As everyone keeps saying, it’s not the hardware that’s going to sell virtual reality to the public, it’s the software. Oh, sure, an immersive experience is great, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t actually do anything with it. That’s why, when a list of potential titles for the Vive included big names like Alien: Isolation and Game of Thrones, it seemed like Valve and HTC’s upcoming VR system might have the edge. As far as traditional VR headsets go, that might still be true, but there’s another challenger lurking in the shadows: Microsoft’s HoloLens, and the juggernaut known as Minecraft.
The HoloLens isn’t quite the same as the Vive, the Oculus Rift, or Sony’s Project Morpheus, since the HoloLens’ reality is “augmented,” not “virtual.” Basically, that means that instead of making the user feel like they’re somewhere else, the HoloLens projects holograms onto the real world. Everything surrounding the user is still there; there’s just more of it.
That doesn’t sound as immediately appealing for gaming, which historically thrives on creating a complete sense of immersion in a virtual world, and Microsoft isn’t necessarily marketing the HoloLens as a gaming device. However, unlike Apple, who initially dismissed the idea of the iPhone as a gaming machine, Microsoft is open to augmented reality gaming on the HoloLens. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why the company bought Minecraft developer Mojang last year for $2.5 billion dollars.
Minecraft was a big part of the HoloLens’ first trailer, with a clip showing the game’s blocky world consuming a regular suburban living room. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, that was a calculated move. Microsoft hopes that the promise of augmented reality Minecraft will entice players to pick up a HoloLens device, quickly giving the headset a large gaming population. As Nadella says, “HoloLens was very much in the works [during the purchase of Mojang], and we knew it.”
If there’s any type of killer app out there, it’s Minecraft: the mobile edition alone has sold over 30 million copies and counting, and it’s not a stretch to say that it’s currently the most popular game in the world – if not of all time.
The HoloLens made its second public appearance last week at Microsoft’s developer-centric Build conference in San Francisco. People who used the headset praised its sleek, updated design, but had one major complaint: the HoloLens boasts an incredibly narrow field-of-view. Essentially, if the user looks side to side, the holograms disappear. Reportedly, the device still works well, but those Microsoft marketing materials that show users enjoying giant, sprawling landscapes and wall-sized projections? The technology isn’t quite there – not yet, anyway.