Every few years there’s a gimmick that rolls around, and everyone gets caught up in trying to one-up each other. 3D, motion controls… these have been the latest fads to overrun our industry for the past ten years, and now we’re on the cusp of the next battle: virtual vs. augmented reality. Several companies like Sony, Oculus, and even Starbreeze are developing VR headsets with the hope of capturing the interest and money of potential customers when they lauch over the course of the next two years. Microsoft, however, is side-stepping and choosing to bet on AR with their HoloLens headset.
So what exactly is the difference between VR and AR?
VR is about immersion. Through sensory deprivation and dual displays placed just in front of your eyes, the player is dropped into whatever world the designers and programers can dream up. The directions VR can go are seemingly limitless, to the point where developers are already taking into account serious real-life issues like motion-sickness and heart conditions. As graphics continue to be improved and refined, it’s easy to imagine a point where entering another time and place feels almost too real.
AR, on the other hand, is about bringing game elements into your actual physical space. What the HoloLens is trying to accomplish is the feeling of characters, world elements, and even game checkpoints co-existing with you. While there is a ton of potential with this technology, it’s limited by your field of view. If that can be refined and adjusted over the next several years, we could be potentially living in a literal altered state.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at which tech is more promising, and which is lacking. VR has a ways to go yet, but so does AR. Both fail to take into account the realities most players are faceed with on a daily basis. Namely, the need to keep an eye and ear rooted in the real world. What happens when your spouse or other loved one needs your help or attention? What if you’re watching the kids for the day? What if the doorbell rings? What about your phone? Immersion is only a viable aspect of entertainment if you purposefully set aside a time of day when you allow for no distractions. Given that a huge percentage of players are between the ages of 25-45, that doesn’t seem entirely viable.
On the other hand, when it comes purely to the experience itself, VR almost certainly has the advantage. VR is limited purely by the hardware and software driving it. AR, as displayed in this video , is limited by your field of view. Despite Microsoft’s E3 HoloLens demo, the reality of things is that the current HoloLens headset has a very limited, narrow field of view. What does that mean for the player? Well, most damning, it means that they’ll most likely never really feel like the game world is a part of theirs.
Sure, there’s still time for Microsoft to turn things around, and both VR and AR aren’t even commercially for sale yet, but when I see that HoloLens demo, I can’t help but be reminded of failed tech like Beta Max, HD-DVD, and Playstation Move – technology that just didn’t make the cut in the face of superior competition. And let’s not forget that while there is long-lasting potential for VR, it may all end up just being another fad. Time will tell.