Virtual reality will grow steadily in 2020. In 2019, standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest took the spotlight, selling units as fast as Facebook can make them. VR headsets for the PC were released as well, such as the Oculus Rift S, the VIVE Cosmos, and the Valve Index, each with their perks and issues. All the while the PlayStation VR stayed strong, with rumours of a PSVR 2 coming soon. VR in 2020 will likely continue the battle for dominance in a rapidly competitive market.
The potential for growth is still there as companies continue to develop engagement technologies. Katherine Pearson, 5GRIT Alston Explorer and Time Traveler Maker, Flo-culture Ltd, believes that organisations in the visitor experience and tourism sector are eager to use new engagement technologies, as they are naturally progressing from their current activities. Separately, social spaces will grow in popularity as well.
Exciting times lie ahead as well. Facebook announced several upgrades for its Oculus Quest which could shape the future of VR, capitalising on the early success of its standalone headset. So what can we expect next year?
How did virtual reality evolve in 2019?
In 2019, several companies released new VR headsets which were designed either as upgrades on existing models, or brand-new debuts from new companies.
The Oculus Quest and Rift S released in Spring 2019 to critical acclaim, with fans and Facebook heralding it as the next step in VR. With inside-out tracking, users do not need to place sensors around a room.
While the two headsets released at the same time, the Oculus Quest grabbed headlines. The standalone VR headset could be used anywhere without the use of an external high powered PC, which lowered the barriers of entry for anyone who wanted to try the technology out. Companies also cited boosts in sales when releasing on the platform; the SUPERHOT team sold 300% more copies of their game on their launch on the Quest than the Rift. Combined with a cheaper price tag and great games at the start, there has been a significant bump in sales for the VR ecosystem.
Alongside the headsets, the Valve Index was released with knuckle controllers, which adds more fidelity with how users can control their environments. The VIVE Cosmos released as well, providing an alternative to the HTC VIVE.
Upcoming VR headsets in 2020
Compared to 2019, 2020 will likely be comparatively quiet. Facebook, HTC, and Valve all released new headsets, and it is unlikely that another headset in the same category would be released so soon. The same goes for VRgineers, whose XTAL headset still blows the specs of competitors out of the water.
But upgrades are more likely. For example, Facebook announced that hand tracking would be coming to the Oculus Quest in 2020. The feature would use the internal tracking already built into the headset, as an update to the released model. Facebook also announced Oculus Link, a way to connect the Oculus Quest to the PC so it can play Rift experiences. The development is a massive innovation that will shape the future of VR in 2020 and beyond.
Also, it does not stop some companies from releasing a different kind of VR headset. While HTC released the VIVE Cosmos in 2019 for the PC platform, the standalone VIVE Focus might be ready for an upgrade. As the VIVE Focus is the portable and less powerful equivalent of the VIVE Cosmos, the company may consider updating the hardware without cannibalising the PC market. HTC might also slash the costs as well, to compete with the Oculus Quest.
The exception is that the PlayStation VR is due an upgrade. Rumours about the PSVR 2 have circulated for several years, as it is clear that Sony would like to follow up on the success of the original headset. 4.2 million headsets sold since launch is a lot. The company may release the new hardware to coincide with its launch of the PlayStation 5.
How will the VR market develop?
The immersive market will likely steadily improve. The first indication of a hockey-stick curve in 2019 was the launch of the Oculus Quest, and the subsequent rise in video game sales. But a steep improvement is not expected unless a new games title moves devices.
It is also notoriously difficult to keep track of stats on the VR market. Superdata and CCS Insight keep track of the market, sometimes looking at both VR and AR together or overestimating the potential of some headsets. But collectively, all agree that the industry will develop steadily over the short-term.
Other technologies already help development. Burkhard Boeckem, CTO of Hexagon Geosystems, says that laser scanning technology and 3D mapping is already taking the industry by another level: “As projects and scenes become more complex, and the need for accurate and instant data increases, new lightweight and mobile devices such as the Leica BLK2GO will allow teams to work faster and more efficiently… In the film industry, Industrial Light & Magic, the motion picture VFX company that’s worked on films like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, also used 3D laser scanning for location scouting.”
