VR vs. E3 2015 – Varied Show Floor Makes up for Underwhelming Conferences
“From our PlayStation community of engineers, creators and developers, PS4 became the start of a new reality in computer entertainment. A reality where games and gamers come first. A reality where games and developers matter. A reality where games drive innovation, where games are filled with intelligence, insight, and emotional narrative. A reality where games are the hubs of local connections and collaboration. Indeed a reality where games are the cultural zeitgeist. This new reality of gaming is expansive, inclusive and boundless, and we can’t wait to show you what we mean.”
At this point, just seconds into Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE’s) E3 2015 press conference, every virtual reality (VR) fan and developer was convinced that SCE America CEO Shawn Layden was making it obvious; this was VR’s show. And yet Project Morpheus, the new head-mounted display (HMD) for PlayStation 4, had less than three minutes devoted to it during the event, leaving the VR community underwhelmed to say the least.
This year’s show had been billed as being the big one for VR. Along with SCE, Oculus VR was finally ready to talk about the consumer Oculus Rift and Microsoft was to reveal more about the videogame side of its HoloLens mixed reality (MR) device. And, one week on, it’s clear that VR did indeed impress at E3, if not at the industry-consuming level that many, including VRFocus, had expected it to.
While Oculus VR had held an impressive press conference a week before the event, all eyes were on SCE during 15th June 2015, when it held its own show. Project Morpheus is due for release in the first half of 2016, making this very likely the last E3 before its release. Easily SCE’s biggest press conference for the year, this should have been the perfect place to make some big announcements regarding hardware and software. Instead, a handful of new titles were quickly announced, not even given the proper reveals that they deserved. These included Guerrilla Cambridge’s impressive first-person shooter (FPS), RIGS: Mechanised Combat League, and platform confirmation for Reload Studio’s anticipated multiplayer title, World War Toons.
SCE would later argue that it’s impossible to showcase the value of VR on-stage. And it’s true; without wearing a HMD yourself it’s impossible to describe the amazing sensations the technology provides. But, even with this in mind, this is the biggest showing that SCE’s product portfolio will see all year round and more time should have been spent on Project Morpheus without question. The company arguably did more harm than good with this brief segment, causing some to question its confidence in the device. There will of course be chances to make up for this at Paris Games Week and the PlayStation Experience later in the year, but these events don’t quite have the ear of the entire entertainment industry like E3 does.
Microsoft had an easier time with HoloLens, which lends itself to on-stage demonstrations by showing users interacting with holograms through a special camera. Its brief look at using the tech with Minecraft generated the kind of excitement that many had hoped SCE would raise for Project Morpheus, even HoloLens’ release is shrouded in mystery right now.
Third-parties also disappointed on this front. It was already confirmed that Ubisoft would be showcasing at least one VR project at this year’s show. For its own press conference, that amounted to the developers of Trackmania Turbo asking attendees to check out a VR demo on the show floor. EA performed even worse, with a laughably non-committal quote from Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore about how the company’s Frostbite Engine, developed by DICE, might one day support the tech.
Press conference day was undeniably disappointing from a VR viewpoint, then, but taking a look around the show floor as it opened on 16th June quickly reassured that the technology could make up for lost ground.
Project Morpheus itself had almost 20 demos on display at E3 and a consistently massive queue of people waiting to try them. With such a large area of SCE’s booth devoted to the technology, more questions were raised about what it didn’t get more stage time, but at least it didn’t disappoint in this regard. RIGS: Mechanised Combat League was arguably the VR star of the show with its own booth overlooking the rest of SCE’s space, while a two-tier structure housed all of the press conference titles as well as a host of other experiences, one of which even came from Capcom.
Oculus VR garnered just as much attention with its own sizeable booth, with queues equal in length spiralling outside. Its showcase for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift clearly went down well, with a strong software line-up boosted by names such as Insomniac Games, Sanzaru Games, and Gunfire Games.
Remaining consistent with the VR story so far, it was the indie scene that arguably impressed the most at E3. Publishers may have been unwilling to commit to full VR videogames just yet, but areas such as the IndieCade section held a handful of developers that weren’t straying from the risks of the unproven technology. Pixel Ripped, StarPort, SMS Racing and more all impressed with their fresh ideas and innovative mechanics, frankly embarrassing the industry leaders that are still yet to commit to what is quickly becoming one of the most exciting aspects of videogame’s healthy future.
So, no, E3 wasn’t a VR-dominated week. March’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) remains the event to beat with its flood of announcements nearly drowning out any traditional videogame news. But the diverse line-up on offer on the show floor more than made up for a tremendously underwhelming set of press conferences, reassuring that VR is well on its way to becoming one of the most exciting and revolutionary areas of the videogame industry.