Virtual Reality to Take Over Game Developers Conference


Virtual and augmented reality are poised to hit it big with applications for gaming, travel and health care
A videogame image of a scene from ‘Bullet Train,’ a virtual-reality demo from Epic Games. 
A videogame image of a scene from ‘Bullet Train,’ a virtual-reality demo from Epic Games. PHOTO: EPIC GAMES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The brains behind virtual reality get another chance this week to woo videogame developers before a wave of long-hyped hardware finally lands in people’s hands.

At the annual Game Developers Conference, opening Monday in San Francisco, more than 26,000 people from around the globe will be hoping for a peek at new VR gear from the likes of Sony Corp. The five-day gathering, which is geared toward industry professionals, also gives game creators a chance to explore emerging strategies and technologies in the nearly $100 billion industry.

GDC covers myriad industry angles but this year it will be dominated by sessions dedicated to VR as well as augmented reality, which blends digital images with a person’s view of the real world. The burgeoning technologies are poised to hit it big in the coming years, with applications for gaming, travel, health care and more.

Investors already have pumped $1.1 billion into augmented- ​and virtual-reality companies this year, more than the total for any prior year, according to​ Digi-Capital, a mergers-and-acquisitions advisory firm. Researchers at Gartner Inc. estimate nearly 40 million headsets will be sold world-wide by 2020.

The developer conference comes weeks before consumers get their hands on the first high-end systems: the $599 Oculus Rift from Facebook Inc. and the $799 Vive from HTC Corp. Representatives from both companies will be running demonstrations of the products at the event.


A third piece in the competitive landscape could be placed by Sony, which is holding a press conference on the sidelines of GDC. The company has yet to say how much its PlayStation VR will cost or when the system will be available to buyers. It previously said the hardware would ship in the first half of 2016.

The coming wave of hardware will roll out with only a handful of games and other entertainment content. Much more is needed for VR to thrive, analysts and industry professionals say.

“If there’s not enough content, people won’t see as much value in the platforms,” said Nick Donaldson, lead designer for VR at Epic Games Inc., known for the widely used game-software toolbox Unreal. “We need to give consumers as many reasons as possible to buy the hardware.”

Mr. Donaldson is scheduled to give a talk Tuesday on the making of “Bullet Train,” a six-minute VR game demo the 29-year-old helped create for Facebook’s Rift. It is important that developers share knowledge with each other so that poor early-adopter experiences don’t turn off future buyers, he said. “We definitely don’t want to poison the well.”

Michael Angel, a 27-year-old mobile-app developer in Plano, Texas, will be attending the conference for the first time. He is eager to get insight into whether his VR ideas will work. “I want to know where to put my time and money, and what kind of things I should be creating,” he said. “Getting some feedback would be useful.”

The virtual world won’t be the only hot topic at hand. GDC has panels dedicated to competitive gaming, or so-called e-sports, and to the free-to-play strategy that has become the gold standard for mobile-gaming apps in recent years. There will also be sessions on artificial intelligence, community management and storytelling in games.