So another March rolls by and another GDC (Game Developer Conference) has been attended. This year was my second year in attendance of the world's largest gathering of games devs and industry supporters. In general, this year felt far more relaxed than the previous, be that myself being more familiar with my surroundings, or the event itself felt more relaxed in atmosphere.
From the countless daily talks, to the three sprawling expo halls, there was plenty to see, do, and people to talk to during the week long conference. As usual my focus was on all things XR, and this year did not disappoint. There was a fairly noticeable presence from VR and AR content creators, as well as hardware developers, however all with a wider stance of XR for enterprise, not just entertainment. This prompted me to begin to see that in fact, there was actually a larger presence on enterprise level applications for various disciplines, acknowledging that games developers can seek revenue from something other than just making games. This has always been the case, but to see it become more of a prominent feature on a stage such as GDC is reassuring, knowing that the industry is now opening up to the potential for working on projects in cross sector working.
Some of the highlights of the trip were being able to try some new, interesting hardware that would fit great within our Immersive Lab (based in PROTO, Gateshead). VRGO, a Welsh based VR peripheral company (pictured above) was one of the more unique offerings that I was able to try during my time there. The basis of their hardware is to allow users to maneuver through a VR space without the need for large room scale setups (physical space) or even the need for more complex controllers that have analogue input. The term "sitting on a giant analogue stick" does not miss the mark when describing how you use the VRGO chair, with the seat being able to rock in and rotate in all directions, allowing even un-tracked (3DoF) headsets, such as the Oculus Go, freedom of movement that they previously did not have.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Chinese based company Pico (headsets pictured above), who not only had a wide range of VR headsets with a range of different specifications, but were also showcasing their new air light, a projection based system that turns surfaces into an interactive AR table. Combining traditional projection technology, the air light also has infrared tracking capabilities, allowing for accurate interactions between the physical and digital, this even allowing for a developer to program in their application to work with physical objects that can be placed within that projection, acting as a reversal of the AR definition.
Of the talks that I was able to attend, Tobii in particular stood out as pushing the need to diversify the use cases of XR outside of purely entertainment uses. They explored the state of input methods throughout the years, through to the current state of controllers, including their eye tracking method and the announcement of their new XR SDK.
Finch technologies also posed an intriguing talk, posing the question of what would the developer want in a next gen controller, how would it allow developers to be able to create experiences and access new audiences in new ways. There was a great sense that the current state of XR within the games industry has become stable to the point of not needing as much direct emphasis anymore, but instead how can these businesses access new revenue streams, through enterprise development, to allow them the freedoms to create their own IPs.
The super powers that be in the XR space such as Oculus and HTC were also out in force as usual, showcasing their recently released or soon to be released headsets, Oculus also announcing an updated Rift, the Rift S. But as is the way with such a young set of technologies, it was the start ups or SMEs that stood out to me this year, with their inhibitions on innovating new ways to interact with the digital world. All in all it was clear that the industry is still very much invested in immersive technology as a platform, however the ideas and thoughts have begun to mature and look to the horizon as to where the games industry can fit into a wider market place.