We’ve talked before about how augmented reality (AR) may be the biggest investment opportunity ever, and that’s mainly because it involves so many practical uses when compared to virtual reality. Sure, Pokémon Go put augmented reality on the map and it was a game, but the real value in AR comes when we start overlaying everything we see around us with useful information. While virtual reality has many practical applications as well, the nerd in us knows that the real cool VR stuff is going to manifest itself in experiences which will be dominated by the world of virtual reality gaming.
Some estimates put the size of the global video gaming market at about $100 billion presently. Do you really think that in 20 years there will be video games that are not virtual reality based? If you’ve seen the teaser for The Void, it should send shivers down your spine and convince you that the term “gaming” will soon be synonymous with “virtual reality gaming”. It’s that cool. As investors, we want to know which companies stand to benefit from the growth of virtual reality gaming. As old school gaming nerds, we just want to play virtual reality games like The Void and have our minds blown.
For many consumers, virtual reality gaming will be the key draw to virtual reality. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, HTC, Samsung, Sony and Google are investing millions of dollars in VR games on top of the billions being invested in the headsets and overall VR platforms. With Hollywood focusing mostly on short-form entertainment, early adopters who want to make the most of their new hardware have a wide selection of games to choose from. Here’s a look at six game companies that are strongly positioned to help generate revenue for the virtual reality ecosystem.
Founded in 1994, Insomniac Games is a privately owned independent studio that has offices in Burbank, CA and Durham, North Carolina. The studio has worked with some of the biggest game companies in the world, having created Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and the upcoming Spider-Man for Sony, Fuse for Electronic Arts, Sunset Overdrive for Microsoft Studios and Song of the Deep for GameStop. Most recently, Insomniac has been funded by Facebook-owned Oculus VR to create Oculus Rift virtual reality gaming experiences like the third-person action adventure Edge of Nowhere, the hack-and-slash Feral Rites and the fantasy spellcasting action The Unspoken, which utilizes the new Oculus Touch controllers.
What separates this large indie studio from many early companies is the sheer variety of VR games they’re creating. Oculus VR has dedicated tens of millions of dollars into new VR games, and Insomniac’s strong pedigree of quality games, and building franchises, bodes well for these early days of VR experimentation. The studio remains committed to traditional game platforms, where the real money is today, but has devoted resources to explore the virtual reality realm.
Ubisoft is a $4 billion market cap company that is publicly traded on Euronext (EPA:UBI) and also as an ADR on the over-the-counter market (OTCMKTS:UBSFY). This French game publisher has connected with gamers around the world by building franchises around Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watchdogs, Just Dance, Rabbids and the many Tom Clancy games. Ubisoft remains the only large publisher to invest heavily in virtual reality gaming. And it’s focusing on cross-platform titles, which helps hardware makers across the entire ecosystem.
One of the key focuses for the company is social VR titles, which allows players to explore virtual reality worlds together. Ubisoft has already shipped Eagle Flight, a multiplayer game that lets players soar through the skies of Paris as eagles.
And the company is developing racing game Trackmania Turbo VR, the four-player cooperative Star Trek Crew Commander game and the up to eight-player action strategy game Werewolves Within. Having sold hundreds of millions of copies of traditional games, Ubisoft is dedicated multiple global studios to the development of VR titles.
Founded by Tommy Palm, the former “games guru” at King Digital Entertainment, Resolution Games is focused on developing social casual virtual reality games aimed at the mass market. This differentiates the startup from most of the early companies in the field. Having raised over $6 million to date in a Series A from investors that included Google Ventures, the studio has already released Solitaire Jester and the hit fishing game Bait! across Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift.
Perhaps the VR part comes into play so you can look around when you’re bored? We wouldn’t put a fishing game as our top-5 ideas for a VR game but people seem to love it. Some reviews say it’s “soothing” and it certainly looks like it based on the below screenshot:
Resolution has also aligned with Google, bringing the carnival mini-game collection WonderGlade to Daydream View as a launch title. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, the studio’s experienced development team has been able to experiment with VR while churning out multiple hit games that appeal to both the early adopters and the more core gamers.
One of the most innovative VR game studios out there, this Austin, TX-based company has taken in $5 million in funding so far and delivered an early cross-platform hit with Job Simulator. This humorous Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR game puts players in the role of an employee performing mundane jobs as imagined by future robots. It blends humor with controller-based activities that showcase how much fun VR can be as seen below:
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that most people probably shouldn’t spend their time in a “humorous virtual reality office” because if they have a “successful career”, they’ll spend the better parts of their lives in an office dealing with some real clowns.
If office humor isn’t your cup of tea, the company is also working with Adult Swim on the Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-ality for the HTC Vive. That game is a variation of Job Simulator’s core gameplay, but re-imagined by Justin Roiland, creator of the hit Rick and Morty TV show. Owlchemy has also created a pair of skydiving VR games, Aaaaaculus! for Oculus Rift and a mobile variation called Caaaaardboard! for Google Cardboard, which is a bestselling title on that platform.
This privately-owned company was founded in 1991 and is headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, although it has studios around the world. In July 2012, Tencent Holdings (a giant Chinese internet company) paid $330 million for a 40% stake in the company. While Epic develops its own games, including the team-based fantasy action game Paragon and the multiplayer strategy action game Fortnite (seen below), it also supplies the game industry (as well as Hollywood and enterprise companies) with its Unreal Engine 4 technology.
Epic is offering a double-dose infusion into the VR ecosystem, as a diverse range of games are being created by other gaming companies using Unreal Engine 4. There are also a growing number of Hollywood studios using the game engine technology to develop interactive entertainment like Fox Innovation Lab’s The Martian VR Experience. Epic is also using its own technology to develop its own games, including the Oculus Rift exclusive pack-in first-person shooter, Robo Recall, which will come free with every $200 pair of Oculus Touch controllers this fall. It seems like that $330 million is being used to build a “best of breed” platform that all game developers will eventually migrate to so they can focus solely on their core competency; game design.
Founded in 1997, Reykjavik Iceland, CCP Games built its business around the massively multiplayer online space strategy game, EVE Online. The independent studio has recently expanded its PC and console EVE franchise to focus on virtual reality across all platforms. The company established an internal division to focus specifically on VR development, and has released the spaceship dogfighting game EVE: Valkyrie across Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR and the arcade shooter Gunjack: EVE which supports the majority of VR hardware. Gunjack 2: End of Shift is an exclusive Daydream View launch title developed by CCP’s Shanghai studio and seen below:
CCP Games is also experimenting with new types of virtual reality games. Project Arena, which is a disc-based game straight out of the Disney film, TRON, has been shown to press this year as an example of where the company is headed with VR. While a release isn’t confirmed, this game blends real activity with virtual sport, which opens the door potentially to VR eSports.
As investors, we see an environment where just one of the companies is publicly traded, two are VC funded startups, and three are legacy gaming companies that have been around for a long time and that are now entering the virtual reality gaming space. Maybe the best thing to do here is just take half the money you were going to use to invest in virtual reality gaming and buy UbiSoft shares with it and then take the other half and buy VR hardware so you can play some of these cool looking virtual reality games. While there may be a lot of money in virtual reality gaming based on the size of the market it stands to displace, there’s even more fun to be had by stepping into some of these amazing virtual worlds.
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