How Will Virtual Reality Multiplayer Work?

We can all pretty much agree at this point that virtual reality is the next big thing in gaming. The new technology and the systems leading the way in pioneering it dominated CES 2016, and at some point this year we’re likely to see the top VR consoles go mainstream in a big way. This is all understood. But we can probably also agree that we don’t yet have a great handle on what VR gaming will actually be like. In particular, it’s hard to get a feel for how multiplayer games will work, exactly.

For some games there’s a pretty natural path for multiplayer. For example, let’s consider Driveclub, the Playstation-exclusive racing game that’s expected to be one of the first major hits for Playstation VR. VR Focus previewed the game (or at least a technical demonstration of what the game could be like), and in the midst of describing the feel of driving a car in a beautiful virtual reality environment, they mentioned that there are eight cars on the track in the demo. Frankly, the way modern multiplayer works, there’s no reason whatsoever those eight cars couldn’t be controlled by other players in real time. The competition would be real, but in execution it would feel no different than racing against CPU-controlled vehicles.

For some other popular gaming formats, too, we can pretty much understand how multiplayer is going to look because it’s about the same as it has been. For instance, imagine your favorite first-person shooter in VR form. You’re competing against online competitors, in what will be an incredibly realistic environment. But as with racing games, in practice you’re really just battling other players the same way you might battle a CPU, except that you might be able to speak with them through headsets. Again, not much will change.

But there are some ways in which virtual reality has the potential to offer some pretty new and bizarre multiplayer situations. Consider as one example the Casino VR game that’s rumored to be coming out at some point, possibly on Oculus Rift. Casino gaming has reached interesting levels of one-on-one interaction online, and not just in the sense that you’re playing cards or bingo against other live competitors. Gala Bingo offers live caller bingo events for those looking for a real-time gaming experience. This doesn’t just mean that numbers are called out in real time but that you can see the caller making the calls. With VR, we can imagine the same concept with regard to other players. Being able to look around a room or table and see the people you’re playing against—their movements, fidgeting, glancing, etc.—could make casino gaming one of the biggest thrills in VR multiplayer.

And then of course there are original gaming concepts to consider. With each new gaming console, we tend to get games specifically built to showcase new capabilities. Consider Wii Sports when the Nintendo Wii was new, for instance, or Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor showcasing the full power of the Xbox One with regard to world building and AI depth. There are even specific gaming apps designed to make the most of new operating systems on mobile devices. Virtual reality will be no different, and we actually might have gotten our most interesting preview in this regard a few years ago. Back in 2014, Slash Gear examined multiplayer potential by highlighting a gaming demo in which two players essentially dueled with one another through avatars. You could sit with a headset on and see yourself and your opponent, as well as avatars for each of you on a surface in the middle, battling it out. This raises the idea of a new immediate multiplayer competition the likes of which we haven’t seen before. It may indeed be hand-to-hand or melee style combat games that shows off the best of VR multiplayer potential.

One of the most exciting parts of waiting for mainstream virtual reality is that we just don’t know what it’s going to look like, or which games will be the highlights. But it’s a lot of fun to wonder in the meantime, and when you think about it, multiplayer is one of the biggest question marks. In some ways, it may not change much within VR, but in others it may be incredibly new and sophisticated.

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