Comment & Opinion

VR is dead. Let's all bow down to the location-based AR future of Pokemon GO

VR is dead. Let's all bow down to the location-based AR future of Pokemon GO

Heading into Develop:Brighton 2016, it felt like the entire conference would be nothing but VR.

The whole Evolve track, a place for developers to talk about any and all new technologies, was almost entirely dedicated to people talking about VR and its many forms.

And you couldn't walk around the expo area without tripping over a VR game, be it on an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR, or any of the other numerous devices out there.

Indeed, it looked like the year of VR had finally descended on us all, and there would be nothing else to talk about during the conference.

And then Pokemon GO launched.

All eyes on GO

Well, not officially in the UK, but when your conference is full of people in the tech and games industry, it's reasonable to assume that some folks had found other ways of getting it onto their devices.

And when the game did finally hit the UK on the last day of the conference, the entire venue was lousy with people chasing the creatures.

Even if you tried to find a moment's peace in the press room, Curve Digital's Publishing Director Simon Byron would come running in to throw Pokeballs at you.

Simon Byron throwing Pokeballs at a poor biz journalist

Suddenly, it felt like VR was no longer the poster child of the future, with focus instead turning to Pokemon GO and AR in general.

Which isn't to say that VR developers felt particularly threatened – with billions of dollars now poured into the industry, it's unlikely to fail based on one single game.

It's not AR that has been a mega-success, but the long-standing brand of Pokemon.

But what had been taken away was the unbridled excitement of VR.

Slow to start

The VR market is maturing, which means that conference talks on the matter are becoming more interesting, as developers can provide more concrete figures.

But it's taken so long for the technology to get to this point that VR now feels almost humdrum in comparison to the explosive hit that is Pokemon GO.

There's still no killer app for VR, no game that anyone can point to as the reason to get any of the devices.

And these devices are still expensive, and are unlikely to drop in price for at least a few years when mass production of some kind starts up.

Meanwhile, everyone and their dog has a smartphone, which Pokemon GO works with without the need for a headset or other such device.

Not for everyone

Of course, the talk around AR wasn't all excitement.

Indie legend Rami Ismail was keen to dispel much of the hype surrounding AR, repeatedly saying that developers shouldn't now pivot their whole business to focus on the tech.

And it was frequently stated that it's not AR that has been a mega-success, but the long-standing brand of Pokemon combined with location-based tech.

But not everyone is going to have heard this, and the advice might fall on deaf ears anyway.

Shiny new toys

It's symptomatic of the games industry as a whole, and a sign of a worrying trend where any scent of a new technology is almost instantly jumped on.

The whole VR industry could be built on some pretty shaky foundations.

Developers love playing with new technology, and when there's a huge amount of consumer interest, investors will start putting money into that area.

So we could well see developers jumping ship from VR to AR to chase that early adopter investment – much like the early days of VR.

And who knows, maybe three years down the line, another piece of tech will rise, just as AR begins to show signs of real promise, and everyone will jump ship again.

So what?

Is VR dead? Not at all.

The fact it hasn't seen such a huge level of consumer interest and a matching adoption rate, especially compared to Pokemon GO, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It gives developers time to work out all the kinks and problems before going on the offensive with big brands and killer apps.

But the lapsed interest, and the sudden attention being given to AR, is a sign that the whole VR industry could be built on some pretty shaky foundations.

Editor

Ric is the Editor of PocketGamer.biz, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.

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