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Vision Summit Keynote: Big plans and free Vives

Unity puts on a show with Gabe Newell, Palmer Luckey and more

The Vision Summit, hosted by Unity, is just the latest sold-out event to capitalise on the industry appetite for all things virtual and augmented reality.

Unity CEO John Riccitiello took the role of host, and started by pushing the potential of VR and casting doubt on analyst predictions.

"They're wrong in the short-term and wrong in the long-term," he said. He predicts that analysts have overestimated the financial potential of VR in the short-term - while costs are higher and content is limited - and underestimated in the long-term.

He worried how the press would react to the shortfall between the analyst numbers and his own forecasts.

"In the very near term I am fearful of journalists. The reason I'm fearful of journalists is that they will not be able to resist talking about the gap of disappointment," he said.

"Through this gap of disappointment, ignore the journalists and for those of you that talk to them explain this concept to them so at least they see this coming."

"Today there are 36 million PS4s out there that are VR ready. And all their owners are ready for VR."

Dr. Richard Marks

Next on stage was Clay Bavor, VP of VR at Google. He announced that Google would release a phone that uses its Project Tango technology to consumers this summer, in collaboration with Lenovo. Project Tango gives devices like phones spatial perception so they can navigate the physical world.

On the development side, he also announced that Unity is getting native support for Google Cardboard.

"We're really proud to be many people's first experience of VR," said Bavor. "At the end of 2015 there were 5 million Cardboards out there in the world." 30 million Cardboard apps have been downloaded on Android alone.

Sony PlayStation's Dr. Richard Marks had little in the way of announcements on stage but did push the message that virtual reality was a great thing for games.

"Today there are 36 million PS4s out there that are VR ready," he told attendees. "And all their owners are ready for VR."

The much hyped appearance of Valve's Gabe Newell certainly didn't disappoint the developers in attendance. Via a video link he made three announcements: Steam VR is coming to Unity at no extra charge, Valve is releasing a rendering plug-in for Unity and that all developers attending Vision Summit would get their own Vive VR headset. Newell called this his "Oprah moment" and the crowd applauded and whooped appropriately.

Unity followed this happy news with some demonstrations of its own tech. The one that stood out was conducted by Timoni West, principal designer at Unity Labs. She showed Unity's new ability to design games while in a VR world (something Epic recently demonstrated with Unreal as well), moving furniture and even placing a giant whale in a virtual sky.

Palmer Luckey took the stage at the end of the show to share the Oculus view, and seemed particularly focused on the importance of virtual reality paying the bills for developers and creators.

"We can sell a lot of units to a lot of early adopters but it doesn't mean anything if nothing good comes out of it. We can go out and sell a bunch of things that sit on a desk and get dusty and I wouldn't consider that successful"

Palmer Luckey

"The way I like to think about it is figuring out what the final key metric's going to be. I think that's mostly going to be dollars spent on content or hours in content," he said.

"We can sell a lot of units to a lot of early adopters but it doesn't mean anything if nothing good comes out of it. We can go out and sell a bunch of things that sit on a desk and get dusty and I wouldn't consider that successful."

He wants virtual reality to be something that people can use everyday, a thriving ecosystem, that will then let everyone within that ecosystem profit.

"That means that developers are going to be successful, they're going to make money, that means they're going to be able to make more stuff, that means that I make more money... [laughs]"

While all he would say about GearVR sales are that it had "shipped a lot of units," he did add that "developers are making the money and paying the bills."

He also announced that 90 per cent of applications made for GearVR were made with Unity, and that Oculus would give a free four-month trial of Unity Pro to everyone who had ordered an Oculus Rift.

Other people to take the stage were Dr. Jeff Norris of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a demonstration of how NASA is using the technology in its work with space exploration and Alex McDowell, creative director of 5D Global Studio. A full recording of the keynote should be available soon, and we'll add it to this story so you can see the whole show for yourself.

GamesIndustry.biz attended Vision Summit as a guest. Our travel and accommodation costs have been covered by the show organiser.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.