For all the buzz around it, virtual reality (VR) has yet to truly take off. Although it hasn’t exactly had a breakthrough, VR gaming is seeing lateral growth and innovation across a range of trends. Here are the ones to keep your eye on.
VR: A social future
At the moment, VR is generally a solo experience, but a flurry of investments in the last few years point towards a future where VR is heavily integrated into social spaces.
In 2016, Facebook formed a Social VR team and introduced Spaces, a VR app for people to hang out with their friends in an interactive virtual environment. 2017 saw Altspace VR, a VR social network, acquired by Microsoft. Other startups in the social VR realm include VR gaming platform Against Gravity, VR communications app Pluto VR, and LiveLike, a live-streaming platform for sports VR content. The startups respectively raised USD 5 million, 13.9 million, and 13.5 million in funding.
In a Medium post, Spaces lead designer Christophe Tauziet said: “…There is a unique opportunity for VR to be a people-first computing platform. A platform in which people are at the core of the experience, with a true feeling of presence, and where they can choose to do the things they want, together.”
The VR buzz has also resurrected a relic from video games’ past: arcades. VR arcades are now sprouting up all over the world, bringing together people not just in virtual reality, but in physical environments too. The concept has attracted a wave of venture capital investments: Washington startup VRstudios has raised USD 4.35 million to grow their VRcade system, while DreamWorks Animation’s VR startup, Spaces Inc., has raised USD 9.5 million.
Microtransactions in VR games
Game publishers have adopted varying pricing models to monetize their VR content. It’s a different case for triple-A desktop titles, which are typically priced around 60 dollars, or mobile games, where six dollars is the upper end of the spectrum. But because VR games have yet to mature, players and publishers haven’t established what a fair price should be for a game.
For instance, the apps for Google’s Daydream View headset range from one to 20 dollars, while Oculus has games from five to 60 dollars. In 2017, game designer Tristan Parrish Moore did an in-depth analysis of all VR-compatible games on Steam, and found that most games cost between USD 7.50 and 9.99, or USD 17.50 and 19.99. Clearly, VR game developers are still experimenting with their pricing models.
As the technology continues to advance, and gamers get better acquainted with the platform, it’s likely that developers will incorporate microtransactions into VR games. After all, in-game purchases are a highly lucrative revenue stream for publishers.
Anticipating this shift, some payment companies have already developed solutions to facilitate seamless transactions in a VR environment. Clearly, requiring the player to remove their VR headset in order to pay is hugely disruptive to the game experience. A VR-compatible payment platform eliminates this pain point, allowing the customer to pay and play without interruption.
Wearable accessories and biometric gaming
Although VR content has yet to prevail, the demand for VR gaming accessories has swelled. The global market for VR gaming accessories alone is estimated to reach a valuation of USD 31 billion by the end of 2025.
These peripherals leverage Internet-of-Things technology to make VR games more immersive than ever. They include interactive devices such as treadmills, swords and guns, as well as wearable interfaces such as gloves and clothing. For instance, MadRat Games launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2016 for its SuperSuit, a wearable harness that complements outdoor shooting games such as laser tag.
Wearable gear also opens the door to a new paradigm in the video games industry: biometric gaming. The devices can be equipped with a range of sensors to monitor a player’s biometric responses, such as their heart rate or breathing rate, to measure how they’re feeling as they interact with the game. This biofeedback can also directly affect gameplay, making it more immersive than ever.
A good example is Nevermind, a first-person horror/mystery game which relies on emotion-based and physiological-based biofeedback (via a standard webcam and a heart rate sensor) to enhance the game experience for its players. The more fear, stress, or anxiety the player feels, the more difficult the game becomes. Players become highly aware of their internal responses to stressful situations and have to learn to manage them in order to beat the game.
Face ID, introduced by Apple in its iPhone X, is another prime example. The software uses biometric technology to scan and recognize your face as a form of authentication for using the phone. Since Apple plans to share the facial mapping data with developers, this could eventually lead to mobile game designers using Face ID to study a gamer’s facial expressions while playing, and to measure how engaged they are.
Despite its rapid growth, however, wearables and biometric gaming have yet to achieve mainstream traction. It may be necessary for the VR gaming industry to mature first before its peripherals can take off. From that point onwards, they have the potential to truly transform the gaming experience.
Interested in more hard-hitting insights on the video gaming industry? Download our white paper, Navigating the sandbox: Disruptive trends in the video gaming industry, which covers the trends and challenges of the sector for the next five years.
 (Persistence Market Research)