VR vs. 2017 (Predictably) – Part 1

So here we are again everyone. Welcome to 2018 on both VR vs. and on VRFocus. I hope you all had a very good holiday period and new year celebration. I was off playing silly board games and enjoying the company of some friends in what is now something of a tradition. In what is also something of a tradition I came a distant second in Ticket To Ride, expressed interest in a game of Monopoly that everyone ignored because I always win – the last game we played they all actively and openly teamed up against me and I still beat all three of them to much grumbling. I also proceeded to destroy everyone in the one game I’d never played – which was this year Bears vs Babies. A card based game that can be described as ‘from the makers of the far more fun Exploding Kittens’. Also we played Pandemic. Pandemic is bloody good.

Perhaps I should do VR vs. Tabletop at some point?

Today however marks my first day back in the saddle, and the last on the VRFocus ‘Christmas Mode’.  So as of tomorrow (Wednesday) it’ll be usual hours for segments, back up to the usual number of stories per day and all hands on deck once again.  Being in the know – well, relatively speaking – I can tell you there’s a lot that’s going on with the website this year. New people, new activities, new responsibilities. It’s going to be a busy ol’ time for us all. Before we get on to the matter at hand and start thinking about 2018 going forward I do have one last needed look back at virtual reality (VR) in 2017 to do.

I know, I know, you’re probably sick of retrospectives at the moment. But this is the one where we look back at my 2017 predictions (or educated guesses) and we see just how badly I stuffed them all up.  In a couple of weeks I can start going through some of my silly little predictions for the year to come.

Prediction: “ZeniMax Becomes VR’s Bad Guy”
Result: False – Through Circumstance

I described this as being “pretty much nailed on” at the time and it certainly looked that way. The ZeniMax situation hasn’t exactly gone away and continues to rear its head, unofficially at least, in a number of ways. For example, the lack of support for Oculus Rift on Bethesda’s recent VR trinity. DOOM VFR only getting support following an update by SteamVR itself, which was described as a “workaround”.

This whole mess is still coming and we are far from done in the battle of ZeniMax vs Oculus/Facebook. Chronologically speaking things escalated this way over the course of 2017: ZeniMax Media acquired Escalation Studios to make VR projects at the same time as ZeniMax was awarded the total of $500 Million (USD). No one was happy with that verdict – Oculus weren’t found guilty of misappropriating trade secrets, so ZeniMax weren’t happy. Oculus still don’t think anything was done wrong at all so they aren’t happy either. John Carmack put ZeniMax’s experts on blast a day later with some very choice words.

ZeniMax then declared that they were going to try and block Oculus from using its VR SDK, Carmack anger turned into a lawsuit of his own against ZeniMax in March, before in May ZeniMax dragged Samsung into things by extending their lawsuit to include the Gear VR.

The ZeniMax situation is still a powder keg.  A ruddy big powder keg that is set to do a lot of damage to VR – but that keg hasn’t gone off yet so I have to mark this prediction as a failure. As we know the role of villain for 2017 ended up being a company I don’t think any of us expected- but the least said about that the better.

ZeniMax MediaPrediction: “Several Trillion Market Research Agencies Will Say VR’s Market Growth Has Slowed/Value Has Reduced”
Result: True

Well this one is true but only really in the sense that everything under the sun seemed to have a market research report on it this year and being such a hot topic in 2016 VR got dragged into a lot of things in 2017, quite a few of which it really had no business being in. Whilst VRFocus reports on a lot of these reports you should see the ones we tossed!  As it turns out more than a few of them did indeed reign in previous predictions a bit for the period to come described in 2016 – but in a lot of cases this reverted to previous levels in the year or two now included after that 2016 prediction period. So, in a sense nothing has really changed. But values were walked back in a lot of them. I’m declaring that one a win.

Prediction: We Would See “The Debut Of Halo-lens”
Result: True.

This prediction starts with “Minecraft this. Minecraft that. Minecraft bloody everything.” and I’m pleased to say that still makes me chuckle. This prediction though was pretty specific. We’d get a Halo title coming to Microsoft’s head mounted display (HMD). At the time I said it was the Hololens. However, what we actually got was Halo: Recruit for the Windows Mixed Reality HMD. Now I wasn’t to know the Windows Mixed Reality series of headsets were coming, but they’re all considered part of the same family of headsets now so we can chalk this one up in the wins column too.

It might not have been what I wanted when I said “a first person Halo experience” in the prediction but it was one. Can we have a proper one next though?

Prediction: “A Big Name Leaves Oculus – And Jumps Ship”
Result: Somewhat True

“Considering last week’s column you may assume I mean Palmer Luckey at this point and it’s entirely possible.” I said at the time and lo and behold Mr. Luckey departed Facebook in March. Though whether or not he fell on his sword, was shown the door to step through it or shown the door to be booted through it is still something of an unknown.

Now whether or not I got this one right is kind of open to interpretation since yes, Luckey left Oculus and he was certainly the biggest name at the company. Even bigger than Carmack. However, he didn’t exactly jump ship.  He did set up his own company, Anduril, later in the year, following a period of self-imposed social media exile. Anduril is working on VR projects so you could count that. Luckey also proceeded to appear with HTC Vive at the Tokyo Game Show, which could also be counted.  Personally, I’m leaning towards a loss on this one but it’s at least 50% right.

Prediction: “Patent Wars: The Family Atmosphere Is Over”
Result: False

This one is quite pleasing. 2016 was full of stories about all and sundry filing patents for immersive technology related matters. In 2017 there was quite a few patent-related news stories as well. Not counting the whole ongoing ZeniMax saga, only a couple of them dissolved into actual legal wrangling: Techno View IP vs Oculus and HoloTouch vs Microsoft.

Other than that, the whole atmosphere between the HMD manufacturers remains both cordial and respectful which is good to see. Of course, the fanbases for each have degenerated into a lot of shouting and one-upmanship as has previously been discussed. Still at least the stakeholders can get along, right?

Prediction: “A VR Only eSports Tournament”
Result: True.

Well, I didn’t quite expect this one to come off but low and behold it did. Whether or not you think that VR is the future of eSports is immaterial. With thanks to Oculus and Intel it came to be in the guise of the VR Challenger League.  The tournament hosted a $200,000 (USD) prize for Echo Arena and The Unspoken – which is a pretty sizeable chunk of change. One more than worthy of qualifying this, particularly with its association with ESL – and a ‘proper’ tournament and the sort that I was hoping to see when I made that prediction.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes of things like this in 2018. We know Intel have their plans and I’ve recently gone on record as saying you should watch out for them this year. What have Oculus got up their sleeve though? I do hope we’ll see this become a regular fixture of the VR calendar.

VR Challenger LeagueI’m going leave things there for part one. We do have three weeks’ worth of VR vs. features to actually go through so we’re going to have to split it up a bit out of necessity.  Join me again next week to see if I continue to do surprisingly well with these!