Video games have given us some of the legendary symbols and figures. Mario from Nintendo, Sonic from Sega, Halo from Microsoft and God of War from Sony have become emblems of gaming and computer culture. Now, the gaming world is entering into a new phase.

The technology that is about to change the gaming world is called Virtual Reality. In the last year, all big high-tech companies have rolled out their plans for VR.  It includes a headset or goggles that turn the view into three-dimensional views with jaw-dropping game graphics.

Facebook sensed VR’s potential and bought the VR headset maker Oculus at an astounding acquisition of $2 billion. Google released its cardboard VR set. Meanwhile, Apple won the patent for VR technology.

Facebook and Valve are the two contenders who are wrestling to take the control of the VR world. Facebook has acquired Oculus while Valve (the game developer) has teamed up with HTC.  Both of these companies are making VR part of video games. The game market is huge, e.g., worth $7 billion. The competition will sweep over software and game developers to create apps and games for VR technology.

The Virtual World Materializes

The concept of the virtual world comes from science fiction. Later, Hollywood picked up this idea and produced blockbuster movies such as The Matrix, Tron, and The Lawnmower Man, etc. The idea of the world created by a computer that engulfs and dominate humanity is very scary but fascinating.

The protagonist of these movies realized that they are living in the virtual world or somehow enter the virtual world (hence the term; virtual reality) through some device. Ultimately, they master the virtual reality by manipulating. So with these examples, we have defined the concept of virtual reality. In fact, it is not scary because these devices are under control.

For some time, people have been trying to materialize this idea. In 1980’s, Jaron Lanier developed headsets and gloves from the company he founded (VPL Research). In 1990’s, Nintendo presented it’s VR headset “Virtual Boy”. It was designed to be kept on a table. When the player would look through the headset, the player would see a 3d world surrounding them.

The gloomy red and black virtual world created by the virtual boy wasn’t compelling enough, and the device was shelved. There were occasional attempts like Pac-man, but these were not convincing. The new stride came in 2012 when a teenager named Palmer Luckey created a headset with Oculus goggles. It was named Oculus Rift. With smartphone screen and other gadgets, this headset provided far superior results than its predecessor.

Now, you can watch breathtaking 3d visuals of the rustic village visit Niagara Falls to experience life like monsters and demons in the convincingly real way; as if you are present there. This created uproar and Oculus became the VR headset provider in the world. Facebook noticed the hype and decided to ride the VR wagon. It embarked on this journey when it bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014.

Oculus Rift

Up to the last year, the VR market was uncluttered. Oculus was the sole provider of VR headsets. It got $75 million as investment from Andreessen Horowitz. It is a venture capital firm. In 2014, it rolled out a new prototype of Rift. The same year, Facebook bought the company. Oculus executives called it a partnership.

Though, some feared that FB would change a feature or two in the device. However, it was set as a separate unit. In October 2014, Oculus made a deal with Samsung to make headsets for mobile devices. The device garnered a good result from the buyers. The ride was smooth as Oculus had only one contender, the Sony VR device called “Project Morpheus.” The competition was evenly divided as Sony focused on games for its gaming console. Oculus targeted PCs and mobile phones.

Oculus finds serious competition

HTC was searching prospects in VR technology. HTC is a developer of high quality, high tech smartphones. It decided to take a plunge into the VR world. CEO of HTC, Peter Chou pushed the firm to take a dive. He is now heading the HTC’s Future Development Lab. He encouraged the research team to pursue this technology and find a partner to implement this technology. His dream materialized when HTC found a partner, Valve. The valve is a game developer company founded by two former Microsoft’s employees.

The Oculus Rift and Sony VR headsets use camera sensor to locate the position of the player in a limited space. Valve’s design changed the technology. It uses symbols that are applied on walls. The sensor in the headset interprets the symbols. This then turns them into graphics and life like images, as the player moves in the room. Valve lost some fervor as FB bought Oculus, and some of the employees left Valve.

In this doomed scenario, HTC offered Valve support that they called “the philosophical alignment.” Valve announced to launch its device in 2016, but the HTC pushed back the date to late 2015. Valve demoed the prototype before game developers. The first impression of the developers was encouraging. The prototype has been named “Vive”.

Where the competition is heading?

This form of competition has always been there in the tech world. In 1980’s and 90’s, Apple and Microsoft tussled over dominance of personal and business computers. Google and Yahoo had a similar fight. Facebook and MySpace had some competition also. The rivalry between Valve and Oculus will sweep in more contenders into the battle. They are aiming at entertainment industry too. HTC wants to partner with HBO. Oculus has created “Story Studio” to create content for VR technology.

Developers are thinking about game developing for different platforms. Valve has introduced an ingenious wand-like controller for its VR games. You can use the wand to control and manipulate the objects in the virtual world. Oculus, on the other hand, is aligning its VR headsets with regular hand controllers or joysticks of game consoles.  

The valve is also working on laser technology that will guide the wearer about obstacles in the path. Now, it is the game developers’ turn to fit their games either with Oculus or Valve. All in all, the virtual reality is about to become a reality.