Virtual reality (VR) technology almost came out of the 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC). With Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) announcing the Project Morpheus VR head-mounted display (HMD) and Oculus VR lifting the lid on its second development kit for the Oculus Rift (DK2). The technology was riding on a wavy of positivity, with developers expressing enthusiasm for creating innovative new experiences and press and attendees clearly impressed by what they got to sample at the event.
Then Ubisoft brought everyone back to Earth a little.
Towards the end of the event Lionel Raynaud, the publisher’s VP of Creative noted that VR HMDs would have to sell upwards of one million units to become viable for development. It was a sobering moment that reminded everyone that VR still had to prove itself to perhaps the most important people of all, the publishers. Without their seal of approval, VR games can’t get made unless within the admittedly thriving indie scene. But without their big budget efforts, just how are these devices meant to reach that lofty number?
Perhaps the most surprising aspect was that this caution came from a company that has traditionally supported risky new platforms and technologies. Ubisoft has been praised over the past few years for its support of Nintendo’s struggling Wii U where others jumped ship shortly after the launch of the console. Elsewhere the company has, at the very least, been present for the launch of the likes of the PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Move, Kinect and more. It’s championing of new systems is to be championed.
And with that in mind, we really wouldn’t be surprised to see the publisher contribute to the launch of both Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift in similar fashion. Perhaps not with the latest entry in one of its blockbuster franchises, but instead a smaller, tailor-made experience. Of course, for VR that’s exactly what the technology needs at this point in time; perhaps a collection of mini-games that helps the publisher find its footing or something along these lines.
Eventually we would of course love to see some of the more high profile series lend their support. Assassin’s Creed’s mix of historic action and modern storytelling certainly presents some unique opportunities and HMDs seem like an ideal fit for its recently-launched Watch Dogs franchise in some way or another. There’s no doubt that, once VR takes off, Ubisoft will prove to be a major player in the industry, which is an exciting thought.
So, yes, VR will need a million sales before it become viable to publishers, but if history repeats itself then Ubisoft will at least help the technology reach that milestone in some way. If the past few years have proven anything with VR it’s that this isn’t a race but a crawl, and we’d hope that Ubisoft will be one of the companies to help pick up the pace.