E3: Is Virtual Reality The Next Revolution In Entertainment?

VR enthusiasts tell THR "the business opportunity is substantial" for the technology.
505 Games

There's a steadily growing number of pros from Hollywood and the gaming community that believe virtual reality will be the next revolution in entertainment. And while it might not be the biggest news this week at E3, it does seem to signal what the 2015 gaming confab might look like.

Noting that entertainment is poised to "expand beyond the rectangle (shaped screen)," Ted Schilowitz, a VR enthusiast and futurist for 20th Century Fox (and Red camera company alum) told The Hollywood Reporter, "The next generation (of entertainment) is less restrictive, more immersive. That's why there's so much interest in VR. And that's exciting for the next generation of storytellers.

"There's an undercurrent from those who track that the future [who believe] the business opportunity is substantial."

Cevat Yerli, founder and CEO of video game company Crytek, agreed, describing this early point as a bit like the "Wild West" in terms of potential opportunity.

PHOTOS: 35 of 2014's Most Anticipated Movies

There are primarily two VR headsets getting attention at E3 this year. Facebook's Oculus Rift, which has its own booth at the confab; and Sony's Project Morpheus, technology that is available for hands on demonstrations in the Sony PlayStation booth. Both are expected to be available to consumers during 2015 though neither company has announced a release date or pricing.

Initially, there will be a chicken-or-the-egg situation between the installed base and the available games and other VR experiences. Yerli pointed out that there needs to be an installed base before many companies will invest in developing an Oculus Rift game, as opposed to the safer route of creating a PlayStation or Xbox One title. "The installed base needs to be at least one million units," he said.

VR is expected to go beyond gaming to training, education and other simulations, as well as narrative content. In Hollywood, for instance, Fox is already known to be exploring VR experiences based on their upcoming films The Maze Runner and Wild, as well as Night at the Museum franchise.

Several insiders said they were aware of only a small number of games currently in development for VR goggles, but did believe there were hundreds of other types of VR experiences being created. With pricing models still to be determined, VR content pricing is is expected to vary greatly, at least initially, from free to around $100.

Among the most publicized upcoming VR games is EVE: Valkyrie, a previously announced title that Oculus co-publishing with CCP Games for the goggles' launch.

PHOTOS: Summer TV Preview

Other Oculus Rift titles being previewed at E3 include ADR1FT from 505 Games and Three One Zero, which tells a story that might sound familiar: It's a first-person experience of an astronaut in peril, floating amid wreckage of a destroyed space station. The user must determine the cause of the catastrophic event, stay alive and repair the damaged emergency escape vehicle and safely return home.

Three One Zero co-founder and creative lead on ADR1FT, Adam Orth told THR that he actually conceived the game as a metaphor for a personal experience that he had, and prior to the release of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, though he acknowledged the obvious similarities in the description. "I was aware of Gravity; I was worried," he said, adding that after seeing the film, he felt his game is "very different."

Orch added that ADR1FT "straddles games and the cinematic experience. … Also you learn about yourself through the struggle. It's an introspective, emotional experience."

UK-based game and VR developer nDreams is previewing The Assembly, with a story surrounding scientists, as its first major VR project for both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus.

As to where VR headset technology is going, nDreams CEO Patrick O'Luanaigh predicted they will get smaller and cheaper, someday "indistinguishable from Ray-Bans."

Eric Smith, digital consumer practice analyst at Strategy Analytics, noted that the Oculus VR headset still requires external processing power, indicating that at least in the foreseeable future, a PC would be needed to drive it. "As the hardware is more refined, perhaps it can run off of tablets or smartphones and eventually off of its own onboard processing power, but that is likely several years away."

PHOTOS: 2014's New Broadcast and Cable TV Shows

Smith is also watching for new entrants in the space. "Microsoft has said it is also working on VR," he said. "It may be important to note that Microsoft has cozied up to Facebook on other projects, like the Social Graph search function in Facebook proper powered by Bing. It's possible that these ties could provide an avenue for Oculus to make its way onto Xbox One. This is idle speculation, but not out of the realm of possibility."

Also signaling where the technology might be heading is Control VR, a startup that at E3 is previewing a developing a control device that you wear as a pair of gloves -- think Tom Cruise's gestural interface in Minority Report -- in conjunction with a VR headset.

"[VR] will become a ubiquitous way we consume media," predicted co-founder and CEO Alex Sarnoff (who incidentally is the great grandson of broadcasting pioneer David Sarnoff).

Control VR expects to have a developers kit for its technology available before the end of the year, and experiences using its wearable technology ready to go with the launch of Oculus Rift and other VR goggles.

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA