Virtual reality has remained a relatively small niche in video game development despite the innovations made by products like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. However, it isn’t down and out just yet as the stand-alone Oculus Quest headset reinvigorates developers’ passion.
Virtual reality will be the dominant “immersive tech” in five years, according to 25% of respondents from a Game Developers Conference survey polling nearly 4,000 participating developers. That uptick in VR enthusiasm reflects a 6% increase from 2018, but augmented reality still reigns supreme. This year, and for several years prior, its edged out VR the go-to immersive platform despite increased VR interest.
VR headsets are increasingly accessible to consumers with offerings from PlayStation VR and HTC, but it’s the Oculus Quest that has developers feeling optimistic. Of the VR and AR developers surveyed, 24% said they expected their next title to launch on Quest, the most popular of any platform after a middling response on last year’s survey. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive trailed slightly behind. However, nearly a third said they still weren’t sure which console to put their resources behind. The Quest’s jump and the Vive’s fall after being the top choice last year prove the VR market is still developing.
The support for the Oculus Quest is supported by the headset’s sales figures, which helped boost total VR hardware spending by about $500 million in 2019 compared to 2018. The Oculus Quest has been back-ordered for several months with purchases made in late 2019 expected to arrive in February.
Some of VR’s future is already apparent. One of the most-anticipated games of 2020, Half-Life: Alyx, scheduled to launch in March, will be a VR exclusive. The game takes place before Half-Life 2 and will be the first entry in the series in more than a decade. It will only work on PC-powered headsets and will be free for Valve Index headset owners. Unfortunately, that headset is difficult to find, though Valve anticipates it will be back in stock before Alyx debuts.
Though Xbox Series X will not support virtual reality, PlayStation will continue its VR push and will offer backward compatibility with the current PSVR headset with the PS5 comes out. Sony’s less-expensive competitor saw relative success since its 2016 launch, with more than 5 million units sold. It’s backed by a built-in console market and exclusive games such as Blood & Truth.