The games industry has always championed emerging technology and virtual reality is no exception.
VR and games seem set to have a long future together with VR specific game releases coming thick and fast. So is now the right time to specialise?
As with any new technology, at the start the demand for skills can out-strip supply and this means that candidates with the latest skills can enjoy a choice of employers who want them. In the short term at least, early-adopters can steal a march on the first few rounds of hiring while the market catches up. It’s worth bearing in mind however that this can’t last forever, and decisions on whether to specialise should ideally be made away from any media-hype around the next best thing. The flip side of this is that when it comes to your long-term career in games it is always important to keep your skills up to date. In many ways then if VR is going to become as big as expected, then you might want to be open to experience in this area at some point in your career.
The good news is that the core VR code-base is built on object oriented programming and the most in-demand areas such as C+, C# and Unity are already very familiar and don’t require a step change in re-skilling. On the art side there is demand for assets and environments created using Physics Based Rendering (PBR) and again these skills are fully transferrable.
Only time will tell
VR is still in its infancy and we don’t yet know which types of games will utilise it most, or just how far it will shake up the worlds of mid-core or casual games. On one hand we are seeing established console or mobile developers taking first steps toward VR, and on the other we are seeing VR only studios aiming for rich AAA titles. People strongly motivated by the type of project they work on might want to wait and see where VR fits most before committing to it as a specialism - only time will tell. At this early stage moving in to VR isn’t signing up for a lifelong specialism and it really can be another string to your bow. If VR doesn’t explode as predicted, your skills will still serve you well within the games industry.
Of course it’s not just code where VR specialism comes in and projects will have unique demands across all areas of development such as art, production, quality assurance and significantly, design. Games are complex and VR considerations are likely to add to this in all areas, in fact there has been some debate about the limitations of VR games. This includes technical capability around memory and speed; practicalities of space when playing at home; and also the challenge of avoiding motion-sickness and disorientation. If this worries you, specialising in VR tech could potentially lead you toward other industries where demand is also increasing. If this sounds like you then be open to work on VR experiences rather than games alone. Augmented reality is also generating a lot of interest and this combined approach could address some of the worries about VR. Fields as far apart as medicine, sports, cinema and retail have been quick to see the potential and it’s likely that both VR and AR will to continue to be developed for wider use in society.
Much of the games industry was built on people taking risks...
If your heart and soul is in games however, fear not. The technical VR skills base remains the same whatever the industry so we would anticipate more ease of movement to and fro between games and other industries, so you can always come back home.
The bottom line is that most career-decisions are not forever, especially in the early days of new tech because everyone is in the same boat. Much of the games industry was built on people taking risks, so if you do go for it you’ll be in good company. Most important of all is to do what you love, and pick the career you feel most passionate about. If for you this is VR then now’s a good time to weigh up your options and head off for your next challenge.
This article first appeared on p58 of Develop Magazine October 2016