2016 has become the year of virtual reality, and even though not all of the major systems have even been publicly released yet, we’re beginning to get a taste of their capabilities. Of the best VR headsets out there, some are meant for high-end gamers looking for groundbreaking experiences, some are built for simpler (and cheaper) gaming, and some are still figuring out their respective niches. But as interesting as it has been to watch the emergence of these devices over the course of the year so far, the VR wave really shouldn’t have surprised us.
On the one hand this is because we’ve been hearing rumors and little details about VR headsets (and in particular the Oculus Rift) for a few years now. Then again, we also hear about flying cars, tube travel, and manned missions to Mars. Aside from rumors, however, there were a few pretty clear indications in both gaming and entertainment that VR was just around the corner. Four in particular stand out in hindsight.
1. TV & Film Went 3D
Some time around the beginning of our current decade, 3D films became popular, and people even started buying 3D televisions and glasses for the home. Though it wasn’t the first movie to dabble in 3D, James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster hit Avatar can probably be credited with spreading enthusiasm for the concept. And over the next few years it seemed that Hollywood studios were racing not to make the best films, but to explore 3D most effectively.
It should be noted that since the initial excitement, 3D as a concept for regular entertainment has actually declined. Consumers simply didn’t take to in-home 3D entertainment the way they were expected to, and according to a report by Forbes, the number of 3D releases at cinemas has also declined. However, the fact remains that the biggest and most action-packed films are still typically released in both ordinary and 3D formats. Much of the public has gotten used to 3D as a means of enjoying a film in a more immersive manner, which is basically what VR is attempting to do for gaming now.
2. Casinos Adopted Live Play
When you think about how long they’ve been around and how regularly they adapt to new concepts (such as different games, live chat features, and real money competition), online casinos have actually been pretty innovative. So it may come as no surprise to learn that they actually explored their own form of VR before headsets started rolling out in 2016.
At the forefront of the industry, Gala Casino offers numerous different gaming formats for casino players, including live dealer action that simulates a real-life casino like nothing else quite can. Essentially, in addition to playing against live competitors with real money on the line, you can now interact with a human being dealing cards, spinning a roulette reel, and more. It makes it so that your computer screen becomes a virtual casino in a very real way. You’re still looking at a screen, so it’s not full-on VR, but it was certainly a harbinger.
3. First Person Shooters Became Dominant
This one doesn’t require a whole lot of reflection or explanation. It’s been pretty clear in the past five or six years that first person shooters have become perhaps the most dominant console games on the market. And while they’re not VR the way new headsets are, they do thrive on providing an experience that allows gamers to feel as if they’re actually in on the action. For reference, Venture Beat’s report on 2015 gaming sales lists five shooters among the 10 best-selling games (and two separate Call Of Duty titles).
4. Mobile Gaming Got Sensory
Finally, and perhaps most subtly, the rise of mobile games brought about dozens of enjoyable experiences that thrived on sensory thrills. That may sound a little bit dramatic when considering small, app-based games, but when you think about some of the titles it begins to make sense. For instance, The Room and its sequels were positively reviewed on the grounds of their stunning visual atmospheres and intuitive exploration gameplay. Spooky games like Device 6, Year Walk, and Limbo, while not all first person, succeed through ominous and captivating sounds. One game (A Blind Legend) even does away with visuals altogether and challenges players to progress through levels simply through sound and control.
These are only a few examples, but they demonstrate a subtle shift in entertainment. While plenty of console games have excellent visuals and film quality soundtracks, they’re generally more about the action. Mobile developers, working with inherently simpler gameplay (or at least controls), have learned to make the things you see and the sounds you hear define gaming experiences. Clearly, this is something VR developers will be striving to accomplish as well.
Again, it wasn’t exactly a secret that VR was coming. But these developments in gaming gave us a little bit of a preview of what to expect even as the first rumors about Oculus and its competitors were starting to spread across the Internet.