Sections

Is HoloLens a consumer gaming device yet?

Microsoft's Leila Martine on why games developers should consider HoloLens today

I had fun playing on Microsoft HoloLens this week.

That's significant because the last time I went hands-on with the intriguing, expensive AR technology (at E3 2015) I was left palpably disappointed.

Part of that was because Kanye West had cut into the line and forced my group to wait an extra 30 minutes to play on it, but it was also because the restricted field of view meant that the 'Halo experience' (which is what we played) was underwhelming and only really worked well if we didn't move our heads and stood exactly where we were meant to.

I could comfortably imagine how this device might work in the education, retail and manufacturing spaces, but it didn't seem remotely suitable for video games. After playing HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, a piece of gaming technology where the illusion was ruined if I stood too close to an object just wasn't good enough.

Microsoft seems to understands that. HoloLens, as it stands, is not a consumer product, it is not even a gaming device - not really. The demos we were shown at the firm's Lift London studio last week mostly involved retail projects - the ability to dismantle a watch you might be buying, or to change the colours on a car you are interested in, or to make virtual changes to your kitchen. There were education uses, too, such as a nice demo where you can explore and analyse the human body. NASA has even invested in the tech so its engineers can wander around a virtual Mars Rover.

"It causes me great consternation every time HoloLens is shown at a gaming conference, because all journalists want to talk about is games."

Leila Martine, Microsoft

It is here, in the commercial space, where HoloLens is most promising. We should all try to forget that Minecraft demo that over-excited the games business on stage at E3 2015.

"If you are in the gaming industry, it is things like E3 where you will have been exposed to this," says Leila Martine, director of new device experiences in the UK.

"I am probably saying something out of turn, because I'm not sitting in the room when they're making these decisions in Redmond, but I do know that it causes me great consternation every time they go to a gaming conference and they show HoloLens. Because when that happens, all that journalists want to talk about is games. I have Case Western University, which is one of these most phenomenal case studies [with its education product that teaches anatomy]. But they'll get like 300,000 YouTube views, which is still great for a B2B scenario. But Minecraft... are you kidding me? Those views are in the bazillions."

Martine says that games is 'definitely a piece of the long-term vision' for HoloLens, it's just not there yet. However, Microsoft remains interested in attracting games studios. HoloLens utilises Unity technology, which means that video games developers are uniquely placed to build HoloLens applications - even if it's not games that they end up making.

"We are definitely seeing games developers in demand," says Martine. "Part of that is because Unity is a core way to be able to build on this right now. With their heritage in gaming and with the demand coming from these new places, it is a pretty hot place for these games developers to be. Then we are seeing who has the appetite to move outside of gaming and capture opportunities that are coming from, quite frankly, places they haven't worked with before. It could be a power plant looking to visualise their plant, or training simulations for pilots or engineers. With the Unity capability, these opportunities are there for game makers."

The HoloLens Minecraft demo at E3 2015 was viewed by millions

The HoloLens Minecraft demo at E3 2015 was viewed by millions

One of the key stumbling blocks for HoloLens right now, particularly for smaller independent games teams, is its price. HoloLens dev kits will set you back $3,000.

"Unlike some of the other ones that are out there on the market, you don't need a high performance computer to go with it," defends Martine. "Everything you need is right on that device. And that device is really unique in terms of it capabilities, and the team has done a tremendous amount to bring it to market in a very short amount of time.

"As we think about all the things that it can enable, there are a lot of companies right now that are going: "We need to be in this space". This is not the final form factor, this is not a consumer device, there is much more on the roadmap, but right now, the focus is making sure that we're getting it into the hands of people and doing stuff that isn't trivial, but actually matters to companies... and we are seeing really good progress in that area.

"But this is not the end."

Because we asked nicely, and promised not to tell people that HoloLens is anywhere close to being a consumer games product, Microsoft did let us try out one of its games it had experimented with.

The title in question was RoboRaid, which is a mixed reality demo where aliens drill through the walls in you room, and you have to shoot small flying robot invaders out of the sky. Over three levels, you'll battle bosses, shoot around shields and dodge fireballs. It's hardly a game that would inspire consumers to buy HoloLens, and it isn't particularly dissimilar to the sort of experiences that you can find in VR. but it was definitely entertaining, it worked well within the device's limitations and proved that maybe, one day, HoloLens might succeed in the world of video games.

Just not today.

Related stories

People of the Year: Phil Spencer

PlayStation may have dominated the charts, but it was Xbox that got the games industry talking

By Christopher Dring

Phil Spencer: Xbox Game Pass “will come to every device”

Xbox boss hints at bold cross-platform strategy for subscription service

By James Batchelor

Latest comments (3)

Wesley Williams Quality Assurance 2 years ago
I had the good fortune of trying Hololens at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where you can experience "being" on Mars. As an experience it's fun, but it was more mind-blowing for just how well realised the tech is. It worked incredibly well, with the only downside being the restrictions of the viewport. It was easy to look past that, but I can only imagine how much better it'll be once it's addressed.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
@Wesley Williams: I saw that demo, it looked great. Very lucky to play on it at NASA!
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Wesley Williams Quality Assurance 2 years ago
@Christopher Dring: It was completely unexpected. We went as day out from a recent holiday to Disney World. I was already excited just to see the space center and had no idea they had Hololens there for the public to try.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.