In the past five years, virtual reality has left the realm of pipeline dream and established itself as something that will soon become a must have gaming apparatus. However, VR headsets offer much more than just an immersive gaming experience, they may be of benefit in the everyday world, especially for those who are involved in sport.
This piece will look at how virtual reality can relate to the sport of football as well as football video games. In regards to football games, we will use EA Sports’ FIFA franchise over Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, simply because FIFA is the far more popular and the 2014 PES sales collapsed. One year before, FIFA 2013 accounted for 23 per cent of EA’s total revenues which, considering the company had revenues of $3.797 billion – is incredible.
Virtual Reality right now
VR is very much in the development stage but it is nearing the end of the tunnel. By 2016, there should hopefully be a few available to consumers. Facebook’s Oculus Rift is the VR headset that has had most people talking, thanks in no small part to the hilarious South Park episode based on the technology. Mark Zuckerberg’s company had originally hoped to have the Rift out on sale by the end of 2015 but they have since reneged on that promise. The Rift is now slated for a release within the first three months of 2016. Facebook nabbed Oculus in a two billion USD deal in March of last year despite the company’s lack of a commercial product. On the other hand, Oculus has been leading the field with its “developer” editions which have been targeting game developers, whom they hoped would start incorporating VR technology into their games.
While the Oculus Rift may be the most well-known VR headset that is to be released, it certainly isn’t the only one. The Rift will actually be beaten to the punch, something that seemed highly unlikely just six months ago, by the HTC Vive, which is scheduled to come out for November of this year. There have been rather a few details released about the Vive. It will come with a refresh rate of 90Hz, so content will be produced at 90 frames-per-second. As with all other VR headsets, it will come with two screens, one for each eye, that have a HD resolution of 1080 x 1200. In total, the device will come with a resolution of 2160 x 1200, giving an aspect rating of 9:5 rather than the 16:9 that its competitors will possess. With more than 70 sensors, including a MEMS gyroscope, accelerometer and laser position sensors, the device should be fantastically reactive. It is also being reported that the Vive will be able to operate in a 15 feet by 15 feet tracking space when used in conjunction with the passive “Lighthouse” base station. This last point is what makes the Vive so exciting, you will be able to walk around your living room comfortably and the device will be able to handle it – moving your furniture to the borders would be logical.
Right now the Rift and the Vive are mainly being developed for PC gaming although the Rift will be able to stream Xbox One games courtesy of Microsoft Windows 10. This is neat but it is not the full virtual reality experience that you would be hoping for, rather you can see the game streamed in your headset theatre, cool but not amazing. It is no secret that Microsoft are working on their Hololens technology but so far they have kept quiet on whether it will work in conjunction with the Xbox One.
In contrast, Sony have been working doggedly on Project Morpheus; the first VR headset made entirely for console gaming, obviously for the PS4. Let us kick things off by saying just how good the headset looks. If VR gaming was solely decided by aesthetics, the Morpheus would come first every time. It is sleek, sexy, and undeniably cool. Spec wise, the headset comes with a 5.7” OLED display than runs with 960 x RGB x 1000 per eye eradicating motion blur, while all pixels now have RGB sub pixels. The Morpheus will come with a 120Hz refresh rate, double the previous version, with a latency of less than 18 milliseconds. The screen offers the user a field of vision of 100 degrees, and also includes nine tracking LEDS. An accelerometer and gyroscope are naturally included, as is 3D audio and a mini audio jack and mic input.
The technology is compatible with the PlayStation Move, making the feel of the game all the more immersive, something that the lucky few who have been allowed to test the game out have raved over. People are very excited for Morpheus and with good reason, it is going to change the whole world of console gaming and, from Sony’s perspective, will help continue PlayStation’s surge to the top of console popularity polls, as we are currently witnessing with their phenomenal sales of their next generation console. Sony have promised gamers that the kit will be available at some point in the first six months of next year. This is news that was certainly very well received indeed.
Pricing for these devices are not extortionate but they certainly are not cheap. The Rift is expected to marketed between $200-$400. The Vive, which insiders believe to be the superior product, could be anywhere between $250-$600. Meanwhile, Sony have kept their lips buttoned on their pricing strategy. Unlike consoles, don’t expect the price to drop for this technology for quite a while. We might have another upcomer, Homido VR headset or a company with a VR headset which has the best specs of them all, StarVR from Starbreeze Studios.
