Will Virtual Reality Ever Be Like the Holodeck on ‘Star Trek’? (Guest Blog)

Free-motion VR experiences in rooms the size of basketball gyms are closer than you think

Last Updated: July 13, 2016 @ 8:32 AM

Contributed By LEKIn our last post, we discussed two key obstacles to bringing virtual reality (VR) action gaming to the mass market, namely rotational latency and positional disjunction. While the first issue can be resolved through technology that has faster and better displays, a completely different approach is required to solve the problem of positional disjunction.

The answer lies in changing the VR gaming paradigm and allowing people to move as they play.

As we have previously discussed, nausea occurs when our eyes register significant changes in position while our inner ear tells us that we are stationary. But when we are allowed to move and dodge in a room the size of a basketball court, the problem is solved.

Most of us have seen this idea played out in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” when Worf uses a 3D simulation room, the holodeck, to practice his fighting tactics. And we can now simulate holodeck combat with VR headsets in a large room.

LEK_Virtual_Reality_Post_5_graphic_1Here are three companies that are making the holodeck a reality: Void, Zero Latency and VRcade.

Void is developing a 25,000-plus-square-foot VR theme park in Utah and, in partnership with Sony Pictures, a VR attraction in Times Square that is said to be opening in a few weeks. Prices for VR sessions are approximately $30 for 30 minutes. Take a look at this two-minute video, which has already gotten 4 million views.

Zero Latency is developing a 4,300-square-foot, mid-scale VR theme park that is located in a warehouse. The company has partnered with Alienware to use its Alpha PC gaming console to power Zero Latency’s backpack computers (for rendering) and Oculus Rift DK2. The game is priced at approximately $88 for a 45-50 minute session. For free-roaming, multiplayer VR action see this one minute video.

VRcade is developing a small-format (225 square feet) VR arcade experience in partnership with Dave & Buster’s (rates are around $5 for five minutes).

However, all of these companies have focused on retail experiences, and there remains a significant white space in in-home and open-air VR, which could drive significant mass-market consumer adoption. Substantial opportunity exists for these startups and also for large game publishers and hardware companies.

LEK_Virtual_Reality_Post_5_graphic_2There are a few issues that companies need to solve before free-movement VR can be deployed successfully:

  1. VR will need to use off-the-shelf hardware and probably some off-the-shelf modifiable games (e.g., “Counter-Strike,” “Skyrim,” “Fallout” or “Halo”).
  2. Players will need to wear backpack processors to handle latency issues because cloud-only processing does not allow games to move quickly enough.
  3. The holodecks and wearable devices will need numerous sensors to report the positions of players in real time, including sensors on bodies and weapons (or perhaps Kinect-type viewers for positions) and sensors to mark the limits of game areas.
  4. Free-movement VR software will need some good hacks to address the differences between VR gaming and traditional console or PC gaming. For example, in traditional games, the player aims the reticle, and the gun follows the motion; however, in VR, the player needs to point the gun and the reticle needs to follow.
  5. Free-movement VR needs a large software publisher to ensure that content is refreshed frequently, and big publisher names would drive adoption.

Despite these issues, there is tremendous opportunity for these and larger companies looking to explore free-motion VR:

  1. Whoever is first to mass-market free-motion VR will be known as the pioneer in the realm of free-motion VR.
  2. There is a “coolness” factor associated with VR that will rub off on the developer (just as the pioneering open-world gaming of “Grand Theft Auto” made Take-Two cool).
  3. There is the possibility of selling a large number of units (primarily software, but hardware royalties are possible, as well).
  4. Time to market is relatively short and cheap; a good development team could have a product ready for deployment within six to 12 months since most (if not all) of the hardware is “off the shelf.”
  5. Short-term opportunity is in closed retail locations for group play, but improvements in technology will allow for larger markets in homes, backyards, soccer fields, basketball courts, etc.

Free-motion gaming is the key to the mass adoption of VR for the action gamer: It is certain to earn major profits for the first companies that make it work.

This is Part 5 in a series on virtual reality trends by Dan Schechter, Gil Moran and Francesco Di Ianni from L.E.K. Consulting’s Media & Entertainment consulting practice.