At the turn of the 21st century, using the phone and internet simultaneously was a largely impossible task for most Americans, and an interactive virtual realm seemed only viable to visionaries.
Nonetheless, as human imagination inevitably conjures new realities from science fiction, we have arrived at the future of virtual and augmented reality. If the 2010s saw the rise of tech giants in the social media world, the 2020s seem poised to see a rise of VR and AR giants (or at least well-paid subsidiaries).
In the last decade, the global assimilation of social networking and advances in mobile devices have completely transformed the nature of human relationships and interactions. Accordingly, breakthroughs in extended reality (XR) — an umbrella term for VR, AR and mixed reality (MR) — as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform our relationships with entertainment in massive ways.
Despite a historical lack of mass appeal, VR is no longer a novelty. Devices are getting better and cheaper, and with Oculus Quest, the first VR console, debuting at the price of an Xbox, this trend has serious implications for gaming and beyond.
“No matter the medium, if the story is created with choices and various narratives, the experiences can be endless.”
“By 2030, I think VR consoles will overtake traditional consoles in terms of market share,” surmises René Pinnell, co-founder of XR funding outfit Kaleidoscope. “By then, we’ll have had at least three to four new generations of hardware, and most of the technical issues around weight, battery life and processing power will be solved.”
Pinnell adds that although amazing location-based XR experiences currently exist and the talent pool of artists is huge, “there hasn’t been enough investment to create a deep library of experiences to rival traditional forms of entertainment.”
While games continue to become increasingly cinematic, developers are striving to bridge the gap to match standards of narrative quality with the XR experience. Zai Ortiz, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Virsix Games and creator of the J.A.R.V.I.S. system, holograms in Marvel’s Iron Man, believes “what is going to happen in this space — and something that we’re working on — is the creation of an entirely new form of entertainment that melds the two together.”
“As a storyteller first,” Ortiz continues, “I’m incredibly excited about the way XR technologies will change my relationship to the audience by bringing them closer to the action, making them active participants in the story, and trusting them to be choice-makers within the experience I’m crafting.”
The advancement of machine learning will aid in this endeavor, enabling the development of AI characters that Ortiz says will become so good in the near future that distinguishing AI from human players will be impossible — “The implications are huge.” The impact of these advances extends beyond gaming into our home and live entertainment experiences. As smart devices become more affordable and find their way into more and more homes, XR and AI will become commonplace assistants and content vehicles in our daily lives.
“Equipment such as large TVs will be out, and voice activated projections will help us interact and entertain in our home,” predicts Valerie Vacante, founder of Collabsco, an Austin-based strategy and innovation firm. “This will completely change how we consume media, design living spaces, and even dress ourselves.”
As ticket prices and service fees inflate the cost of live entertainment, XR technology could serve that market with cheaper alternatives. “This is a game changer,” Ortiz says. “Not only do I see incredible potential in using AR and VR for remote concert experiences, but I think XR technologies will allow us to experience music in entirely new ways. Many acts project passive video art during live shows, but when you make the audience active members in telling the visual story that accompanies music — using responsive XR — we’ll see entirely new experiences emerge.”
Aside from the specifics of where exactly we might end up, Vacante is optimistic. “The entertainment world will meld together seamlessly … fans will be able to jump into experiences with the ability to guide, create, and choose their own adventure. No matter the medium, if the story is created with choices and various narratives, the experiences can be endless. I think that we will see more creators from film, technology, gaming, and completely other fields, taking technology from the past and emerging technologies and remixing them to create wild experiences that have not yet been imagined.”
How far can we go with XR as it increasingly becomes the medium through which we interact with the world? That remains to be explored. However, Ortiz is certain of one thing — “XR will simply be a fact of human life going forward. There’s so much more we can do with this technology than we’re doing right now.”
Zai Ortiz and Valerie Vacante will be part of SXSW 2020’s Immersive Entertainment and the Future of Games Featured Session in the Game Industry Track.