Alex Handy dons his prospector’s gear to go looking for gold at San Francisco’s VR Gaming Summit and finds WebVR is where you should stake your claim.
At the VR Gaming Summit in San Francisco this past weekend, developers and business people gathered to discuss the potential gold rush that's waiting for them inside the AR/VR marketplace. Yet despite years of preparation by commercial tools vendors, it’s WebVR that is seeing the most excitement at the moment.
In 1849, the original gold rush brought prospectors to California searching for the grubstake of their dreams: a claim that could yield enough gold to pay their bills and furnish them a comfortable life. But in the end, it was typically not the actual prospectors who became rich.
Instead, the ones who made their fortunes were the folks who sold shovels and picks to the prospectors. Their bet was far less risky, their clientele far more common than gold mines. It's a not uncommon sentiment in the Valley, as well as on the prairie of old: pioneers get scalped.
That doesn't always have to mean they get waylaid by bandits or some other evil-doers. That untimely demise can simply come at the hands of a constantly flowing river, pushing you downstream when your goal is further up. In development terms, that stream's water is your ever stronger current of bills and expenses, while the opposite shore could be seen to be profitability: far off yet enticing like a life preserver in a flood.
Taking The Pain Out Of VR Animation
Now that VR is in the consumer's hands, and the market is solidifying, we're finally starting to see the first instances of shovels and picks being sold to the pioneers. One example is Limitless, a VR creative environment designed by ex-Pixar employee Tom Sanocki.
Sanocki said that creating stories and animations in VR is a painful process, because it requires developers and artists to build in one tool, while actually testing in an entirely different environment. Artists crank out content in Maya, for example, but must then push that content into Unreal Engine and output a binary in order to see what it really looks like in a VR space.
Compounding matters, he said, is the fact that VR content doesn't look the same when viewed on a flatscreen monitor. It's a major hurdle for artists challenged with meeting tight deadlines to ship VR content.
The Year Of VR Tooling
Jason Fiber, Head of Business Products at THX, said that he expects 2017 to be the year of VR tooling. "2016 was the year of the first experience, but there was nothing that keeps you coming back over and over. I think 2017 will see a lot of tools being built and designed to create content. Personally, I think those will be something social, where you're all in a common space having a similar experience. I think you'll see evolution in the audio and video space, too, to make the experience more believable," said Fiber.
Those challenges won't be stopping the prospectors, however. The trick on that side of the fence, given proper tooling, is ensuring your claim is in the right place at the right time. You can't mine gold if someone's upstream panning it out before you.
For VR developers, this means reading the tea leaves to divine the areas where growth will come from. Damon Hernandez, WebVR Ninja at Samsung said that mobile devices and WebVR are the platforms of the future for VR developers.
"If you're a developer and you want to make money," said Hernandez, "Go for what everybody already has. The writing is on the wall: Facebook is having WebVR talks, Google is going that direction, Samsung is going in that direction. The Web is the platform for content delivery. This year, is it worth it to ship a product on that? No, but it will be stable this year, and if you want to release in Q1, Q2 or Q3 of 2018, start looking at it now," said Hernandez.