Microsoft made the bold move of announcing the launch date and price for the ‘development edition’ of the forthcoming mixed reality (MR) device, HoloLens, at yesterday’s Windows 10 Devices event, New York. Many baulked at the $3,000 USD price point for the head-mounted display (HMD), though the HoloLens is in no way a consumer device at present. Instead, it’s aimed at software developers, and as such VRFocus reached out to a number of influential videogame developers for their reaction.
Videogames have been considered a sideline for HoloLens since it’s unveiling back in January of this year, however Microsoft have been making strides towards entertainment in recent months. One developer deeply involved in virtual reality (VR) development, Ikrima Elhassan, Co-Founder of Kite & Lightning, is cautiously optimistic about the device: “I definitely had a bit of sticker shock when I saw the price,” stated Elhassan. “I’m holding out judgement until I try it, but the small [field of view] is going to be hard for me to get over, especially at that price.”
E McNeill, the celebrated independent developer responsible for Gear VR hit Darknet, has a very level-headed view of the recent announcements. Comparative technologies are not only good for assessing value, but also offer a precedent for marketing practices, suggests McNeill.
“Sounds like Microsoft is using the same strategy that Google did with Glass. I can’t imagine that the eventual consumer version would cost so much, so I assume they’re trying to make sure that this early version stays in the hands of serious developers,” states McNeill, before clarifying his stance as an independent developer looking to explore the technology. “It sucks from an indie game developer’s perspective, though. Maybe they’re aiming it more at the enterprise market? Regardless, I won’t be rushing to develop for HoloLens until a consumer launch is in sight (or unless Microsoft sends out a free dev kit).”
Blair Renaud of Iris VR, creator of the hugely popular Technolust VR videogame, shares McNeill’s sentiments in the comparison to Google Glass, but is notably less pleased with Microsoft’s stance on access for independent developers.
“Though it’s fairly common to have a high price tag on development kits for consoles like the PlayStation 4, these prices are generally either waved or the kits are loaned to serious developers. This is of course assuming that Microsoft is looking for indie content. If they’re not, then this price will pretty much ensures that indies won’t develop for them,” states Renaud. “Google Glass is a perfect example of an over priced development kit gone wrong.”
James Green, Co-Founder of Carbon Games, is also less than positive about the situation. A mid-sized studio currently working on an Oculus Rift exclusive version of the hugely successful AirMech franchise, Green can’t see a time when HoloLens will become an attractive proposition for videogame development. Furthermore, Green is noticeably angered by Microsoft’s attempts to discredit the success of modern VR hardware in the face of HoloLens.
“I think it’s embarrassing that Microsoft has taken such a dishonest approach to introducing Hololens to the world. They are absolutely misleading consumers with the implied field of view which can never be improved,” states Green. “They’re promising the world because they feel left behind with all the current VR excitement, but their product simply has no hope of ever providing the immersion of VR.”
Green continues to explain that, as a passionate videogame developer, he would very much like to bring AirMech to HoloLens. However, the opportunity Microsoft has presented is not necessarily what it may seem: “I actually think that AirMech would work great with Hololens, and I’d be happy to support it. But I doubt calling them out for being dishonest and misleading is going to earn me a free dev kit. Once it’s in consumer hands everyone can judge it for the final product, and I think it will have a lot of unexpected uses. It just feels way too early to be taking this approach, and screams of desperation and trying to not be left behind in the VR/AR space.”
Here in the UK, Sam Watts of Tammeka Games, creator of multi-format VR racing title Radial-G: Racing Revolved, recognises that HoloLens is being pitched to the development community in a very different fashion to VR HMDs.
“We were shocked to learn the high price of the HoloLens dev kit with the associated sign-up to be shortlisted,” states Watts. “The price seems to be aimed at larger studios or dev teams rather than the community angle taken by Oculus VR, for example. Appreciate they are looking for serious devs who can develop content with lower risk associated with them but [they] seem to ignore the small-scale dev scene that did a lot of the legwork with Oculus Rift dev kits, opening and paving the way for larger studios to jump on-board with VR.”
Watts is concerned that this high-end pitch may leave Microsoft lingering without content, but is ready to jump onboard when the opportunity becomes available to smaller studios: “Larger studios are more risk averse until there is a known marketplace and size; can’t see as many willing to pay out a much higher price for a dev kit in large numbers. However we will continue our excitement around the technology and monitor the situation, getting involved when the time and price is right.”
Flying Mollusk has recently launched Nevermind, a horror experience compatible with the Oculus Rift that also makes use of biosensor feedback to affect the way in which the videogame is played. Chief Mollusk, Erin Reynolds, is contrarily enthusiastic about the news from Microsoft.
“I’m thrilled that more details about the HoloLens are emerging! As an enthusiast of this kind of technology and a developer who works with emerging tech, any news like this is both encouraging and exciting,” states Reynolds. “However, the dev kit costing several thousand dollars does present a little bit of a barrier to entry. I imagine that many small, independent developers like us likely will have to wait a bit before we can start developing any content for it.”
After nearly 10 months of debate surrounding the HoloLens, Renaud closed the discussion with VRFocus by offering a sound byte to perfectly surmise the situation surrounding the HMD at present. Few have tried the device, and even fewer believe that it can achieve the results that Microsoft have been promising: “Maybe I will try one in the coming months and become a believer. But even then, I would need a guarantee that I would see a return on the investment. Time will tell.”