VANCOUVER, B.C. – TED2016: Dream attendees decided against walking in the rain during Vancouver’s notoriously wet winter in between talks – instead, they waited patiently to enter The Void, a virtual reality experience making its debut at the annual TED Conference from Feb. 15-19.
The Vision of Infinite Dimensions’ (The Void’s) creators have taken VR to the next level by adding touch and a physical space. Participants are transported to another dimension wearing gear like a haptic gaming vest, a backpack with software tracking gear and a custom Rapture headset. However, those who are pregnant, have post-traumatic stress disorder or live with arachnophobia – or fear spiders – are warned to enter at their own risk.
BBC technology reporter Jane Wakefield said she finally fulfilled her childhood dream of stepping inside a television. Inside The Void, participants enter a small room where they can reach out for virtual torches of fire, swim in a pool of fire-breathing, water-spraying sea monsters, and dodge falling bricks when its walls crumble. Gamers say they can feel the heat, and are sprayed with mist.
“Woah, that was a great adventure!” exclaimed director, producer and screenwriter Steven Spielberg after his experience in The Void. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” star Harrison Ford also made a journey.
“We’re making good on the true promise of VR,” Curtis Hickman, The Void’s chief creative officer and cofounder told the TEDBlog in February 2016. “When people first heard about virtual reality, I think they imagined stepping into a new world. But what they were given in the end was a headset: ‘Here, sit at your computer, put this headset on, move around with your keyboard.’ For true virtual you need to have all your senses involved.”
A line to experience a preview of “The Curse of the Serpent’s Eye” was out the door, while frightened screams pierced the air.
“The reception at TED has been nothing short of amazing,” Devin McGinn, director of creative media at THE VOID told Caifu magazine Friday, Feb. 19. “Watching people react to this living-breathing virtual world we have created as if it’s a real place is incredibly exciting. It really confirms that we can send people on these amazing adventures not possible in the real world, and imprint them with a memory as if it’s something they actually lived and not simply ‘played.’”
The Dawn of Virtual Reality
This is only the beginning of the virtual reality trend. While the VR concept has been around since the 1950s and dramatized in science fiction books, television shows and movies, it is only during the first 15 years of the 21st century that technology has caught up to the vision of a computer-simulated life.
“This has been the first time the technology has been at a level where we can fulfill the true promise of VR,” McGinn explained. “Many pieces of that puzzle are things we had to develop internally as they simply did not exist.”
Ever since Facebook paid U.S. $2 billion to buy VR gaming start-up Oculus in March 2014, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried to convince analysts and investors that smartphones are the next frontier for VR – not only personal computers and consoles.
The Oculus Rift VR headset will be released to pre-order customers on Monday, March 28, along with an Xbox One controller, Oculus remote, a sensor and free copies of games Eve: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale. The pre-order package costs U.S. $599.
Consumers around the world will spend approximately $5.1 billion on virtual reality gaming hardware, accessories and software in 2016 – a substantial increase from $660 million spent in 2015, according to New York-based digital games analyst firm SuperData Research. They forecast the VR global market will grow to $8.9 billion in 2017; and up to $12.3 billion by 2018.
Those who wish to experience virtual reality outside of their living room are in luck, as The Void will open its first VR cinematic theme park in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a remote area 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Salt Lake City this coming fall.
A day at the cinematic theme park is much more than playing games, McGinn noted – it is an actual interactive experience. “It’s a futuristic movie theatre; a place where you don’t passively watch movies but instead actually live them,” McGinn said.
“It’s not like the gaming industry where some territories lean toward first-person shooters, or strategy games, or role-playing games,” he continued. “These are experiences where there is no controller. You are going through these amazing worlds as if they really existed and I believe that translates no matter whom you are or where you are from.”
At press time, tickets to the theme park in Utah cost between U.S. $29-39.
Getting Real in China, Virtually
While much of VR technology has been pioneered in Western countries, China stands out because its innovators and entrepreneurs can manufacture high-quality electronics at a lower price point.
“China will be important in how virtual reality develops,” Lisa Cosmas Hanson, managing partner at Niko Partners, a market intelligence firm devoted to China’s video game industry in Silicon Valley told Caifu magazine Friday, Feb. 5. “[The country] has the manufacturing capability, while companies in China will continue to build products geared at competing against VR leaders such as Oculus and Sony.”
ChinaJoy, an annual digital entertainment expo, will host an exhibition devoted to intelligent entertainment hardware, or VR equipment, for the first time. The exhibition will go beyond smart devices like bracelets, watches, somatosensory controllers and unmanned aerial vehicles. ChinaJoy 2016 will be held at Shanghai’s New International Expo Center through July 28 – 31, 2016.
According to Niko Partners, an increasing number of virtual reality games will be hitting the Chinese market this year. Hanson estimated that the Chinese VR market could earn between U.S. $46 million to $76 million in 2016, but there is potential for the market to soar into the billions with apps.
Asia’s 2.5 billion smartphone users will lead the mobile VR march, as they will account for more than half of the worldwide mobile VR users by 2017, SuperData Research reported.
Chinese VR disciples will also eventually set aside their mobile phones for an immersive experience, as The Void has teamed up with Shanghai-based Shanda Group to build China’s first virtual reality theme park in an undisclosed location.
Robert Chiu, Shanda’s president told China Daily on Wednesday Feb. 3 that the park’s construction timeframe will be significantly less than traditional theme parks like Shanghai Disneyland.
“We could not ask for a better group to help us enter the Chinese market,” McGinn said, referring to the Shanda Group. While the plans for China’s park are under development, McGinn said he imagines the Shanda Group will target a large demographic similar to what The Void is doing domestically.
“The beautiful thing about The Void is that it can truly have something for everyone,” he added. “Content is only limited by one’s imagination.”
The potential applications for VR beyond entertainment are endless, experts agree. While video games have been the catalyst for VR growth, its potential can transcend the virtual world into classrooms, hospitals, labs – and even outer space. The sky is the limit for virtual reality.
“The VR industry is going to be growing at an incredible rate over the next few years,” McGinn concluded. “Here at The Void we plan to always be on the cutting edge. We will continue to be aggressively active with our research and development so that when you come to The Void you can be sure you will be experiencing the very best that VR can offer. Right now we are constantly being referred to as the future of entertainment, and even a decade from now we expect people to be saying the very same thing.”