VR vs. Multiplayer

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2013 marked the end of a long cycle of videogame consoles. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were both available for over 7 years before being succeeded by the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One respectively. Looking back, it’s easy to see where this HD era of consoles made the biggest impact; multiplayer. Yes, both systems were capable of stunning-looking blockbusters, but their online services undoubtedly changed the industry forever. Single-player-only titles are becoming rarer and rarer while online-centric experiences such as Call of Duty and Battlefield have become sales-driving behemoths, with many players not even touching the campaign elements of such titles.

battlefield_1It’s a trend that’s set to continue in this new era; EA’s Titanfall has taken bold steps to merging single and multiplayer content, while it’s hard to see Call of Duty slowing down any time soon. The enhanced capabilities of both systems mean that multiplayer will play as large a part in this generation as it did the last. But when it comes to virtual reality (VR), a technology that has the potential to change this industry all over again, multiplayer remains largely untouched. Both indie developers and a handful of bigger teams are indeed working with the tech online, though this currently restricted to a few key examples. Will that change in time?

It would be wrong to continue this piece without acknowledging some of the major multiplayer projects coming to VR platforms. Leading the charge is CCP Games with its impressive EVE Valkyrie, promising to be not just one of the first multiplayer VR titles, but one of the first major releases for the technology as a whole. Then there are the likes of upcoming MMOs and collaborative experiences that are testing the waters of VR; the PC and PlayStation 4-bound Wander and InEvoWare Game Studios’ XViREnt are just two that spring to mind, though check Steam Greenlight and you’ll find plenty more.

It’s clear, then, that some developers already realise the potential for multiplayer on VR; to have your own 3D avatar exist in a virtual space with other friends and enemies. It could bring about a whole new era of social videogames, especially when remembering who just bought Oculus Rift makers Oculus VR for some $2 billion USD. But that doesn’t mean that it will be a seamless transition for teams to add in support; multiplayer VR development will no doubt be bringing its own set of unique challenges to the table if and when it grows in popularity.

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Some of today’s blockbuster online experiences could be ideal for VR. Call of Duty’s short, sharp matches cater to the idea of not wearing a headset for too much time but rather in bursts, while Battlefield’s broader maps and vehicles could transform the title into the ultimate VR sandbox. But think about a few of the problems that could also be presented. Could VR players take part in the same matches as those with standard displays? Would we be able to pick our loadouts and spawn points with the same menu systems?

The former question is certainly an interesting thought. If you’re playing a fast-paced shooter, are VR players at an advantage thanks to head tracking, or would those accustomed to the standard experience have the upper hand? It’s an issue that we’re going to have to wait for one brave developer to try and tackle, particularly with Project Morpheus on PlayStation 4, where some players will be using the arguably slower DualShock 4 for camera operation.

The easy answer would be to simply split the two types of players into separate games. This doesn’t feel all that much like a ‘fix’, though; if PlayStation 3 and PC players could experience Portal 2 together despite the differing control schemes then some sort of compatibility should also be achieved here.

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Of course, multiplayer doesn’t just concern online titles. Local modes might have started to fade away in recent years, but there are still mainstay experiences out there for those that love playing with their friends next to them. You might think that these types of players would have to sit VR out, but Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) says otherwise. The company spoke about social VR during the reveal event for Project Morpheus in March 2014, stating that it could potentially be used for second screen experiences. Think Wii U’s Nintendoland, just with the console’s gamepad wrapped around your head.

Since then we’ve learnt about SCE trademarking terms such as ‘Social VR’, suggesting that there’s more to come from this line of thought. Could the company be looking to make waves in this area at E3 2014?

Multiplayer VR is no doubt an exciting prospect, and one that we don’t doubt will thrive once developers figure out these issues. It’s an area that’s currently waiting in the wings, with few developers truly devoted to developing multiplayer VR. We’re sure it’s only a matter of time before that changes.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

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