Selling VR and AR
Number of virtual and augmented reality devices forecast to be sold by 2023
Raking in the cash
Forecast value of the market by 2023
Source: CCS Insight forecast on the VR and AR market (2019)
What are some VR trends and advancements in 2020?
Three trends and advancements will influence VR in 2020. The first is control methods and how people interact with experiences. The second is the merging of PC and standalone experiences into one system. The final one is around data privacy.
- Control methods. The way users interact in virtual reality must be designed to preserve or improve immersion. Controllers can be intuitive, but barriers can be broken down further to make the player feel more comfortable. Similarly, the Valve Index and its knuckle controllers are more intuitive than holding a typical games controller. In 2020, companies will likely announce new control methods.
- Merging PC and standalone headsets. Currently, the market is firmly divided between the two sides. On the one hand, PC headsets cannot be transported as easily but play powerful experiences. On the other, standalone experiences can be easily picked up, though with less graphical fidelity. But why not give VR headsets the functionality to do both? Why not have a standalone headset that can run its own experiences, but can also connect to a PC to play more graphically-intense adventures? The merge would collapse VR headsets into one, simplifying consumer choice. Also, Facebook has hinted at this with the Oculus Link, where the Oculus Quest can play Rift games.
- Data privacy. Consumers will raise questions around the privacy of user data with VR headsets. Damien Mason, a data privacy expert from ProPrivacy, says that “VR headsets can collect audiovisual data of our surroundings and reserve the right to share these with third party companies within maddeningly vague guidelines.” He hopes to see concrete privacy policies emerge to outline what is collected. The approach would give users the right to opt-out, or enable greater punishments for those that misuse it.
What about the future of VR gaming?
Ultimately, the future rests on the content created by developers. The same virtuous cycle still applies; great VR games sells VR headsets, which in turn spurs more developers to make games for a bigger market. To achieve the goal, a few studios are focusing on either established IPs, or new experiences that use VR to its fullest.
Take Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. Developed by Respawn Entertainment, the game uses the IP to make an experience designed for VR from the ground up. But there are two key reasons why gamers are interested in the game. The first is Respawn’s pedigree, as the developers behind Apex Legends and Titanfall. But the second is equally important: Medal of Honor brand awareness. People are more likely to follow the game because it is connected to such an established video game franchise. Then people would be interested in the game and, hopefully, the exclusive platfrom it is on, the Oculus Rift S. The same goes for Vader Immortal, a Star Wars game that was designed exclusively for the Oculus Quest to shift more units.
Other developers are taking a different approach and creating unique experiences that then spreads via clever marketing and word of mouth. Beat Saber is the best example of this. The team developed a brand-new experience that was so much fun to play, and so fun to share, that it earned the first-ever VR platinum by selling over one million copies. More unique games like Beat Saber would tip the balance to sell more copies and, in turn, more headsets.
As for what the game will be, who knows? But the community will be watching for fun experiences to try out.
VR in 2020 – Concluding remarks
Like many, I have a lot of faith in the industry. VR has the potential to grow because its unique qualities make it shine. And companies have been doing a great job at improving their reach, such as Facebook and HTC. 2020 will likely be an evolution rather than a revolution.
In the meantime, companies are exploring improved control methods, among other things it is partially why Facebook introduced hand tracking; few interactions are more seamless than using one’s own hands. The company also announced that they are investigating brain interfaces, though it is unlikely to be released in 2020. Thom Strimbu, an Immersive Strategy Consultant, also notes that large companies will continue to consume smaller ones to develop their platforms.
Like with any prediction, it is extraordinarily challenging to point out when something is the ‘year’ of VR. Nor is it helpful. It shall arrive when it wants to come, and once it does, it will be when we do not expect it. VR in 2020 will still be fun, diverse, and exciting; enjoy surfing the wave.