VR companies push for solidarity amid mounting uncertainty
Major companies commit to Global Virtual Reality Association non-profit and Khronos open API standard
As the first year of consumer VR closes with more a whimper than a bang, the market's key players are coming together for the benefit of its long-term future.
Google, HTC, Oculus VR, Samsung, Sony Interactive Entertainment and Acer Starbreeze are the first members of a new non-profit, The Global Virtual Reality Association (GVRA). The organisation's stated goal is to promote the growth of the VR industry through establishing best practices, conducting research, and conversing with partners and interested parties in both the public and private sector.
Jordan McCollum, general counsel for Oculus, stated the need for the GVRA given the "early stage" of the VR market. "It's critical that industry leaders work together to create and share ideas on how we can safely build this industry," he said.
HTC Vive's Rikard Steiber added that, "It is important that we as an industry are working together to establish best practices and common resources for our industry that will drive toward the $120 billion projection by 2020." That may be an internal projection from HTC, because it certainly isn't the only revenue figure being touted for the VR market by that date. Digi-Capital has put forward a combined $120 billion for VR and AR by 2020, for example, while IDC went even bigger with $162 billion. TrendForce, meanwhile, is anticipating less than half of either, with a markedly more conservative $70 billion forecast.
"It's critical that industry leaders work together to create and share ideas on how we can safely build this industry"
Indeed, this kind of uncertainty is what the GVRA will seek to address. As GamesIndustry.biz highlighted in an op-ed last week, the first year in which Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR have been available to consumers has been slow, and perhaps slower than expected. That's certainly true of SuperData, which has cut its 2016 forecast several times throughout the year.
Among the issues undermining the early stage market is fragmentation, following an explosion in the number of platforms and headsets over the last 18 months. In response to this problem, the Khronos Group has called for the participation of the VR market to, "define a cross-vendor, royalty-free, open standard for access to modern virtual reality devices."
"The rapid growth of the virtual reality market has led to platform fragmentation, forcing VR applications and engines to be ported and customized to run on multiple VR runtimes , and requiring VR sensors and displays to be integrated with multiple driver interfaces," the group said. "This fragmentation slows the widespread availability of compelling VR experiences, creating added expense for developers wishing to support multiple VR devices, and hindering the adoption of innovative user interface technologies.
"Key components of the new standard will include APIs for tracking of headsets, controllers and other objects, and for easily integrating devices into a VR runtime. This will enable applications to be portable to any VR system that conforms to the Khronos standard, significantly enhancing the end-user experience, and driving more choice of content to spur further growth in the VR market."
Khronos, an open consortium of companies, has been pivotal in creating similar standards in the past, a fact that was recognised by the VR companies already committed to the project. Epic's Tim Sweeney called Khronos' open standards initiative "very timely," and pledged to support the APIs in Unreal Engine. Oculus VR's John Carmack said that Khronos' open APIs have been "immensely valuable to the industry, balancing the forces of differentiation and innovation against gratuitous vendor incompatibility." The product of the initiative would be "a natural and important milestone" for VR, he said.
Valve's Gabe Newell stressed how quickly the number of VR systems has grown. "Most of these require separate API support from the developer, which is causing huge fragmentation for consumers. Khronos' work on a standard API to enable applications to target a wide variety of VR devices is an important step to counter that trend."