GDC 14: Will a Fractured Market Stunt Virtual Reality Game Development?

Virtual reality is shaping up to be the next big trend in gaming. The Oculus Rift has been the face of VR for quite a while now and, despite not technically being released to consumers, has already shown us glimpses of what virtual reality can bring to games. Now, with Sony jumping into the ring with the announcement of Project Morpheus and Microsoft rumored to be in the early stages of development on their own headset, it seems we aren’t far away from a VR dominated future. However, there is one possible roadblock to VR really catching hold, and that is an industry split between several different devices.

Now let’s be clear, competition is great for this industry, and it pushes price points down and feature sets up. Without competition we would be paying more and seeing less quality, but that only applies to a point. Sony and Microsoft may do everything they can to get you to go with their console, but it’s not as though every single game is an exclusive. The consoles are close enough to each other technologically to facilitate cross platform development, and the majority of games are available for multiple systems. However, with Sony already saying they aren’t going to be sharing their virtual reality API with other companies, it puts the likelihood of multiplatform VR games pretty low.


With potentially three or more completely different virtual reality headsets operating with wildly different technology and firmware, developers would likely have to choose one to develop for and focus on that alone. Games already cost a lot of money to make, and releasing on multiple platforms is often essential to turn a profit and be able to continue making games. Who knows how much money it will cost to develop a AAA virtual reality experience, and not being able to release it on multiple platforms and devices could mean we never find out.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for a monopoly in the VR market. But just as Harmonix and Activision were smart enough to make sure their music games worked with the plastic instruments of their competition, the manufacturers of these VR devices should take care to create some parity with their competition. If any developer is going to take a risk and make something specifically for virtual reality, knowing it can be ported to all the available devices without too much trouble would likely go a long way in encouraging virtual reality development. With as much potential as virtual reality has, it would be a real shame if the concept faltered due to an overabundance of proprietary devices fracturing the market to a point where no developers were willing to take the risk and make VR games.