Then and Now – The History of Virtual Reality Gaming in the Home
The global virtual reality (or VR) market has enjoyed incredible growth over the course of the last three years, with revenues increasing more than three-fold from $1.8 billion in 2016 to the current value of $6.2 billion.
This number is likely to nearly double once again between now and 2022, by which time the global market will be worth an impressive $16.3 billion.
This growth is largely reliant on the lucrative home gaming market, which is worth an incredible $137.9 billion by itself and provides a natural application for various items of VR hardware.
While there’s a tendency to discuss VR gaming in the home in terms of innovations from the last decade or so, this concept actually dates back to the 1950s. In this post, we’ll review the history of home VR gaming and ask how it has evolved during this time.
In the Beginning – Television and Sega’s Initial VR Headset
Interestingly, the concept of VR was first discussed more than 60 years ago, primarily as an innovation that would transform watching films and television into a completely three-dimensional and immersive experience.
Filmmaker Morton Heilig led this charge, and in 1957 he invented a large booth-like machine that combined multiple technologies to provide people with a fully immersive visual and sensory viewing experience.
Known as the Sensorama, this could host up to four people at a time and create the illusion of interacting within a virtual 3D world. Just three years later, Heilig refined his idea into a patent for the world’s first head-mounted display, laying the foundation for the product iterations that have since revolutionised the global gaming experience.
The next three decades saw small but incremental developments in this space, but it wasn’t until 1991 that a gaming brand first began to develop a VR headset as an accessory. It was Sega who blazed a trail for others to follow in this respect, with development starting in 1991 to coincide with the launch of the 16-bit console Genesis.
The aim of the prototype project was to create the impression that gamers were exploring an alternate reality, while the initial headset featured a RoboCop-style visor and sleek plastic design that contributed to a truly futuristic look.
Although this product was never released on the consumer market (thanks largely due to the fear that the realism of the experience would potentially cause physical injury), its concealed LCD displays, in-built headphones and use of inertial sensors for tracking head movement undoubtedly informed the subsequent designs of the future.
Fast Forward to 2010 and a Breakthrough in the Consumer Market
Sega’s efforts represented the first ever attempt at developing a mainstream VR headset, but it was not until 2010 that a successful product of this type was launched on the market.
This was the brainchild of 18-year old entrepreneur Palmer Luckey, who is credited with creating the prototype version of the now iconic Oculus Rift. This innovation built on the foundations laid by Sega nearly 20 years before, whilst refining the design of the headset and incorporating a 90-degree field of view that was unprecedented in the world of consumer technology.
These changes, along with further advancements in technology, created a viable proposition for the consumer mainstream, with soaring demand resulting in Facebook’s $2 billion of Oculus Rift back in 2014.
In the five years since this acquisition, we’ve the global market saturated with various VR headsets and accessories, from budget options manufactured by Merge to higher-end alternatives like the HTC Hive.
These products typically work with desktop and console platforms, while innovations such as the Samsung Gear VR have been specifically designed for use with smartphones. This has enabled developers to hone their designs and optimise the user experience, while also targeting a specific audience with every new release.
As VR technology has evolved and finally breached the consumer mainstream, we’ve also seen demand rise for additional accessories that can help to enhance the gaming experience. From Birdly and SixSense Stem (which enhance various types of movement) to simple cable ties from RS Components that enable you to keep your gaming area tidy, people are now investing more in products that realise the full potential of VR technology.
Interestingly, these products have also combined to create safer VR gaming experiences, removing one of the historic barriers to entry that once confined the market.