It's about to go from virtual to very, very real.
The video game industry is embracing virtual reality like never before. Major game makers from Sony to Microsoft and Ubisoft are preparing new products based on the emerging technology even as tech giants including Facebook, Google, Samsung and HTC have plunged into the virtual waters.
Now the industry's Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 -- the highest-profile video game conference of the year -- will launch the technology into people's living rooms.
As many as 27 exhibitors will showcase virtual-reality products, up from six last year, according to the expo's organizer, the Entertainment Software Association. What's more, the conference is sold out (it has not always been so), and it attracted 50 more exhibitors than it did last year.
"It's been a really fabulous shot in the arm," said Mike Gallagher, head of the ESA, speaking of virtual reality's impact on the market. "We're months away from being in the marketplace and in consumers' hands."
But virtual reality could do more than give an economic boost to video game makers. It could also deliver another leg of growth to the broader tech industry. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says VR could eventually become our primary mode of interacting with computers. Movie makers, television producers and musicians say it could transform how we experience entertainment.
"It's this huge new medium that people have only started to imagine where you could go with it," said Rob Coneybeer, managing director of Shasta Ventures, which led a $4 million investment last year in VR company Survios.
One thing that drew him to the technology is its potential to place players smack in the middle of a 3D world, as action literally swirls around them. "People's excitement is well founded."
March of the game makers
Without question, Oculus --the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2 billion last year -- will be one of the most prominent game makers on the show floor. The company made consumers care about VR after unveiling its first prototypes three years ago.
Since then, it's been a virtual march of VR game makers, as companies including Samsung and Google have either revealed upcoming products or talked about their research efforts.
Microsoft, maker of the Xbox video game console and the Windows software that powers most of the world's PCs, on Thursday announced a partnership with Oculus to play Xbox games on the headset. "Oculus had such a head start," said Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's Xbox group. "It's good for Windows, and it's good for Xbox."
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