VR is set to dominate over the coming months - but is this a platform worth developing for now, or should devs wait to see how the tech beds in first before committing valuable time and resources?
Recruitment agencies may hold the answer.
The hype currently swirling round VR is steadily increasing, fuelled by the recent launches of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (though how successfully launched is open to debate). And with Sony's PlayStation VR due for release in October, expect said hype to reach deafening levels.
But there has been some scepticism about whether VR is the great hope for gaming that many are proclaiming - at least in the short term - and if we're actually years away from VR becoming a truly worthwhile investment for developers; for instance, Gartner's Hype Cycle predictor believes that VR won't reach full maturity for another 5-10 years.
Some could be forgiven then for wanting to hold off on developing for VR - and its stablemate Augmented Reality - before taking the plunge. But that might be a mistake.
VR Skill-sets in Demand Now
Skillsearch has experienced a rapid growth in demand from studios for VR-focused talent in recent times; three years ago openings were evenly split between console and mobile. Since then though, the market has shifted with VR and AR projects now making up approximately 30% of Skillsearch's live openings.
We expect this figure to rise rapidly over the next 12 months, accelerating even faster after that. It's this forecasting that led us to create a new unit within our business solely dedicated to VR tech, so devs can secure the right skillsets for their projects quickly.
Judging from current demand, it's also clear that two distinct 'categories' of VR are emerging:
This category shares similarities with the traditional game development cycle and requires Developers with realtime game engine experience. Demand for Technical Game Artists is also high, as is the need for 3D modellers. Designers and Producers who have specifically researched or worked on Interactive projects are a valuable rarity as Interactive VR represents a unique set of design challenges that must be overcome.
This category is geared towards 360-degree video experiences where VFX and solid post-production talent is highly sought after. Such experiences are typically 360-degree images/videos stitched together using tools such as Nuke. Early adopters of VR are probably familiar with the technology, using Google Cardboard to create immersive tours or rollercoaster experiences. Critically, we expect to see this category gain more and more momentum as Facebook 360 and YouTube 360 gather steam with consumers.
Tech As Well As Talent
But of course, VR won't live or die on talent alone - there are also important questions about the VR tech itself and the software powering it. As a sponsor of the recent VR World Congress, we spent time investigating which engines have been used to create soon-to-be-released VR titles. At least 75% of the output we saw had been created in Unity, although many developers revealed that if they'd had more time and resources, they would have preferred Unreal 4.
Indeed, we came away feeling that devs were using Unity because they already had the in-house capability to deploy it effectively and needed to get their VR projects out to market quickly. This initial rush-to-market mentality is showing signs of changing though - the recruitment requests we're beginning to receive for the next set of VR projects in development are predominately using Unreal 4.
As for specific VR platforms, the majority of the projects at the Congress were running on Oculus - but this could change with the arrival of the more cost-effective PlayStation VR, which has access to a market of 40 million PS4 owners. Whichever platform emerges as market leader, the predicted sales figures for VR itself are impressive - IDC is predicting that 9 million headsets will be sold in 2016 - and that's a figure that no one can afford to sit back and ignore.
It's a huge opportunity waiting to be exploited especially by indie devs. After all, investors and crowd funders are particularly interested in putting money into innovative VR projects, and innovating is something that the indie scene is renowned for.
Timescale to Success
Ultimately, Skillsearch believes that research stating it will take 5-10 years for full VR maturity is too pessimistic based on our own findings. Critically, we've also seen projects in development which are far more advanced than people might expect and when released, will give the industry a much clearer understanding of VR's capabilities while acting as 'tentpoles' for generating consumer interest.
Instead, it is more likely that AR will take five or more years to reach full maturity - for example, Microsoft's HoloLens could take until 2020 before being made available to consumers - but while such delays are frustrating (especially for those of us who want to play Minecraft on our coffee tables...), AR's prospects remain extremely positive. The director of The Lord of the Rings and advisory panel member of AR startup Magic Leap, Peter Jackson, has stated: "In 10 years I expect that mixed-reality technology like Magic Leap will be used as much as, if not more than, smartphones."
Whatever the timescales, Skillsearch will continue serving both games and interactive technologies now and long into the future, ensuring that the right talent is lined up with the right developers.
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