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Editorial: Why Half-Life: Alyx could be very important for Virtual Reality

Yesterday evening I came home at night after a long day at work and I opened my laptop to read (and share) some more news on the just-launched Oculus Link. What I discovered instead was that Valve had finally announced its flagship VR game, called “Half Life: Alyx” on Twitter!
We’re excited to unveil Half-Life: Alyx, our flagship VR game, this Thursday at 10am Pacific Time.Can’t wait to share it with all of you!— Valve (@valvesoftware)
Being a fan of the series, I got immediately excited, and with me, millions of people. The Oculus Link was not important anymore… it could wait. I so started reading all that I could find about the game, like this very well-written article about all that we know on the game that you can find on Ars Technica. I think that the news is huge, and while we wait for the official reveal to come on Thursday, I want to comment you why Half-Life Alyx is important for all the VR ecosystem and not only for the fans of Half-Life.
The hype is creating awareness
Its Happening The Office GIF - Find & Share on GIPHYThe gaming community right now (Image from Giphy)
I have assisted to the launch of many VR games, including big hits like Beat Saber, Asgard’s Wrath, etc… But no one is coming even closer to the hype that this game is generating. Valve has created an ad-hoc Twitter account just to tweet the above statement, and at the time of writing, it has accumulated more than 116.000 likes in less than one day. Half-Life is one of the games with the biggest hype on the web, with “Half-Life 3” becoming part of the internet folklore. I think that everyone has read at least once “Half-Life 3 confirmed” somewhere on the web in the comments section of some article or video. There are various videos and meme about Valve not being able to create the 3rd episode of anything, and Valve itself loves to play on this.

Half-Life 3 is the most hyped game ever, even if it has never launched (or better, exactly because it has never launched). Whatever happens around Half-Life creates huge interest on the web. And now that Valve is launching a new Half-Life game, of course, the web has gone crazy.

Kids Aren’t the Only People Interested in VR. Both Generation Z and Millennials are interested in trying virtual reality, but Baby Boomers aren’t far behind. According to research by Greenlight VR and Touchstone Research, 64 percent of Baby Boomers have positive feelings about virtual reality.

All tech journals are talking about this: not only the VR ones but all of them. And since the game is in VR only, everyone reading a tech magazine, or taking part in a gaming communitytoday is reading about a virtual reality game.

The gaming community is gaining awareness of virtual reality, and of its importance. If Valve is publishing a new game in its most important franchise and this game is only VR, it is a huge signal that VR is a so cool technology that it deserves a new Half-Life title. Everyone is reading this, and every fan of Half-Life would want to buy a headset. This is huge. Even if many people won’t buy a headset, they at least will know that VR is a cool technology with an important game, and that’s important for us.

The fact that the game is VR-only is also creating many online discussions: some people not owning a VR headset are getting angry, and this is fostering more discussions, more articles, more videos, making the hype even bigger. Discussions will benefit the game and will benefit VR. “There’s no such thing as bad marketing” is a sentence that exists for a reason.
half life alyx vr disappointmentMemes like this are filling the web, creating lots of chatting about the game (Image found online)

If on Thursday the game would appear amazing (as I think), many more people will be interested in VR. And all people doing VR could benefit from this. If VR becomes cool again and not “that fad that is dead”, we all benefit in reputation and in sales of our products. We needed an earthquake, and this is a very good one.

It targets millennials
Half-Life is a legend for us millennials. Younger generations usually know it, but prefer other games: for instance, teenagers love Fortnite. At work, I have the opportunity of speaking with people that have 10 years less than me, and they don’t care about Half-Life that much (but, returning to the point of previous section, even them got the news that this big launch of a VR game is coming). But for us millennials, this is one of the best games ever.

Why is this important? Because millennials are the people that can afford to buy a VR headset. From the statistics that I’m reading online, most users of VR systems are millennials, because they have enough money to afford to buy an expensive tethered VR headset plus its related VR-ready PC. This is the generation that has grown up with STEAM, and so it is the perfect generation to target for a SteamVR game. It is a way to maximize the sales: the millennials will get hyped by Half Life VR and probably will buy a headset to play it.

Google Cardboard Was a Side Project. The Google Cardboard platform was developed by David Coz and Damien Henry. The two engineers developed the project as part of Google’s”innovation time off” program in which engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects that interest them. Thankfully, Google backed the project, and Google Cardboard is now one of the cornerstones of scalable virtual reality.

half life alyxYeah! (Image from )
It will increase the sales of VR headsets

From my previous paragraphs, it’s easy to understand that Half-Life: Alyx will increase the sales of VR headsets. It targets the category of people for which VR is already more appealing… with a game of the franchise they love. I think that we’ll see many more headsets sold.

But don’t get me wrong:personally, I don’t think this will lead to mainstream adoption. Half-Life is a game that targets a very specific category of people, and it is only one (even if very important) piece of content.We need much more to make VR enter the mainstream: more content (not only games) and for a diversified audience (young people, elderly, women, men, etc…). But it will directly increase sales and indirectly facilitate future sales thanks to the awareness and interest it is creating.

