VR vs. EA

Electronic Arts finds itself in an interesting position of late. While the publisher is currently overseeing the development of a range of projects for the new generation of videogame consoles, many of its most interesting titles seem to be far off concepts, with annual sports titles and Battlefield entries filling the gap between the likes of Star Wars: Battlefront, the next Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge. The not-too-distant future holds exciting prospects for the company, then. Could we count virtual reality (VR) among those prospects?

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From the outside looking in, EA isn’t the type of company one might associate with jumping head first into support for new technology. The publisher isn’t known for fully supporting hardware until it has an install base large enough to justify resource commitment – while both the Wii U and PlayStation Vita saw EA titles at launch, the company has since confirmed it is scaling back its work on the platforms. It’s an understandable approach, if slightly frustrating for those that would like to see some of its famed IP utlilised on other platforms. It also suggests that the likes of the Oculus Rift VR head-mounted display (HMD) and Project Morpheus VR HMD might have to prove themselves before the company comes on board.

That said, there are signs of early adoption from the company. The new iteration of EA-owned Need for Speed and Burnout developer Criterion Games, a smaller and more refined team currently working on an unnamed racing project, has teased that it is working with the Oculus Rift in the past. At the project’s reveal during E3 2014 the developer teased that it was the ‘best’ Oculus Rift videogame ever. That said, support for either that device or Project Morpheus wasn’t confirmed, with the project still being very much in the prototype stages.

Of course, Criterion Games’ title likely wouldn’t be exclusive to VR, rather integrated seemingly from the start of development, which is really all that is needed to create authentic VR experiences. Given the cheap nature of the Oculus Rift development kit ($350 USD for the just-released second development kit, DK2), it could be that teams include support if they’ve worked with the headset from the start.

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Looking at EA’s wider business, the company has produced a somewhat inconsistent appearance in its approach to VR. Just like week company founder Trip Hawkins stated that VR was ‘not necessary’. But then back in May 2014 CEO Andrew Wilson had this to say on the technology: “Oculus VR has done an amazing job in the realm of virtual reality. We’re eager to see how the headset evolves over the coming years. For us, we’re always cognizant of immersive technologies and new opportunities. And with every new technology, it’s important for us to be sure that there will be an attractive install base before investing heavily. But [Oculus VR is] certainly making strong progress.”

The company seems to be at odds with the technology, then, especially seeing as at least one of its developers is working with it to at least some degree while it makes contrasting statements. Of course, while many are critical of EA based on the size of its operations, it’s hard to deny that it holds some of the most promising IP for VR adaptions. Experiences such as Battlefield, FIFA and Need for Speed are all franchises that spring to mind when enthusiasts dream up possible combinations, and this year’s TitanFall has often been suggested for a truly ground breaking VR experience.

It’s only a matter of time before EA dips its toes in VR development, though. Just how quickly it does so is really up to Oculus VR and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE), though, as the publisher is likely to wait for signs of life from the VR industry before it invests.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

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