7 April 2017
VR Becomes a Lucrative Reality for the Gaming and Education Sectors
- Photo: Show visitors strap in for an immersive, multi-sensory VR experience.
- Photo: Shuntao’s VR racing game.
- Photo: Virtually ready: A VR gaming console.
- Photo: The VR Egg-chair from Shuntao.
- Photo: Virtual horse racing.
- Photo: A VR solo-shooter experience.
- Photo: VR flying sourcery.
- Photo: Immersive VR headwear.
- Photo: Educational VR from HeiVR.
The 2017 Asia VR & AR Fair was dominated by virtual reality, across both the gaming and educational sectors, with its immersive, multi-sensory appeal seeming to trump augmented reality at almost every turn, according to exhibitors.
At this year's Asia Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Fair, it was definitely the former that held sway, particularly in the gaming sector. It wasn't all about games, however, with a number of exhibitors quick to point out that VR was also making serious inroads in the education sector.
As well as the exhibition proper, there was also a well-attended seminar programme. Again it was dominated by VR, with the themes under discussion including VR Education, VR Entertainment, VR Real Estate and Homes and VR Movie and TV Content.
Prospects in the VR Sector
In 2016, according to figures from iiMedia Research, a Hong Kong-headquartered data analysis specialist, China's VR market grew by 268.3%, reaching RMB5.66 billion (US$822 million). By 2017, it is expected to total more than RMB13.38 billion, with the RMB55 billion mark being passed by 2020.
Unsurprisingly, in light of this, most of the exhibitors were majoring on VR technology, with VR games pretty much dominating the event. Among the attractions on show was a huge six-player VR warship game, as well as a number of intriguing smaller items, including a solo-player VR car-racing game.
Among the company's moving to the forefront in this sector was Shenzhen Shuntao Machinery, a specialist in the development, production, sales and operation of VR/AR hardware and software. According to Cao Weicheng, the company's Business Manager, VR technology has wide applications across a number of different fields, including the medical sector, real estate, games and films.
He also noted that its usage becomes far more wide-ranging when combined with online technology. A number of property developers, for instance, are now using VR technology as a promotional tool, with would-be purchasers able to take a virtual tour of any property courtesy of a VR headset.
Since its launch in 2012, Shuntao claims to have maintained an average compound annual growth rate of more than 60%, with the figure exceeding 100% in certain years. Clearly optimistic about the future prospects of his business, Cao believes gaming is perhaps the ultimate application of immersive VR technology.
Cao's sentiments were echoed by Chen Wenbin, Assistant Sales Manager of Shentong Wangguo (Whiz Kids' Kingdom), a Guangzhou-based amusement park equipment company. Originally a producer of more conventional outdoor leisure systems, the company moved into VR as soon as the potential of the technology became apparent.
To date, Wangguo has launched five VR games, all of which have received positive feedback. Believing the sector will enjoy sustained growth, the company has several more VR games in the pipeline.
Virtually Real Gaming
On Shuntao Machinery's stand, its VR 9D Egg-chair, VR 9D Spaceship and VR Gatling Gun game all attracted considerable interest from visitors. According to Cao, the Egg-chair has been particularly well received.
Within its egg shell-like confines are several seats, where players can view a 360-degree panorama through their VR headsets, with their chair designed to shift forwards, backward and side-to-side in order to create the illusion of movement. The players have the option of choosing a number of different scenarios depending on their appetite for thrills, including a roller-coaster, a haunted house and parade of zombies.
Currently available in 2,000 outlets across the mainland, the Egg-chair is said to be safe and easy to use, while being suitable for both adults and children. It comes with 38 pre-installed games, with a new one released every month. Shuntao is also looking to upgrade and refine the system on an ongoing basis.
Similarly popular was the company's VR Gatling Gun game. Having donned their VR headset and mastered the gun-style handset, a player is free to enter a simulated war-game zone and immerse themselves in a multi-sensory battle experience, including sight, sound and touch, with their weapon even delivering an authentic kickback.
Overall, creating a truly authentic experience was the guiding principle for many exhibitors at this year's event. A case in point was Wangguo's horse-racing game, available in a solo or a dual-use format. The solo system features a rectangular monitor facing a saddle-style seat, where a VR-kitted-out player can sit and enjoy all the thrills of a genuine horse race.
As well as VR technology, the company has added a number of other special effects, including wind and mist features. This combination of sight, sound and touch is said to give players a genuine horse-racing experience in a wholly safe environment.
VR Educational Products
Second only to gaming, the world of education has now begun to truly embrace VR technology. This was clearly apparent on the stand of HeiVR, a Beijing-based technology firm. Here visitors had the opportunity to peruse molecular structures, the human body and several other educational resources while wearing VR glasses. According to Liu Zhi, the Head of the company's Guangzhou operation, HeiVR has now developed a range of VR teaching resources, all of which tied in with the curricula of China's primary and secondary schools.
Liu also maintained that VR technology had already proved its worth as an aid to teaching. When learning about the solar system, for instance, he said students could use VR to get a direct three-dimensional understanding of the relative sizes and positions of the planets.
To date, the company has produced VR teaching resources related to the germination of seeds, water cycles, microscopic organisms and the internal structure of the earth. All of these are now being utilised by both teachers and students as part of the learning experience.
HeiVR is a very recent arrival to the sector, having launched its first VR educational products in October 2016. It has, however, met with immediate success, with sales exceeding RMB1 million for three successive months.
Its system is also highly scalable, with its hardware, software and content configurable to suit groups of 15, 30, 45 or 60. It also provides a number of ancillary services, including teacher training, systems maintenance, course upgrades and after-sales maintenance.
The potential of VR education has not been lost on many of the companies that had previously specialised solely in VR games. Shuntao, for instance, has set up a dedicated in-house VR education R&D team, with a brief to develop products suitable for both statutory and vocational educational needs.
Among the other items of note this year were a range of VR glasses from Menglian, a Dongguan-based electronics firm. The range's unique double-sided non-spherical design is said to enhance clarity, while screening out blue-ray radiation and reducing dizziness.
Many attendees were also tempted to try out a VR skiing machine on offer from Mantong, a Guangzhou-based technology firm, which was said to genuinely recreate an on-piste Alpine experience. For those of a more martial mind, there was a six-player VR warship simulation available from Ligei, a Guangzhou-based animation company.
In terms of AR, one particularly popular product was the Magic Book, an educational resource presented at the show by Wosai, a Guangzhou-based high-tech firm. This system uses an app to bring students drawings to vibrant 3D-life, a process said to combine elements of both entertainment and education.
The 2017 Asia VR & AR Fair took place at the China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex in Guangzhou from 8-11 March 2017. The event attracted 100 exhibitors from around the world and more than 50,000 visitors.
Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou