Virtual Reality Demos Generate Buzz as Tokyo Game Show Opens

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - H 2014

Consoles battle smartphones for attention as the Tokyo Stock Exchange looks for new IPO candidates

The number of smartphone games and offerings from small, independent developers on display at the annual Tokyo Game Show (TGS) has increased this year, but it was the tentpole console titles, along with virtual reality technology demonstrations, that got most of the attention on the opening day Thursday.   

Demonstrations of the virtual reality headsets from Oculus VR, which was taken over by Facebook in a $2 billion dollar deal earlier this year, were attracting long lines all through the first day of TGS. In fact, everything related to virtual reality appeared to be a crowdpleaser.

The Oculus Rift headsets allowed visitors to experience a number of different scenarios via the company's Development Kit 2, including swimming with sharks and a computer-generated beach scene replete with a bikini-clad young lady.

Sony has been developing its own virtual reality headset, for use with the PlayStation 4, and is expected to announce more details during TGS.    

More than 500 smartphone titles spread across dozens of booths in the cavernous halls of the Makuhari Messe convention center bore witness to the shift in the gaming market that has occurred since mobile screens got larger. By comparison, the combined number of games for the two most recent versions of the PlayStation, Wii and Xbox that are being showcased at the event is 140.

Although smartphone titles won the numbers game, the crowds and lines still belonged to the consoles. Previews of Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain, scheduled for release next year, drew people to the big screen at Konami's stage, while gamers lined up to play the latest version of Call of Duty at the expansive Xbox booth.  

Despite slow sales for the Xbox in Japan, Microsoft was pushing as hard as ever, with a big presence and new titles at its stand.

Independent game developers are definitely hot properties following Microsoft's $2.5 billion takeover of Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, at the beginning of the week. This year's TGS features a dedicated Indy Game Corner, as well as a PlayStation Loves Indies section sponsored by Sony, both showcasing small, up-and-coming developers.

"More than 500 independent developers worldwide have joined the ID@Xbox project, including many in Japan," Naoyuki Isogai, director of the Xbox marketing group in Tokyo, told The Hollywood Reporter. "And this year, for the first, time we have two games from independent developers on display at our booth."

Sony, meanwhile, in addition to showcasing the latest games for its new PlayStation 4 and portable PSP consoles, was using multiple booths to promote gaming on its Xperia smartphones. The company on Wednesday announced a surprise $1.8 billion writedown on the value of its mobile phone business and will be striving to develop synergies between its gaming and smartphone divisions.

The multibillion-dollar game industry has also once again caught the eye of the financial markets, with the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) attending the Tokyo Game Show looking for new business.

"We're here to meet new game companies who might want to list in Tokyo when they go public. We already have a lot of profitable new mobile gaming companies in Japan that have listed with us," Junichiro Goto, an account manager from the exchange, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Eight of the 10 biggest game companies in the world are listed on the TSE, while the market value of mobile gaming company GungHo peaked at more than $17.5 billion last year on the back of its phenomenally successful Puzzles & Dragons title, pointed out Goto.

TGS runs until Sunday just north of Tokyo.

Twitter: @GavinJBlair