The big-screen version of Ready Player One might have brought the idea to the forefront of people’s minds, but the concept of a virtual reality (VR) massively multiplayer online videogame has been a dream for some time, from William Gibson’s Neuromancer novel to anime such as the .Hack series or Sword Art Online. While titles such as OrbusVR and VRChat recreate some of what would be needed for a truly connected VR MMO, they are not ideal.
With that in mind, lets take a look at the sorts of things that would be needed to make the perfect VR MMO for the future.
The Server-Side Hardware
We’ve discussed before what technical challenges stand before any serious attempt to create any MMO, not just a VR ones – namely the cost of setting up and maintaning the back-end server infrastructure.
There is a potential solution to that, however. Distributed computing and Blockchain could offer some other options for the VR MMO of the future, letting some of the assets and processing load be handled by something that isn’t a vast server farm paid for by a single company, but is instead distributed across the globe. Decentraland and some other Blockchain-based efforts are testing this out, so those are worth keeping an eye on.
The Client-Side Hardware
There is a question of if current generation VR hardware can even handle a VR MMO. A typical session in an MMO can run to several hours, and for many the idea of having current generation VR hardware next to your eyeballs for that length of time is not especially appealing, particularly when headaches from the screen-door effect and sim sickness are taken into account. Perhaps future headsets, less bulky and with better resolution, will make this idea more practical.
The User Interface
Here is where things get somewhat tricky. Almost every MMO has some sort of on-screen UI which contain the various skills and abilities you need to use in various situations. These tend to be vast and often incomprehensible to non-players. However, VR works best when it is deeply immersive, which means the less on-screen immersion-breaking clutter, the better.
Its difficult to say what the best approach is to resolving these, but context sensitivity might be the key. Perhaps a Dragon Age-style action wheel could pop up in certain contexts, or with the press of the trigger button. Maybe gaze control is the way forward? Alternatively, perhaps gesture control could be explored? There would certainly be some satisfaction derived from moving your hands in magical gestures to cast a fireball at a dragon.
Haptic feedback technology has seen a surge in growth recently, with several companies exploring various ways to provide the sensation of touch to VR and AR users. To make the most of a VR MMO, this technology should certainly be integrated.
To Room Scale or Not To Room Scale
Long-time MMO players will tell you that one of the most enjoyable aspects of playing an MMO is a multi-player raid. Ganging up on a boss with a group of other players is exciting, though sometimes frustrating. Watching the boss to see what attacks it is going to throw next and remembering how to counter is and positioning yourself accordingly. This would seem to indicate that room scale would be a natural fit, right? Well, not so much. Remember what I said about long play sessions? Playing a room scale MMO might be great exercise, but it would also include many people, including people suffering from several disabilities and excluding anyone is a bad idea, especially when the VR player base remains somewhat limited.
What do you think is needed for the Perfect VR MMO? Sound off in the comments.