Every year, programmers, developers, and enthusiasts get together for a week-long celebration of the year's exciting new content, which is known as GDC (Game Developers Conference). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the event, and the turnout was, as usual, record breaking. This year was special for another reason as well. For the first time, a special section of the conference was created to host the latest in burgeoning technology, Virtual Reality.
Anyone who attended the conference will tell you that you couldn't walk ten feet without hearing a VR related buzzword like, "Oculus", "roomscale", or "immersive" in every conversation being had at the event. It is very obvious that "the next big thing" is Virtual Reality, and it is arriving quickly.
Despite the name, GDC isn't strictly about gaming. In fact, several sections of the convention host booths which focus attention toward business services, content analytics, and data logging. This year, it was rare to hear a sales pitch at one of these booths without them mentioning their plans to integrate their services into VR.
As VR finds its way into non-gaming verticals, such as visualization, real estate, and architecture, it is important to identify the successes and failures of others who are pioneering this field, in hopes of benefiting from their new found knowledge. One point about VR that seemed to be held as an absolute necessity at GDC this year was comfort. The biggest challenge for companies trying to integrate Virtual Reality into their products is finding a way to deliver high quality visuals, with acceptable framerate, and an easy input solution
Visuals and framerate are controlled by the hardware running the VR experience, as well as solid optimization of the assets. While most companies are getting the hardware part correct, not everyone seems to be focusing enough attention on lowering asset poly count or optimizing their draw calls. This results in lower than acceptable framerate, and a possibly nauseating experience for their customers.
As far as input is concerned, there seemed to be a wide range of options being presented at GDC this year. Most of the well known VR companies are providing proprietary controllers with their headsets, but third party companies also seem to think that there is a need for alternative solutions. The problem with so many options is that it is confusing when different input schemes exist. If it takes ten minutes to explain the input and locomotion setup of a VR experience, and then you customer only spends ten minutes within the experience, you need to rethink your strategy. The most successful VR titles at GDC had extremely simple input, and superb frame-rate.
The real takeaway from GDC this year is that, while VR is definitely coming faster than some had anticipated, it still needs solid standards. Companies that cannot provide comfortable experiences to their clients are going to struggle with using VR as a viable delivery method for their content.