VR news, insights, rants and rambles

Virtual Reality at GDC and MWC 2017

By Paulo Tromp
March 06, 2017

Consumer use of VR is evolving, as seen at the latest trade events. Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress is no longer just about mobiles, while Games Developer Conference in San Francisco offers useful insights into where VR technology is headed.

Mobile World Congress

The late February sun of Barcelona welcomed thousands of technology companies and media representatives for the annual showcase of what’s hot in the world of mobility. Among the key trends discussed this year were virtual reality and augmented reality, as the technology passes through the novelty phase and into the established arsenal of marketing, productivity, and entertainment tools. If a company doesn’t have VR, it is missing a feature for customers to interact with, be sold, and impressed by.

Samsung Highlights Controls and Apps

Samsung were leading the way with a new Samsung Gear plus Controller combination on-sale to encourage greater interactivity with its VR headset. The Gear is compatible with Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, and previous generation S6 models, while the touch-sensitive controller is pretty similar to those offered by other vendors. But, it was the software from Samsung labs and its partners that hints at some of the possibilities of VR.

Helping those with sight issues was Relúmĭno, assisting users to read books or watch TV with increased clarity thanks to the immersive nature of VR. It uses advanced image processing, including edge, contrast and text enhancement, and blind spot remapping to present clearer text or images, helping to improve the enjoyment of media for those with poor eyesight.

Offering a more emotive experience, traVRer provides 360-degree video to demonstrate a travel, holiday or entertainment experience, while VuildUs keeps things closer to home with by virtually decorating and furnishing a customer’s home to demonstrate their potential new look. These and other practical apps will give more users reasons to experiment with and enjoy VR.

Sessions and New Products Focus on the Future of VR

One of the key sessions at MWC was “The AR/VR Hardware Challenge” discussing how the mobile industry has advanced over 2016, and what the future holds. Estimates put the VR/AR market at 24 million units sold and worth $18 billion by 2018, largely driven by business use of augmented reality. What is clear is that virtual reality will play an increasing role when it comes to customer engagement and entertainment.  

Providing signals of how VR is doing, Google announced at MWC that it had shipped over 10 million Cardboard VR sets and that users had downloaded over 160 millions apps. Among the new products being previewed was Adobe’s first effort at VR advertising. The mobile-focused ads are due to launch within a year, offering discounts or information on products.

Games Developer Conference

GDC provides developers the opportunity to see where the opportunities are in gaming, and what products are driving innovation in the almost-50 year old industry. These events are always good for a few statistics, and SuperData provides us with a useful (or useless) metric, people play VR on consoles some 71% longer than they do on mobile. No surprise perhaps, but a valuable focal point.

More generally, analyst firm EEDAR highlighted lower cost products, better games, and the likelihood of Apple entering the fray in some point as drivers for VR.

New Hardware and Software

Key announcements from the show included a price cut for Oculus Rift kits, down to $598, saving $200 on the headset and controllers. There was also a new headset compatible with SteamVR from LG. LG is working with developer Valve on the set, that will help the phone company cover all ends of the VR market.

On the software side, new products at the event include VR Toolbox an app that enables users to display their PC desktop, social media site, productivity and desktop apps, along with video streams into a custom VR environment, bringing finer user control of a PC into an immersive system. Also, as a bonus to early adopters, Epic Games is giving away its Robo Recall fighting and combat game free. Developers can also get their hands on the source code and mode makers can create new content for the game.

VR Games are Maturing

Of the many VR games on show at GDC, there was a clear boost in quality over previous years. That is both in terms of visual fidelity and the overall approach to game content. Fine examples include Lola and the Giant which will launch on Daydream from Climax Studios. Using clever mechanics, and the size and scale challenges that can be overcome by a small girl and her oversize friend, it looks like a great challenge with wide appeal.

From Brazil, VR Tower Defense promises to bring the classic genre to VR, with an appearance first on Samsung’s VR technology, focusing on short, snappy, five minute games. These very different approaches highlight how a company can have wide ranging goals and ambitions when it comes to using VR.

These and more commercially ambitious titles like SVRVIVE: The Deus Helix with its complex puzzles and plot demonstrate the breadth of VR gaming, and just how much further there is to go in what is still a very new market.

Get Ready for More VR in 2017

These two very different events demonstrate the growing maturity of VR, and the technology is already starting to come down in price as sales volumes rise and interest grows. Whatever vertical or product you want to use VR in, the systems are capturing the public’s imagination and they are more accepting and willing to use VR in a range of situations.

Up Next, VR World

If these events have tickled your interest in the latest about VR, then head to London for VR World in mid-May, with over 150 presenters covering the latest opportunities for the technology.

About Paulo Tromp

Paulo Tromp is CEO and Creative Director of VRMADA, a virtual reality agency dedicated to creating beautiful, memorable experiences enabling brands to connect with their audiences in new and unique ways. Some of his clients include BMW, JCB, L'Oréal, MTV, Philip Morris International, Telefónica, Toyota, and Vodafone.