- You will soon be able to watch virtual reality streams from inside the game world
- Live audiences will exist in the virtual space and become an integrated part of virtual reality streaming.
- Esports events will take place with virtual reality audiences watching together.
Virtual reality streaming is the future of gaming. And developers are in heated competition to create the leading virtual reality streaming technology.
You put your HTC Vive headset or Playstation VR headset on, and immediately find yourself in a virtual world with other spectators, watching while the caster leads you through that virtual world. You’re able to move freely throughout the virtual space, while also seeing what the caster and other audience members are up to. It’s like you’re living in the virtual world while watching a gamer’s stream. That’s the future of virtual reality streaming.
In years to come, streaming will be household activity as popular as watching regular sports. But at the moment, streaming technology is severely limited, with services like Twitch offering only the most minimal functionality.
That limited functionality is becoming a burden to gamers like Tonia Hamilton, who describes herself as a gamer “totally hooked on live streams”.
“I probably watch at least two hours of streams a day,” Tonia tells me as we chat at Power Up Game Bar in Toronto. She laughs and sets down her tablet, which is open on the front screen, the Twitch app visible.
Tonia isn’t satisfied with the quality of streaming. “It’s so limited,” she tells me. “You sit there in your bedroom watching someone else play a game. The only interaction you’ve got is through the chat and those silly emoticons.”
Twitch’s emoticons are pressed more than a billion times a month. “Those emoticons are pretty addictive,” Tonia says, laughing. “But they’re limited. Gaming has come so far. We should be able to do more than just chat using plain text and emoticons. We should be able to properly socialise while watching”. Many agree with her.
This need for new streaming technology is creating headed battle among developers.
The race is on to create the essential virtual reality streaming technology. Leading that race is VREAL, a Seattle-based entertainment and streaming company.
VREAL CEO Todd Hooper comes from a background working with Unity Technologies and their game engines, and had early exposure to VR headsets. And he’s used that experience to create VREAL, which is designed to end the headache of virtual reality streaming.
Currently, VR streaming forces players to see the game only from the player’s point of view. Some games allow for some alternative camera angles, and some games allow the Twitch chat to be overlay the game world. But gamers are less than impressed and claim that the limited and unintuitive VR experience needs a serious make-over.
What is missing, more than anything else, is a streaming device that gives a true virtual reality experience. Moving around the game world freely is what virtual reality is all about. And developers have struggled to give that experience to viewers.
VREAL aims to give players that true virtual reality experience while also allowing for interaction.
Put on your virtual reality headset and you’ll be sent to the VREAL lobby, where you can meet other players and choose games to play. You’ll control an avatar using intuitive head and hands motions and speaking via lip synchronization. This makes the communication realistic, and you find yourself communicating not just verbally but non-verbally as well, through your body language.
When you use VREAL to stream, you still play from your normal view, but you also see a list of viewers and get alerts when someone joins your game. Your viewers have their own unique views and can see your avatar as an icon above the game world, along with your controls too.
VREAL makes viewers feel like they’re watching a sporting event. The main action is going on around you, and you’re always able to view it, but you can also move freely and discuss the game. The specific features of any game will be down to its developers, but it’s easy to see how VREAL allows you to watch a stream is an intuitive, virtual reality experience.
VREAL works cross-platform. Viewers with Rift or HTC Vive will get the full experience, but VREAL works on mobile too. The game sends information to the cloud and your phone downloads it to create your 360 view. And even static viewers can use VREAL because players can place cameras in the game world for viewers to see.
Michael Lee Sauvage, who runs the more than decade-old technology blog for parents, GeekDad, had the opportunity of visiting VREAL’s offices to try out their new tech. “The team at VREAL is on track to create the future of how we watch games in virtual reality,” Sauvage says on his blog. “I’m looking forward to seeing what game developers will do with this SDK, and the creativity that streamers will bring to the medium. Who knows, maybe a year from now I’ll be reporting live on the status of streaming from inside the VREAL lobby. It’s an exciting time in VR.”
Sliver.tv has also created virtual reality streaming technology that is primarily used for esports.
Sliver.tv‘s team of Mitch Liu, Jieyl Long, and Ryan Nichols Sliver come from a background in esports, with Mitch Liu being a Counter Strike: Global Offensive aficionado. No wonder, then, that their technology is primarily aimed at the esports space.
Writing for VRWorld.com, Jaksa Kren (who has possibly the coolest name of any journalist ever), says, “SLIVER.tv enables you to go from viewing only previously recorded content to stream live from the big eSports tournaments. It’s a platform to record, view, and stream top eSports games in fully immersive, 360° cinematic VR video.”
Sliver already has contacts and relationships with many of the biggest esports franchises, and is therefore expected to become a lead in the VR streaming esports space.
Sliver.tv uses multiple virtual cameras to record esports matches from many angles, allowing for a complete virtual reality experience. Viewers can then jump right into the VR world and watch the esport as it takes place in real time.
While being able to fully explore the virtual space, Sliver.tv also has technology to detect where heated action is taking place, meaning players can immediately jump to that location and see the action as it happens, from the best possible viewing angle. Imagine exploring a stage in CS:GO and being notified when two opposing players are getting close to one another. You can then jump to that spot to see the action so you never miss that all important frag.
“Virtual reality has the power to create an immersive experience and bring a new dimension to spectating existing 3D games,” says Sliver.tv partner David Chao. “Sliver.tv’s platform will bridge VR and eSports in a truly unique and innovative way, and we’re excited about what the technology will bring to viewers globally.”
What VREAL and Sliver.tv are doing with gaming, the BBC is doing with TV. Their research and development department has been investigating ways to create shared live audience experiences for viewers at home. They’re calling it Multiplayer Broadcasting.
The BBC’s Multiplayer Broadcasting technology is VR streaming for TV.
Multiplayer Broadcasting merges television and gaming, two fields that have been moving closer together in recent years. “Advances in real-time rendering mean that video games are becoming ever more cinematic,” a BBC spokesperson told us. “Simultaneously, broadcasting is moving towards object-based, IP distribution, enabling novel interactive experiences. We are investigating the convergence of these technologies through a project called ‘Multiplayer Broadcasting.”
Multiplayer Broadcasting places audience avatars into a shared virtual world in a way similar to VREAL. This allows audience members to explore the virtually simulated world while also communicating with other audience members. The BBC is calling this the “next iteration of audience participation shows in a broadcast-VR enabled future”.
The BBC is stressing that Multiplayer Broadcasting is not just for gaming-related experiences. Potentially, any kind of TV show could use Multiplayer Broadcasting to take the 2D show into a virtual space and to allow audience members to interact. Imagine watching the news and being able to see how friends and family are responding to the stores. Imagine watching Game Of Thrones in VR while also being able to explore its scenes. This is the future the BBC is working towards.