Despite virtual reality becoming reality by the end of the year, it is not a technology that should be immediately embraced. The devices will come with some faults, with the biggest being motion sickness. All the developers are saying that the more you get used to the device the more that horrible ailment decreases in chance. There are also going to be plenty of bugs and inherent problems that need straightening out so even though things like the Rift and the Vive are available for purchase they may not be the stellar products that we expect them to be until at least 2017. That said, an outlook like that is certainly one of pessimism. Hopefully it will be proven wrong.
Virtual Reality with Football
Two Icelandic football sides have actually played against each other using virtual reality headsets. Instead of being able to use their peripheral vision they had to rely on one camera located on top of the pitch and attempt to use their wits. As you can quite clearly see in the video below, playing football whilst wearing virtual reality headsets is catastrophic. The players slowly meander around as if they are blindfolded whilst their control of the ball is certainly missing.
Playing football with a VR headset on is very much a futile exercise. For starters, why on earth would you even consider wearing a VR headset to play the game, it is pointless. It robs you of your senses which, in a game of football, is a huge hindrance.
However, VR headsets do have some use in football, mainly in the training aspect of the game. In the United States, Stanford University utilise the technology with their American Football side. This season they have been mounting it to their quarterback’s head, allowing him to see the defensive formation of the upcoming opposition. From this perspective you cannot really knock the technology down.
From a football perspective, the technology could be extremely beneficial for goalkeepers. In the past we have seen Ben Foster watch Tottenham players take penalties on a mobile phone ahead of a penalty shootout between his then side, Manchester United, and Spurs in the 2009 League Cup final. Jens Lehman was a bit more archaic in his approach at the 2006 World Cup, he pulled out prepared notes on Argentina’s penalty preferences out of his sock.
You would never back England to win a penalty shootout in the football betting but if Joe Hart rehearsed penalties with a VR headset ahead of every international knockout game, granted England would have to make it that far, then the maligned England squad would have a far better chance of progression.
Managers could also make their defenders work with VR to give them a more in-depth knowledge of opponents’ set-piece plays. This is a move that could potentially save a side 12 goals a season.
There is no chance in hell that VR will ever be able to replace the actual playing of football. If it does then we live in a very sad world. But it does have certain advantages that it can give a side in regards to match preparation.
Virtual Reality with FIFA
Nate Mitchell, the co-founder of Oculus Rift, has spoken on how he believes FIFA to be absolutely ideal for the Rift, calling it the “perfect fit”;
“You can imagine sitting in the stands and confetti is raining down and the four of us are sitting right next to each other and we’re controlling the players on the field – that would be an awesome VR experience.”
He went on to add that he would very much welcome an approach from EA. Unfortunately that seems to be some way off with the lead producer on FIFA 15 , Sebastian Enrique, stating that EA “haven’t found something that beats the experience when you have a controller in your hands”. Then again, VR does require a development rethink, as it would change the game dramatically and make it more immersive than any other game you experienced before, as we reported from E3 2015 with the phenomenal EVE: Valkyrie game.
From a gaming perspective it does seem quite difficult to imagine FIFA working on a VR headset. It is a game that has so much based on reaction. A few microseconds of lag can curtail any attack – nobody wants that – while the camera angles also seem to be a bit of a sticking point.
However, the idea is by no means dead. At E3 we saw the trailer for the upcoming FIFA 16. It looked incredible, again showcasing the calibre of EA’s game developing capabilities. If anyone can make a game for VR it is them.
Moreover, if things like the Rift and the Morpheus do transpire to be popular, EA may have no choice but to develop games for VR headsets. They may have their hand forced by Konami, who could enter the market and do very well indeed.
Virtual reality will never be able to rival football. The sport requires too much for a headset and, in all fairness, you shouldn’t be playing sport through a headset. However, as previously mentioned, there is certainly a place for it within club’s training regimes.
With video games it is a little more troublesome. EA steered clear of the Kinect and the Move and will most probably leave VR alone. When it comes to FIFA they want it to be jaw dropping, something that they feel may not happen with VR.
VR will be able to offer a good experience for certain parts of football but as a collective whole it would be utopian to think that they would ever be able to manage it.