In the infant market of Virtual Reality there are a lot of individuals standing up, and these are likely names you will be hearing more of in the future as the industry grows and eventually becomes household technology. Below I will discuss the key figures as well as some people I believe are going to help push the market forward.
Even with the current controversy surrounding the origins of Oculus’ technology and the on-going law suite with ZeniMax, until proven guilty I feel it would still be unfair not to give Palmer Luckey the recognition he deserves as one of the key figures in VR technologies. Luckey is the founder of Oculus VR, and designed the original DK1 and DK2 Rift headsets, the headsets that truly put the spark back into the VR pipe-dream, with the Kickstarter for the DK1 headset receiving $2.4 million dollars (almost tenfold its original goal). Although it could be argued that neither Dev kit was overly impressive, these headsets paved the way for things like HTC’s VIVE or Sony’s PSVR as well of course the Oculus Rift CV1, and were intended to be sold as do-it-yourself kits, giving people the opportunity to develop their own unique headsets all using the Dev Kit as a base. Even after Facebooks acquisition of Oculus in March of 2014 (costing a cool $3 billion) Luckey still remains a key figure with in the company, with hands in all areas, including games design, software design as well as hardware design. With the amount of controversy surround the sale of Oculus to Facebook as well as the law suit claiming Luckey used ZeniMax technology to create the Rift it’s uncertain whether he is going to be a name you will hear in the future, and with Facebooks acquisition it is more likely to be Mark Zuckerberg who receives the recognition as he is already a household name.
As the founder, owner and CEO of Facebook Ltd. Mark Zuckerberg has the ultimate say over what direction Oculus VR heads in as a company, and since his buy-out of the company, Oculus has improved in almost all aspects (though this may be more so down to the fact that the company now has the almost endless revenue of Facebook behind it rather than being down to Zucc’s leadership). Zuckerberg’s plans for VR is exactly the same vision he had with Facebook, and that’s helping people get/stay connected, and to offer genuine social experiences using the technology. And I feel this is where VR is truly magical. Not only being able to see a flat image of someone alongside text chat or a simple webcam chat, but being able to see exactly how the people around you are moving within a 3D space, being able to convey much more emotion and intent than tradition Video Chat. I imagine this is what Oculus is going to build upon until the release of Facebook VR, which I’d imagine would then take up a lot of resources with matinence, updates et cetera.
Newell, often referred to as Gaben, is Valves CEO and founder and funded the development of both the HTC Vive as well as the SteamVR platform, the platform on which the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (when using steam) works. Gaben is already quite a big name, with years of Steam steadily becoming the biggest Video-games retailer in the world he’s become quite hard to avoid. During a recent AMA (Ask me Anything) on the popular social media site Reddit Gaben announced that Valve would be working on ‘Full games’ for the Vive, rather than the assortment of Shovel-ware and tech demos that seem to crowd the VR section of the Steam Store. In terms of Valves involvement within VR I feel the key part they are going to play is the central store for standardised Virtual Reality content, with its greenlight system allowing newer developers to get their games into the public eye (and of course will be heavily involved in the development of any future Vive headsets).
Epic Games not only make blockbuster games, they also make the engine that runs them. The Unreal engine has been one of the biggest names in games development for many years and that has possibly became even more true in recent times with the release of the Unreal engine 4. Ue4 has somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Virtual reality, in that although it can make games look great and good graphics are an integral part of truly immersive VR, the anti-aliasing methods used don’t seem to play well with VR headsets, leaving rather Jagged edges/borders to meshes/objects. This has led to a lot of people to use Unity at the moment however I am more than sure in the future Epic will resolve the issues and become the more prominent engine (not to say Unity 5 is not a great engine). I feel that where Epic can truly help VR is with their games, rather than engine. When Epic released the first Gears of War game it really brought people around to buying the Xbox 360. It had visuals better than practically anything out at the time, the gore engine was more advanced, the particles effects where something that was foreign to those used to gaming on early generations. Oculus recently gave Epic $50 million (the same budget as the original Gears of War) to produce a VR game. If the impact of project on the VR market is anything close to the impact of GoW on Xbox 360 sales, then Epic can make a huge contribution to a growing industry.
It’s somewhat of a cliché to say the community is a big part of any industry, however I feel with Virtual Reality this is very much so proving to be true. VR is yet to have attracted many big names in terms of developers (other than Ubisoft) because it’s still a niche market with likely only a few million people owning a HMD for personal use, although that number is likely to grow with the success of PSVR. At this moment it truly is the community that’s keeping the industry alive. Right now likely under 10% of the 1118 VR compatible games on Steam are made by AAA studios. Because of the infant state that the industry is in, it almost forces people to do things uniquely, as there is no perfect methods yet. A good example of this is the game Smashbox Arena by Big box VR and Velocibeasts (an early access project not yet on steam), both of which have developed completely unique locomotion methods, that both feel like real game mechanics rather than a work around. Neither of these developers are huge companies with $1000000 budgets for their games, they are people who are enthusiastic about Virtual Reality, and are taking a slice of the action themselves, whilst also giving the rest of the community both: a great new locomotion method as well as 2 very fun games.
This one may seem a little strange, in that Justin Roiland is mostly known for his work on the Animated TV series Rick and Morty, so what’s that got to do with VR? Well, if you have played a fair amount of VR games like I have, and have a keen enough ear you will possibly understand slightly more. Roiland has done voice work for what I would say are likely 2 of the best VR games on the market: Valve’s The Lab and Owlchemy Lab’s Job Simulator. And although he didn’t make either of these games his voice work does give them a lot of extra charm, with his radio chatter in Job Simulator being one of my favourite aspects of the game. Not only this but he brings somewhat of a prestige to VR, in that he is a well-known name with a dedicated fan base. On top of this he has also made several appearances in the Social VR app Alt.Space, giving people live tours using characters from his show, and I feel this ability to meet and interact with celebrities and idols is something that can bring a lot of people to VR. Not only this but he has commissioned Owlchemy Lab’s to create a Rick and Morty VR game (Virtual Rick-ality), and this is another thing that can bring non-tech enthusiasts to VR, big name licensed games, especially when it is something with a fan base like Justin Roiland’s. On top of all this Roiland has in-fact set up his very own Games Studio specifically to make VR games called Squanchtendo. Squanchtendo recently released a Game in collaboration with Crows, Crows, Crows (a studio owned by the creator of The Stanley Parable) called Accounting VR. Accounting VR is a short free game, and in terms of gameplay is nothing special if not lacking, however where Accounting shines is it’s dialogue, and this is something else people like Justin Roiland can bring to the world of VR: Professional Writing and Professional Voice acting. You may think this is a weak point for helping VR as a technology move forward but I have to disagree. A prime example of this is QuiVR by Blueteak. QuiVR is, in my opinion, one of the better games out at the moment for VR and I really enjoyed it. However the Voice over for the tutorial is (despite a good effort) quite poor, and if I was to try to show someone the game, by putting them into the tutorial, I feel that the voice-acting could well put less forgiving players off.
Realistically, chances are someone will come along out of nowhere (similar to how Luckey did) and blow everything I’ve just said out of the water, but the key figure I would say to watch is Mark Zuckerberg. If the ZeniMax lawsuit clears up without any too serious hitches, I feel Mark Zuckerberg is the man to bring to bring VR to the masses, as well as to push forward true social experiences, which is the key to widespread VR adaption.