It will introduce new interactions

Valve has released the Valve Index Controllers to give new abilities to VR players. Finally, there is the possibility of using all five fingers and also open completely the hand.This enables a lot of new possibilities in virtual reality games.

As my friend and business partner Max says, every Half-Life game has innovated something, has changed the rules of gaming. We believe that this will be no exception: Valve has always said that it was happy that it was finally developing the hardware together with the software that should use it, so that to create a hardware perfect for the purpose of the software. That is, the Knuckles are made this way so that they are perfect for Half-Life: Alyx. This game could show us all how a proper VR game should be made. The many rumors confirm that the game will showcase a new way of interacting with objects, that will feel more natural and fun. And everything will be optimized for the Valve Knuckles controllers and will showcase what they are capable of. As the previously-mentioned Ars Technica article says:

We hear that most every object in the game’s world has been designed to be touched and manipulated by hands, both in terms of realistic physics and how real hands move through virtual objects.

Virtual Reality is expected to reach $34 billion by 2023 according to Markets and Markets and a combined total of $94 Billion including augmented reality by 2023.

Expect this game to show us new paradigms of interactions, like the rumored Grabbity Gloves that should be magnetic gloves able to attract objects without actually having to grab them with your hands (something like a modified Gravity Gun from HL2).

If they will be so innovative, many future games and VR applications in general will copy them and they will all become better and more usable. I can’t wait to learn many new interaction lessons from this game.

Valve The Lab is a pretty old VR application and is a bit more than a technical showcase, but it is still one of the most beloved and appreciated VR experiences out there.Its interactions have been copied in countless apps. If just a showcase has made a little revolution, what a full-fledged game can do?

It will give developers new tools

If Valve is smart enough, it will release some tools in the SteamVR SDK to let developers replicate these new paradigms in their applications.Valve has done something similar with The Lab and I believe that it will do that here as well. This will facilitate the job of us devs and could create a whole new generation of VR content.

Why should Valve do that? It’s easy: to create a standard. If they invent new optimal interactions for the Knuckles controllers, they for sure want the most applications possible to use them, so that the Knuckles become the new gold standard of VR UX.And the only way to do that is by giving ready-to-use prefabs to the VR developers. If Knuckles become the new standard, Valve not only sells more devices, but also creates a more compelling development platform, a better ecosystem. And this is very important for its VR business. Andit would also be very important for us, that could create better applications for our customers.

Valve can change current VR market
half life vrAnother reaction meme on this game not being Half Life 3 (Image from Know Your Meme)
With the release of the cheap Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S, Oculus is currently dominating the market. Its Touch controllers are the current standard, and in fact, the Vive Cosmos copies them and the Valve Index controllers are somewhat resembling to them as well. Oculus owns the best VR games and the Oculus Store is always becoming more important.

Although virtual reality can be used for gaming, it is also becoming popular for other purposes such as allowing a person to feel as if they are in a virtual reality documentary.

But with Half-Life: Alyx, Valve is firing back. The game is creating more hype than all Oculus Exclusives combined together. Just to make one example: Sanzaru Games, the studio behind Asgard’s Wrath, one of the best VR games ever, has fewer followers than me, while Valve gained 60,000 in only one day. The game will be playable with all headsets, but almost surely will be a Steam exclusive, and this improves the importance of this store in VR. And the new interfaces targeted at the new controllers may change the rules and make the Knuckles the new standard.

Until now, the Index and the Knuckles were nice-to-have devices. If Valve succeeds in offering some tools that are really compelling (and it is a big if), they could become the new standards and others may need to adapt to them. Like when it invented room-scale, and Oculus, that was making a Rift CV1 for the couch, had to chase it and offer controllers and 6 DOF as well. It would really be amazing. This game could change current equilibriums in the VR ecosystem, at least in the PC one.
Valve is clearly fighting against Oculus. It has shown that when it decided to launch the Index the same day of the launch of the Oculus Quest. Yesterday with Half-Life: Alyx it has completely eclipsed the launch of the Oculus Link. And on the 21st it will ruin the launch of Vader Immortal 3. I’m grabbing popcorns. This competition is only benefitting us all. We need Oculus, Valve, HTC and all the others to compete and offer always a better VR. And this new game by Valve may help the VR market in every way possible. These are my thoughts. In the end, we don’t know what will happen: maybe the game will be horrible and no one will buy it. It could also explode inside Valve’s hands. But I doubt it: usually, Valve always ships high-quality products and it is working on this for years. So I’m confident it will be something cool. I can’t wait to hear more news on Thursday (be sure that I will write something about it here on my blog!).

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts about how Half-Life Alyx will change the VR ecosystem!

Most of the major brands worldwide are investing in some way in virtual reality.

(Header image from Google Images)

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