Android Headliner: Will VR Gaming Push Mobile Gaming Out?

When most people think about gaming, their first thought likely leans towards PC games or games on consoles like the PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo systems. Over the last several years, however, mobile gaming has become very big and has taken up huge portions of the gaming market, with mobile developers like Supercell (creators of Clash of Clans and the recently released Clash Royale) making millions daily off of their biggest hits. On top of this, quite a few of the top game publishers who have been very popular on the console and PC platforms have been focusing a lot more heavily on mobile as of late. In short, mobile gaming has become very big. In contrast, one of PC gaming's most popular games, World of Warcraft, had a monthly active subscriber base of about 5.6 million players as of the end of Q2 in 2015 according to Business Wire, (Blizzard no longer reports monthly active subscriber numbers) compared to the 29.5 million active users for Clash of Clans. Granted, Clash of Clans is a free to play game with no monthly subscription fee, and that user number is not listed as the monthly active user number, so there are some differences, but the gap in between the two is no less impressive and puts into perspective just how popular mobile gaming has become.

Enter virtual reality, the new wave of entertainment that is set to sweep the globe with more than a few top companies developing or already selling VR headsets and devices, and gaming is likely to be the biggest selling point for most units. Not all VR headsets will be centered mostly around gaming, as Samsung's Gear VR is one such device which is focused more on every consumer than gamers specifically. Units like the HTC Vive though, as well as the Oculus Rift and the upcoming PlayStation VR are mostly looking towards the gaming market to fuel their revenues, and things are already off to a good start for companies like HTC who has reportedly sold 15,000 Vive units in just 10 minutes after the launch for the pre-orders had opened up. Both HTC and Oculus are also selling PC and VR bundles that will equip gamers not only with the VR units but the PC hardware they need to power the experience, and all-inclusive solution to those who may not already own a powerful enough gaming PC to support the VR hardware. While the bundles will be a bit expensive as you'd be buying everything at once, the convenience factor makes it an enticing option for consumers who are interested in either headset.

Even though the Gear VR isn't geared towards gaming as it's more of a well-rounded entertainment device, the software is powered by Oculus, whose own headset is rooted in gaming, and there are a number of games available for the Gear VR, with the library content only growing at this point. Companies like Google are also set to launch new hardware that is more in line with something like Samsung's offering which only opens up more options for consumers. While Samsung's Gear VR is only compatible with a handful of Samsung phones, Google's option is likely to be compatible with a swarm of Android-powered handsets, which has the potential to really open up the floor to developers for VR gaming.

Now, one could argue that with headsets like the Gear VR and Google's new hardware (if they end up releasing a model that runs off of a smartphone) that the games playable on them are still mobile titles technically, since the entire experience is fueled by mobile in the first place, and that wouldn't be entirely incorrect, but the question here is if VR gaming (whether PC driven or mobile device driven) is going to push out "traditional" mobile gaming, titles which are played on smartphones tablets either with touch-based controls or a compatible Bluetooth gamepad. With the popularity as high as it is right now the potential for such a thing to happen is certainly there. Perhaps not right away, but years down the road it's definitely possible especially if VR really picks up steam like analysts are predicting. According to Travis Jakel who is an analyst for Piper Jaffray and spoke to Fortune last year, VR is predicted to sell 12.2 million units globally in 2016, with HTC's Vive, Facebook's Oculus Rift, and Sony's PlayStation VR forecasted to be the biggest portions of those sales at 2.1 million, 3.6 million, and 1.4 million headsets respectively, while Samsung is predicted to hold the largest single portion at around 5 million units sold throughout the year. The point here is though, that all three headsets geared towards gaming are collectively thought to be the biggest portion of the sales for 2016, which speaks volumes about how big VR gaming is believed to be going forward. If VR gaming ends up as popular as it's thought to be, it won't be too long before companies like Samsung and others start to focus on offering more mobile-based VR games for their smartphone-driven headsets, as gaming has time and time again proven to be a cash cow for pretty much any platform it touches, and if VR follows suit, Samsung and others are sure to follow as well. Having said that, the Gear VR is already equipped with some gaming titles and can be paired with a Bluetooth gamepad for a great experience.

While gaming in VR does have a lot of potential, traditional mobile gaming is still leagues ahead of VR gaming in many ways, namely popularity, and stands to continue on that way for a while at the very least. It will take some time before VR platforms are able to build up a library of games that makes it a worthwhile investment for the average consumer who enjoys a game or two, and until that point it's very likely that most of the consumers buying will be hardcore gamers, with the occasional tech enthusiast who has enough disposable income to throw at the products. Mobile gaming on the other hand, is something that is much more accessible to everyone. The majority of wireless customers have smartphones now with a vast library of mobile games at their fingertips, and many of them are free to play titles which makes them all the more easy to convince an individual to give them a try. Many mobile games are also quite addicting and most lend themselves well to the pick up and play mentality, making it even easier for people to play, including those with extremely busy schedules as there will no doubt be at least a few minutes of free time somewhere in the day to check out a favorite game.

These are just a couple of reasons why VR gaming may have no chance at pushing mobile gaming out of the way and into its deathbed. Mobile gaming is much more accessible, but it's likely also more acceptable socially and more comfortable for the average person. Wearing a VR headset like the Gear VR in public cab leave some feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable, while playing a mobile game still affords one the opportunity to be aware of their surroundings with all of their senses uninterrupted. Mobile gaming is also much more diverse with most of the games being playable across a large collection of different devices, something which VR gaming isn't really capable of doing due to the nature of what kind of hardware is needed to support it. As of right now, traditional mobile gaming isn't going anywhere and millions of players will likely continue to interact with other players and engage with mobile games on their smartphones and tablets for years to come, but the tide of VR gaming is rising, and as more and more options are made available to consumers both at a more reasonable cost and at the high-end, there's a good possibility of people turning more to VR gaming instead of gaming on mobile devices.

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About the Author
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Justin Diaz

Head Editor
Lover of food, craft beer, movies, travel, and all things tech. Video games have always been a passion of his due to their ability to tell incredible stories, and home automation tech is the next big interest, in large part because of the Philips Hue integration with Razer Chroma. Current Device: Google Pixel.