Business ideas for 2014: Oculus Rift game development

The world’s first viable virtual reality device is set to launch in late 2014 and could be the making of many a software developer

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Virtual reality has, up until now, been the most frustratingly unrealised dream of the technology world.

Whilst graphical and sound improvements in recent years have rendered games and software unrecognisable from their 1990s counterparts, attempts at pulling a user into a completely realised 3D virtual world, without conventional screens or speakers, have hit various technological snags.

This is all set to change in 2014, however, with 20-year old whizkid Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift set to offer the first true virtual reality experience for consumers.

Equipped with stereoscopic screens to deliver an immersive 3D experience and gyroscopes to track head movement, the Rift will deliver seamless immersion in games and software for the first time and could potentially change the way we interact with computers forever.

Starting an Oculus Rift-inspired games company: Why it’s a good business idea

The Oculus Rift is causing quite a stir in the technology and gaming world – to put it mildly. Originally launching on crowdfunding website Kickstarter asking for $250,000 to fund the project, the company has since smashed the target by raising more than $2.5m from members of the public, alongside a staggering $91m of private venture capital backing.

Public and press interest in the device is already at an all-time high, spurred on by the debut of its well-received latest prototype at industry event CES, and is only set to intensify as we approach a (probable) consumer launch in late 2014.

With such potential, the Oculus Rift is set to offer unparalleled commercial opportunities to develop related software. This year’s anticipated launch will be accompanied by a storm of press coverage inevitably focusing on the best games on sale – if you are a game developer, now is the perfect time to begin development of a Rift launch title and capitalise on the surge of coverage after launch.

Oculus Rift-inspired business opportunities

The Oculus Rift was developed with videogames in mind, so it won’t be a surprise to hear most of the coverage is focused on the potential of the Rift as a gaming device.

You may be a developer working for an existing company, a hobbyist with knowledge of development or perhaps even making games yourself – but it goes without saying you will need some experience of the industry to create a successful title.

Most existing game genres will benefit from the virtual reality overhaul, but the uniquely immersive input method  is already generating some entirely new approaches – one such prototype, Alone, puts the user in a virtual house playing a horror videogame on a television which ‘bleeds’ into the virtual reality they experience. Press coverage of the Rift is likely to focus on these non-standard approaches to gaming enabled by virtual reality, so the more creative you are with your ideas, the better.

In order to get started, you will first need to order a development kit. These went on sale in 2013, and can now be bought online for about £180 – the kit includes all the basics you need to start developing, including a prototype version of the device.

It is likely that if you are in the industry your expertise will be limited to one element of creating software – perhaps you are a programmer, or perhaps your skill lies in graphics and artistry.  Whatever your expertise, you will probably need to fill in the gaps by creating a team, which means you will need working capital or a group of dedicated experts willing to pitch in for free.

Some companies are raising the money for hires using the rewards-based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter – the platformer Rift Rush, for example, recently raised more than $4,000 (of a $1,000 goal) to help hire an artist and improve the game’s appearance.

The success of the pitch despite the rough-and-ready appearance of the game shows that gamers are willing to chip in for software with potential, and Kickstarter has an impressive pedigree in the games industry.

You can also try sourcing help through the Oculus Rift official forums. There are dedicated boards in which you can discuss the development of your game with hobbyists and experienced developers and obtain guidance and advice from those that are doing it – there is also a Community Support board in which developers can request assistance on a specific project.

Of course, the Oculus Rift’s potential is by no means limited to videogames. The ability to put the user into a fully realised 3D virtual world has potential for a wide range of applications, such as architecture, medical sciences and 3D product design, but it’s likely these opportunities will mature in 2015 and 2016 once the device has achieved widespread adoption and awareness amongst non-gamers.

Who else has started an Oculus Rift-inspired business?

There are a number of Oculus Rift games already well into development, ranging from prototypes to nearly-finished articles. One making particular waves is leading studio CCP’s sci-fi dogfighter Eve Valkyrie, which is being used to showcase the Rift’s capabilities through immersive space battles.

On the smaller end of the scale, some companies are using Kickstarter to fund innovative new games – highlights include Journey to a Lost Canyon (interactive 3D tours of tourist hotspots worldwide), adventure game The Gallery  and Rift Rush, all of which have comfortably exceeded their funding goals on the site.

Outside of gaming, some early adopters are already laying the foundations for the virtual-reality revolution. One such business is Startups 100-listed 3D applications company Spearhead Interactive, which is re-investing revenues into developing compatibility with a range of virtual reality devices including the Oculus Rift.

Insider opinion

Dan Riley, founder of Spearhead Interactive:

“We’ve invested in a huge range of tech which is coming over the next nine months or so.

“Personally, I think it’s going to be 2015-2016 before virtual reality outside the gaming market takes off, so we’ll have 18-24 months from now to keep up our in-house R&D and maintain our position at the forefront of this emerging sector.”

Published Jan 2014

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