According to John Carmack, the legendary programmer behind the Doom and Quake series, the future of Oculus Rift lies in the mobile phone and tablet markets. In his “The Dawn of Mobile VR” GDC 2015 keynote, Carmack explained that Oculus will focus on accessibility and aim to make the technology widespread. Though Oculus Rift demos included fully functional video games, Carmack said that VR gaming will be only a byproduct of the technology, rather than the driving force behind it, as was the case with early PCs.
There is no way that a PC peripheral or a game console winds up being the path that billions of people interact with.
When faced with criticism that he tinkers with mobile toys instead of utilizing the highest performance PCs available, Carmack said that VR represents the final platform and a new way that people will be interacting with computers, meaning that high refresh rates and high-precision head tracking are not as important as he previously thought. The ultimate goal of Oculus Rift has changed from being a hardcore gaming device to enticing large swaths of the population to embrace VR and use it in their daily lives. Carmack expects that gaming will come as a natural extension of that VR acceptance.
The VR headset of our dreams doesn’t have wires on it, it’s probably going to be built out of mobile technology.
Carmack’s initial VR ideas came from primitive cardboard and plastic phone holders, which were a little more than glorified toys for children. But he saw the potential in them and soon started working as Oculus CTO, with the task of improving ergonomics and resolving software issues, trying to improve and fix whatever he could. In 2014, he had a workable prototype of Gear VR, a mobile version of Oculus Rift, which was based off of Galaxy S5 and had some basic cinema and panoramic functionality. While Samsung wanted to market this prototype right then and there, Carmack was fearful of the 90s VR craze repeating itself.
There is this fear that if a really bad VR product goes out, it could set the industry back to the 90s
Though Carmack was satisfied with the hardware, what bothered him was the software and tiny glitches that could ruin the user’s experience. Having his VR headset globally perceived as a failure would not only bury the project, but also the entire VR paradigm. Eventually, Gear VR got out, albeit with massive restriction on who can buy it. The result would shock Carmack.
And a funny thing happened – people kind of liked it.
The secret of its success was that it worked out of the box. Unlike the PC peripheral version, the mobile version of the VR headset caused no headaches when it came to setting it up. You could simply pull it out of your back pocket and let your friend try it out. Carmack says that even though years of VR development have made him jaded, seeing someone’s face as they are trying a VR headset for the first time never fails to fill him with glee. This spontaneous enthusiasm for VR is what is going to be crucial for its success, says Carmack.
You see this in all walks of life, not just the hardcore gamer.
Development of Oculus Rift and other VR technology has been, and continues to be, a fascinating journey. We still have a long way to go before the VR headsets become truly consumer-ready and a household item, but that moment is coming ever closer with each passing day. Not only video games, but every type of media will change profoundly and allow us to step into the virtual world for the first time in history. What will come after that is impossible to predict. But it’s going to be awesome.
Read more: How Will Oculus Rift Change Gaming?