game, it would give the player a true sense of the pitch types and speeds. In today’s hardcore market for simulation sport games, that may well go a long way.”
“It’ll just be like effectively playing a game in a cinema”
“There are limitations though,” Owen Goode, tech and sports game reporter from Polygon countered to Elephant Sport.
“I don’t think gamers will want to use VR for first person soccer, or American football, because it will just make them feel sick, and that’s before we get into the difficulty of the controls in those sort of games.
“There’s obviously going to be attempts from sports games over the next few years to implement VR, partly because it’s creative, and partly because both Sony and Oculus will be subsidising and making it beneficial for developers to do so.
“But aside from games like that, and the ability to give users a feeling they’re not accustomed to at the moment, it’ll probably just be used as a screen strapped to the head of the user. By that I mean, head movements won’t control the game, it’ll just be like effectively playing a game in a cinema, no distractions with a huge screen the takes up your whole field of vision.”
What’s truly intriguing about VR, is its potential outside just games. Certain industry’s like online dating, tourism, conference calling all have potential to use VR headsets. But the one that’s already putting ahead of the curve though is sports, and in particular, training.
“The NFL is so progressive, it’s almost inevitable it’ll use VR”
“I think it’s fascinating to see how athletes are using VR, we’re seeing people make software for the Oculus Rift to help train athletes,” Suszek expalined. “For certain sports like baseball, tennis, boxing and american football – where being able to review film between games is key for training, the foundations are already there.”
Stanford University’s quarterback Chris Hogan has been using the new programme STRIVR to help him prepare for opponents. By using footage from cameras from a first-person perspective in training, it meant Hogan was able to study defensive formations from his perspective with his coaches afterwards throughout the 2015 season, helping him get mentally focused before big games.
“Oh, I think it’s huge, all it would take is the NFL signing a deal with Oculus, and suddenly every player in the league will be using a headset,” said Goode.
“I mean, the league is doing everything it can to limit injuries, and concussions. The guys at the top have done things like cut the hours of practicing in pads during the season each team does, so any sort of advantage like this could be invaluable.
“I don’t think people realise just how mainstream this technology will become”
“The NFL is so progressive, it’s almost inevitable it’ll use VR. I’ve demo’d it at conventions, and it’s not far from being usable in sports at the top level, and this is just the start.”
Within 10 years we could see so many sports and athletes across the globes utilise VR as it develops, and within a few months, everybody will have access to this technology for themselves when the headsets hit store shelves.
“It’s going to be fascinating. When VR headsets go to market, plenty of gaming’s hardcore audience will adopt it, and that’ll shape the next couple of years in gaming. But honestly, it’s the other uses, which will go hand it hand and improve it overall that I’m looking forward to most,” Suszek concluded.
“I don’t think people realise just how mainstream this technology will become.”