Smartphone games need to start thinking about VR right now if they don't want to get left behind.
I'm standing in the middle of an arena with a rifle of some description in my hand, and while the arena itself was not unlike the hundreds of others I've seen in multiplayer FPS games throughout my life, seeing this particular arena through VR goggles made it special. My crosshair moved as my head moved, and I could look around and see in ways that would never work if I were just playing this game on the phone currently powering this experience.
I ran up a ramp and discovered a grenade launcher, and as soon as my character finished switching to it a red blip appeared on my HUD. Turning my head to the left revealed the hallway my opponent was entering to find me, and a pair of grenades down that enclosed space made it real clear I could see them. Because I was able to quickly tilt my head up and adjust the trajectory of the third grenade, the woman standing arms reach from me cried out as her character crumpled to the ground and put another point in my killstreak.
The hardware that made this possible is IONVR, and while it's not quite ready for public consumption the ideas driving the team responsible for this demo are impressive.
IONVR is not unlike the Samsung Gear VR in its design, a Cardboard-alike with a head strap that encourages the use of a controller for interaction in a VR experience. The company promises a hardware agnostic, platform agnostic experience, so any phone can be snapped into the case to start the experience. Unlike Google Cardboard, IONVR has some special hardware that delivers smoother movement in the virtual environment. The units we used for the demo were 3D printed, and included a physical switch on the top to make that special hardware work. The company is fairly tight-lipped about what is going on under the plastic, but the end result is impressive all the same.
As cool as it would be for the people behind NOVA 3 to announce VR support for their titles, that's not what happened here.
Like all VR experiences, third-party support is key. The IONVR folks were demonstrating a first-person shooter in VR, but it was an existing game they had modified themselves for the purpose of this demo. As cool as it would be for the people behind NOVA 3 to announce VR support for their titles, that's not what happened here. Given how small IONVR is, it will take some work to convince major mobile app firms to take them seriously at launch. Fortunately, this experience is really good so that may not be as difficult as it seems.
Currently, IONVR is planning to launch at $229. There's a preorder setup on their website right now, but the company is going to need to make some serious partnership announcements before that price tag is even remotely acceptable. With Samsung's Gear VR shipping for $99 and Google Cardboard available for significantly less everywhere else, justifying that cost is going to be all about the things you can do with it. If IONVR can actually deliver a library of games you can play at launch, including some amazing multiplayer FPS like we tried in this demo, that price becomes a lot easier to deal with.