Every time you strap on a headset, you fuel a growing piece of the economy. Global spending on virtual reality (VR) and its cousin, augmented reality (AR), could top $13.9 billion by the end of 2017, according to recent forecasts. That’s expected to rise to as much as $143 billion by 2020. It’s fair to say that VR and AR are here to stay. And there’s one area that the two technologies are thriving in: online gaming. So how is this industry leveraging this technology and what fun, mind-blowing new developments do gamers have to look forward to this year?

It’s all about to get more social

One of the major criticisms of these technologies is that they’re isolating. Proponents of VR are quick to come to its defense. Dave Raynard, an independent VR developer believes that the future is a social one. He says of VR, “Games have always been about escapism. It will still be about being transported to other fantastic places. But it’ll be about doing this with your friends.” And it’s a necessary trend. Now more than ever, those in the online gaming community are able to socialize with their friends while playing. In fact, it remains a main drawcard of gaming. Social interaction in an online capacity. It’s likely then, that the VR of the future with be a shared space for collaboration, rather than a solitary space.

These technologies will form niche online gaming behaviors

Currently, major games – like those blockbuster games sold on Steam – are built for having durations in the hundreds of hours. For the hardcore gamers, individual gaming sessions can often last three or four hours. As the technology stands, such heavy use of VR and AR becomes physically punishing. It’s just painful to the eyes, face, head, neck and shoulders and most manufacturers even warn against it.

To compensate, VR and AR are forging their own gaming behavior, promoting a shorter but equally powerful experience. Games like Eye Valkyrie, for example, pack intense multiplayer dogfights into matches lasting at most five minutes. Rebellion’s Battlezone does the same thing with single-player tank battles. Even the more story-focused games make it fairly easy to jump in and out of. So, in the absence of these life-consuming behemoths which define gaming for a large number of fans, VR and AR development have instead turned to quirkier, shorter games often made by smaller studios with lower budgets.

Removing the tether and coming of age

2017 will be the dawn of wireless head-mounted displays. For anyone who’s ever tried a VR rig like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the experience has probably been fantastic. Out of this world, even. But you probably also had to endure the annoyance that is the “tether” that hangs down the back of the device connecting it to the PC and making all the processing possible. Right now, it’s a necessary evil, as it carries all the important information between PC and device. But 2017 might see this change. Advances in near-field Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity mean that we can probably expect to see a number of wireless headsets or attachments hit the market to solve this tangled mess of a problem.

Beyond just online gaming

The takeover of Oculus by Facebook in 2014 provides clues with where the future of VR and AR lie regarding online gaming. Last week Facebook announced that it would split Oculus into two divisions with Zuckerberg far more focused on Oculus’ smaller, more accessible product, the Gear VR. “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at the game, studying in a classroom with students and teachers from around the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on some goggles in your living room,” says Zuckerberg of the future of VR and AR. There are bigger things in store, for gamers and businesses alike. If you’re interested in learning more, read our latest article on how these technologies have blossomed in the past 12 months.

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