Microsoft

Microsoft, Facebook, and Oculus Rift combine to make virtual reality

Each Oculus Rift will include a controller that works with both Xbox One and Windows 10. Microsoft is placing a bet on virtual reality.

Oculus
Image: Microsoft and XBox.com

United States annual gross revenues from electronic gaming on personal computers and consoles in 2014 was over $22 billion. If you add in the rest of the world to the market, you exceed the $50 billion mark. There's no doubt about it, games are very big business!

Microsoft is a major player in the video game industry with its Xbox One gaming console and game-friendly operating system Windows. The company plans to advance its status in the industry by forming a partnership with Facebook that makes the Oculus Rift more enticing for gamers using personal computers and the Xbox One.

Oculus Rift

Oculus VR, a subsidiary of Facebook, announced that its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset would be available to the gaming public in the first quarter of 2016. Each Oculus Rift will include an Xbox One controller that works with either the console or a Windows 10 device. Xbox One and Windows 10 will both support Oculus Rift headsets natively—no special software, drivers, or setup will be required.

This partnership with Facebook constitutes a major commitment by Microsoft. Essentially, Microsoft has made the very public pronouncement that the Oculus Rift is the current leader in virtual reality technology for gaming, and that is the device it's backing.

While I'm sure Xbox One and Windows 10 will support other virtual reality devices, like the Sony Morpheus and the HTC Vive, the marketing weight of both Facebook and Microsoft will be placed squarely behind the Oculus Rift. This advertising push will give the Oculus Rift headset a leg up on its competition, but we'll have to see if that boost is enough to hold off other industry players.

Figure A
Image: Microsoft and XBox.com

Virtual reality

A big chunk of the news coming out of the June 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo is going to revolve around virtual reality. If devices like the Oculus Rift work as advertised, and assuming games are created that take advantage of the technology, they could ignite a consumer spending spree.

If you're my age, you may remember buying a CD-ROM drive for your computer just so you could play Wing Commander. From that point on, computers and consoles shipped with a CD-ROM drive, and games were distributed by CD. Virtual reality could cause a similar change in the industry. Gamers will spend their discretionary income on new games and gadgets, but only if the spending means a better game experience.

More than a fad

On the other hand, if these new gadgets fail to deliver on any of their promises, gamers will lose interest and stick with the tried and true. Remember how we were all supposed to be watching 3D television now? That has failed miserably, because the technology does not live up to expectations.

Virtual reality device makers have several issues to overcome if they want the gaming public to adopt a new way to game. The most obvious challenge to overcome is the tendency for virtual reality devices to cause motion sickness. The manufacturers argue that this problem can be overcome with higher resolution devices and better optics, but this will only be confirmed once the devices hit the market.

Figure B
Image: Courtesy of Oculus VR

Microsoft

For Microsoft, the main competition for the virtual reality market is going to come from Sony and its Morpheus device. However, the project is still in the prototype stage and will apparently only work with the PS4, severely limiting the potential market. By partnering with Facebook, Microsoft has the gained the advantage over Sony, at least so far.

The HTC Vive is the wild card in this market. Industry press have been impressed by the Vive's technology, so it's a device to keep an eye on. It will be interesting to see what HTC says about the Vive at E3.

Virtual reality for games is not a new idea but, for the first time, it seems the technology is actually catching up to the expectations of the gaming consumer. With companies like Microsoft, Facebook, HTC, Sony, and Nvidia all working on the bits and pieces, virtual reality just might be an actual reality by the middle of 2016. Microsoft is putting its considerable weight behind the Oculus Rift, but only time will tell if that is a smart strategy.

Your thoughts

Are you excited by the prospect of gaming using virtual reality devices? Which device do you think shows the most promise? Is Microsoft backing the right device?

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      About Mark Kaelin

      Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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