The year is drawing to an end, and it’s safe to say that it’s been a disappointing one for Virtual Reality. Hardware developments have been fantastic; that is without question. In fact, we should be grateful that anything as ground-breaking as the HTC Vive exists. However, the excitement around the technology has not translated into good sales. Unless everyone suddenly buys a VR headset between now and Christmas, the industry as a whole has underperformed. So, like many other things this year, let us draw a line under 2016 and look to the future. Here are some companies to keep an eye on in 2017.
Magic Leap, otherwise known as the company that has raised the most funding to date without actually letting anyone know what they’re doing. Only a few journalists (not this one) have been invited to have a look around their offices. All we know is that they are going to release something next year. What exactly the product will be is not entirely clear, but it will be some mixed reality headset like the Hololens. Not strictly VR, but most probably the natural progression of the technology. Also, another reason to be excited about it: the few individual’s I’ve spoken to who have experienced Magic Leap are adamant that it will change the face of technology forever. Worth a glance at least in that case.
Eye-tracking is the next step regarding VR technology. There are plenty of companies already looking into getting VR software to see what your eyes are looking at. Google have gone the usual route and bought a whole company dedicated to working it out. However, FOVE, a startup company based in Japan, already have a kickstarted headset ready with the technology. Of course, kickstarted companies don’t always live up to their promise (look at Pebble). FOVE could ultimately crash and burn before their product lives up to its potential. However, imagine if it does. FOVE could shake up the VR market as it currently stands. Or Google will announce their headset, and everyone will forget about the startup.
The first two selections have been hardware developers. While HTC’s headset is worth talking about, we also need to mention software. After all, it’s a driving reason behind why VR failed to make an impact this year. So far, content has been varied and interesting, but lacking in depth. This needs to change if VR is going to succeed, and if anyone is going to make that happen, it’s Valve. Although game development has dropped off somewhat, the support structure that Valve has is very conducive for all sorts of fantastic ideas and stories. Not just games, but movies, software and everything in between. If a VR experience comes out that changes the game, you can bet that it will be supported on the HTC
It’s good to see Microsoft getting back into innovation again. Obviously, the biggest news for 2017 regarding VR is their affordable VR headsets, with very forgiving tech specs. However, that is only just the beginning, with Hololens on the horizon. Some technology analysts believe that Microsoft is looking to find office-based applications for Virtual Reality. Information about the headsets is still somewhat limited, but imagine if that were the case. 2017 could be the year that the office becomes virtual.
Oculus will always have a special place in modern VR history, not always for the best reasons. However, what can be awe-inspiring next year is what Facebook looks into for VR. Already we had Jason Rubin say that Oculus is looking at the social aspect of VR. Combine this with just about every bit of news to come out of Oculus Connect 3, and you can see the potential game change on the horizon. Facebook is, after all, first and foremost a social media company, and they will always aim to push the potential of that business to its furthest potential. 2016 saw the beginning of what social VR could be. 2017 is where it can potentially take off.
Special mention: Bethesda
Bethesda makes fantastic open world games, and that is fact. Doesn’t matter whether or not there are better games out there, when it comes to western RPGs with endless worlds with fantastic stories and emergent gameplay, they hold the monopoly. Bethesda is also working on making Fallout 4 VR. Not just a single mission, like Star Wars Battlefront or Call of Duty. Let that sink in. We can have a full Bethesda game in VR. The release date right now is June 2017. Therefore, barring any delays (although Bethesda tends to be pretty good at sticking to schedules), we will finally have a full VR experience in six months. That is probably the biggest test facing VR in the future.