I spent a week in Tokyo last month as a speaker at the CEDEC gaming conference. Had you asked 10 year old me about Japan, I would have conjured up images of Godzilla, Dragon Ball Z, and ninjas. Funnily enough, day trips to Akihabara and Harajuku brought some of these to life through arcades, cosplayers, and stores full of manga collectibles. Walking around Tokyo, I saw virtual reality poised for blast off.
The legacy of arcade and console games is evident all over Tokyo. Walking through Akihabara, I saw a culture that praised gamers and geeks. Trendy hipsters played the games of my childhood: Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Bubble Bobble, Wonder Boy, Dynamite Dux, Streets of Rage…and, of course, Super Mario. For those who don’t know, Akihabara is an entire district of Tokyo solely dedicated to consumer electronics, tech, and arcade gaming. So… many… neon… lights!
Akihabara, or wider Tokyo in general, has never had an abundance of internet cafes like China, nor a large PC gaming audience like in the West. Wifi and broadband enabled homes have negated the need for the former and consoles and arcades have done so with the latter.
Without a PC gaming culture, high end VR headsets don’t have a natural place in Japan. That said, the HTC Vive has emerged as a front runner in Japan’s fledgling experiential VRcades.
Spectators surround folks playing VR games in these VRcades and they’re able to watch the player through viewpoints other than the gamer’s first person view. VR gaming becomes very watchable for spectators in VRcades as a result of mixed reality filming.
Mixed reality filming (like that seen below) allows viewers to see what gamers see in VR, without having to watch through a ‘first person view’ (which can make folks nauseous and dizzy). It’s an innovative way to move a camera around the VR world and film gameplay for real world spectators. I think there will be arcade VR and living-room VR in Japan, but the far more real world, social experiences around VR gaming will come from the arcades, not the living room.
Furthermore, mixed reality theme parks are a ‘thing’ in Tokyo. Really worth checking out are Melbourne-based Zero Latency VR’s mixed reality zombie survival crossover with Sega Live Creations at the Yokohama Joypolis theme park or Bandai Namco’s VR Gundam Wing arcades in Odaiba. Both of these are great, but reportedly do not compare to the well funded darling of Western mixed reality, ‘The Void’. The Void was noticeably missing from Tokyo’s VR landscape, despite its theme-park-like success in New York’s Time Square with the Ghostbusters IP (where they charge gamers $50 per 8 min ‘ride’).
Japanese living room gaming has been dominated by Nintendo and Sony for decades. While Nintendo has been silent on VR to date, Sony’s Playstation VR headset will be very popular in its homeland. While PSVR’s positional tracking solution or hardware specs aren’t quite as good as the Vive’s, it does not require a cleared, separate room for operation, nor a powerful PC to run. I expect that Sony’s branded homeland strength, its robust pre-installed Playstation user base, and its deep understanding of AAA game development position PSVR for success in Japan.