The increasing capabilities of smartphones has led to an explosion in the number of video games designed specifically for the casual player. The tremendous popularity - and profitability - of freemium games like Candy Crush has seen hundreds of millions who were never previously gamers adopt it as a pastime. The global video game industry hit $99.6 billion in revenue last year, according to industry tracker Newzoo, and it is expected to grow to $118.6 billion by 2019, a CAGR of +6.6%. The total number of gamers is predicted to reach 2.2 billion this year.
Two important things have happened as a result of this growth in popularity and the influx of money it has brought. Firstly, there has been a rapid increase in the development of new gaming technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality. Secondly, developers have significantly increased their use of analytics as they seek to provide consumers with the kind of immersive, exciting experience that makes a game stand out in today’s incredibly competitive marketplace. These two developments are now increasingly working in concert together, as data analytics is deployed to take virtual reality gaming to the next level and truly challenge traditional platforms as the gamers’ preferred choice.
Last year was a turning point for the AR and VR market as it finally entered the public consciousness, with products such as Pokemon Go finally being made available to consumers. It is, however, still a relatively niche market in comparison to other players in the space. Just under 1 million people in the US own one of the new virtual reality devices, compared to 100 million unique users for smartphone gaming, 80 million users of PCs or video game consoles, and 53 million tablet gamers.
It is a market that is growing rapidly, though. According to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., the global VR gaming market size is expected to reach $45.09 billion by 2025, with tech giants including Microsoft and Sony set to launch VR-compatible consoles.
Analytics has become a vital component in game development, and will likely be even more important in VR. Analytics is used in a number of ways in the creation of games. On a basic level, it helps boost the performance of the game, providing developers with real time information that they can use to fine tune any areas where there may be lags. This is especially important in VR because, as annoying as a lag is in console and phone games, it completely ruins the experience in VR. Analytics is also about changing the game at the design level. The most developed incarnation of analytics see publishers use data to personalize games and allow each player to change the narrative or do so automatically based on player segments, player engagement, and playing style. It is this iteration of analytics that will be particularly important in VR simply because of the nature of VR games, in which users have so many options.
One of the areas that VR games will have the most important impact is in education, an area that Elizabeth Owen, PhD and Director of Learning and Data Science at Age of Learning, is particularly familiar. She notes that, ’Recent advancements in VR, as well as breakthroughs in sentient AI, provide field-changing opportunities for immersion in 3-D environments and highly adaptive agent-based instruction (like Stanford and Vanderbilt's science-based design foray into ‘Betty's Brain’, but on steroids). These affordances offer enormous potential, and exciting challenge, for data mining and user modeling within multi-dimensional interactive spaces and deep learning paradigms. Particularly with complex agent-based instruction, newly nuanced AI models hold great power for learner-adaptive personalization in play. Situate this in something as immersive as VR-based learning realms, and these innovations have the potential to blow the lid off of game-based learning as we know it.’
What Elizabeth says is not just true for learning, it is true for all games, and publishers and developers are increasingly recognizing its potential with the majority hiring analytics experts focused exclusively on VR. It is still early days for the technology, but by using deep data analysis tools to personalize player experiences, gameplay will rapidly improve, and as gameplay improves adoption will only increase.