The recent announcement of the release of several games has boosted VR helmet sales. Giants such as Facebook hope to create new communities of players, who will be able to interact in a fictional world.
“This year is the one.” Developers are unanimous that 2020 will see the advent of virtual reality helmets. Launched with great fanfare nearly six years ago, these so-called immersive helmets have remained the exclusive preserve of a small community of gamers. While Sony has sold 106 million copies of its flagship PlayStation 4 game console, since 2013, the Japanese manufacturer has only managed to sell 5 million VR (virtual reality) headsets over the same period.
This is mainly due to the prohibitive price (from 700 to 1,000 euros) of these instruments. But the situation is changing. Following the example of Oculus, owned by Facebook, 2019, has seen manufacturers almost halve their prices and, an important detail, they have managed to get rid of bulky wires. A first step towards the general public. Provided that the helmets are no longer handicapped by the weakness of their games catalog. Precisely in this area too, 2020 opens up attractive prospects.
One track has already managed to boost sales on its own, even though it will only be released next March: Half-Life Alyx. For the layman, it should be known that the announcement of this game to gamers is equivalent to that of a new Star Wars to movie lovers. Except that the last opus of this mythical game developed by Valve was released fifteen years ago! The new part, expected in spring, will only be available in a virtual reality version. As a result, all manufacturers whose headphones are compatible with the game are now out of stock. Valve, which also sells its own VR goggles at prices approaching 1,000 euros, has already announced that it will not be able to satisfy all orders for machines by the time its flagship game is released.
Find your Virtual Friends
And the pressure could get a lot worse. In the coming months, the social network Facebook is due to launch a virtual world called Horizon, where it will be possible to interact with other users by creating an avatar in one’s own image. “People will be able to play, explore or even create new communities,” promises an Oculus spokesperson.
Facebook does not stop at the social aspect and aims to become a major player in virtual reality. To achieve this, the Menlo Park group bought out Beat Games last November. This Czech studio is the first to have put a VR game in the top 100 best-selling titles of the year on Steam, the most popular buying platform.
VR in the Clouds
Like Facebook, other tech giants are hoping to make their mark in this new world. The research firm IDC predicts that the sector will see investment growth of almost 80% in 2020. And the deployment of 5G will be a key factor in the success of VR, as it will make it possible to do away with the computers on which you have to plug in your headset today to run a game without difficulty.
The throughput power of the 5G will allow the device to be connected directly to the cloud, allowing you to play anywhere. The Taiwanese brand HTC has already announced the launch of a 5G-compatible model for this year. In France, the champion of cloud gaming, Shadow, is expected to unveil a VR version of its services shortly, allowing any online game to be played.
Mark Zuckerberg is certain: the next decade will be the decade of virtual reality. In the future, imagined by the CEO of Facebook, for example, we will be able to stay in a tiny Parisian studio but live, virtually, in a villa by the sea. At least as attractive as it is scary.
Stadia: when Google sends the video game to the cloud
Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Blade of France are trying to do away with home consoles in favor of online gaming from their cloud infrastructures.
First, the noise. Cascading explosions and rhythmic music clash in a din that makes you deaf. Then comes the flood of images. Machines give birth on giant screens to imaginary worlds, and realistic fighters caught up in Dantestic confrontations. At the beginning of November, 317,000 people attended the annual video game mass in France, the Paris Games Week exhibition.
However, a new player, who was largely absent from this event, could make this orgy of consoles and cables obsolete. The Google search engine is arriving on 19 November with its online service Stadia open simultaneously in 14 countries, including France. Just as Netflix has put an end to DVD players and Spotify on the hi-fi system, the giant from Mountain View (California) intends to make living room machines look old-fashioned by shifting computing power to its own servers, its cloud.
A challenge that a French start-up, even before the American giant, has already begun to take up. “A player has to spend 1,200 euros for a powerful computer or 400 euros for a console. But not everyone can afford to invest such sums,” explains Emmanuel Freund, CEO of the Blade company. We propose to reduce this price and democratize this industry by making the latest technology available for a simple monthly subscription.” With Shadow, this French company allows access to the capabilities of a recent PC by connecting to the Internet from any device (TV, smartphone, tablet …). To date, 70,000 customers have already subscribed.
In the footsteps of Frenchy, the giants like Google and Microsoft also dream of turning the heads of customers in their cloud computing and capture part of the 118 billion euros of this Eldorado. Yet before them, pioneers have already broken their teeth in this Eldorado. More than a decade ago, OnLive, G-Cluster, or Gaikai ran into technical problems. But, like the heroes of virtual worlds who keep coming back from the dead, cloud gaming is now trying its luck again with colossal means.
Google Employees have been testing Stadia since 2017
With his chubby face and his good-natured appearance, Majd Bakar has, at first glance, nothing frightening. Yet this engineer has given TV stations a cold sweat. Arriving at Google in 2011, he developed two years later, a small device in the shape of a key connected to Wi-Fi, the Chromecast. Once it is connected to the old TV set in the living room, viewers can access YouTube or Netflix from their sofa, thus turning away from traditional audiovisual programs.
The Montrealer, of Syrian origin, didn’t stop there in his robbery of the TV. “Very quickly, we realized that something was missing from our offer: video games. And that’s really when the idea of Stadia was born,” he recalls. In 2017, several thousand employees at Google will be involved in testing this console-free entertainment system internally. “During this phase, we were able to look at the connection speeds needed, assess the slowdown issues on the screen, and think about what we wanted to offer. It was exciting,” he adds.
Now that the tests are over, the group will have to face the harsh reality of the field, or rather the living room of demanding players. To take advantage of this, the first aficionados had to buy a pack including a Chromecast Ultra key to plug into their TV and a controller, with a three-month subscription and the Destiny 2 title included, all for 129 euros. Next year, it will be possible to subscribe to a basic offer for 9.90 euros per month without the hardware. A catalog of around 40 references will eventually be offered for purchase – twenty-two are already available. “In this respect, we are different from Netflix,” says Majd Bakar.
And with good reason. Unlike the record and DVD sectors, which are in crisis, the video games sector continues to grow at a rate of over 10% a year. Other industries, such as the casino industry, continue to grow each year too. A lot of Indian players prefer now to subscribe online to play poker, blackjack, or even roulette or slots on the safest and most trusted top online casinos in India, and Blockbusters such as Red Dead Redemption 2 sell tens of millions of copies at a price of 70 euros in stores or for downloads (with several hours of waiting and large storage space).
Under these conditions, why would a publisher settle for a part of the subscriptions at 10 euros per month when its biggest hits continue to sell well per unit? “Our industry seeks to explore all avenues to reach new audiences,” replies Emmanuel Martin, general delegate of the Syndicat des éditeurs de logiciels de loisirs (Sell). Streaming is one of the most promising technologies.”