GDC 2023 State of the Game Industry Report Includes Insights Into VR and AR

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Games are the largest use case for consumer VR and AR. While VR and AR remain a comparatively small segment of the games industry, the industry is taking notice as VR hardware in particular improves. This presents possibilities for new kinds of games but also promises to breathe new life into established franchises.

The GDC’s State of the Game Industry Report for this year is by no means dedicated to VR and AR. However, it does hold insights into how this segment of the industry is growing and changing. This includes insights into larger emerging technology trends like Web3 and the metaverse.

VR and AR in the Larger Games Industry

This GDC survey, the 11th in an annual series, found that “the metaverse has become more than a buzzword.” That doesn’t mean that VR and AR are now the driving force in the games industry.

In terms of which platforms developers are building for, VR headsets land in 10th place with 12% of respondents. AR landed in 14th place with 4% of respondents. When asked which platforms developers are building their next project for, VR headsets remained in 10th place with 12%, but AR moved up to 11th place with 5%.

GDC State of the Game Industry 2023 - platforms developers are building for
Source: GDC State of the Game Industry 2023

PC leads the pack, with the intervening platforms consisting of the usual suspects – legacy gaming platforms and mobile. However, this may be changing in the near future.

When asked which platforms developers are most interested in, 23% of respondents said VR, pushing the platform to 6th place, ahead of Android, Mac, and Xbox One. Similarly, 12% responded with AR, placing it in 11th place ahead of PS4 and web browsers.

GDC State of the Game Industry 2023 - which platform most interests game developers
Source: GDC State of the Game Industry 2023

So, while we might not see a boom period for VR and AR games in the immediate future, it’s increasingly on the radar of game developers. This trend looks like it could be setting up growth in this aspect of the industry within the next few years.

That said, last year’s big metaverse hype may have led to increased expectations for the cycle we’re in now. Last year, 42% of respondents said that they were actively involved in VR and AR game development. Now that number is at 38%, closer to where it was in 2021.

Platform Wars Within VR

So, of the developers that are working in VR and AR gaming, what platforms are they working on?

When asked which platform their next game will release on, 36% responded with Quest meaning Quest 2. An additional 10% responded with “Project Cambria” – the Quest Pro which had not yet been released at the time of the survey. A further 10% responded with Rift, Meta’s now discontinued line of tethered PC VR headsets.

GDC State of the Game Industry 2023 - VR and AR platforms developers are building games for
Source: GDC State of the Game Industry 2023

It is worth noting that the percentage of respondents working with Quest has gone up almost 10% since last year. That in itself is not necessarily surprising if not for the fact that the overall number of VR and AR game developers has gone down.

Interestingly, the runner-up is the as-yet-unreleased PlayStation VR 2 with 18%, followed by the HTC VIVE ecosystem at 15%. A further 12% responded with Apple’s ARKit, and another 9% responded with Android’s ARCore. There was also a potentially unexpected write-in entry.

“A handful of respondents shared that they were developing games for Pico, a platform that was not on the survey list,” the report offers. In some geographical markets, the Pico 4,  which was announced shortly before the Quest Pro, is a significant potential Quest Pro competitor. However, Pico Interactive does not currently offer consumer support in the US.

Gaming in the Metaverse?

“The concept of the metaverse continues to pick up steam in the game industry, as new and existing companies alike move to secure funding, spin up projects, and develop new technology,” reads the survey. However, like VR and AR gaming, this news comes with a grain of salt and some more sober attitudes since last year.

Nearly half of the respondents didn’t select any of the survey’s platform options. They instead said that “the metaverse concept will never deliver on its promise.” This occurred last year as well when around a third of respondents said that the metaverse will never materialize.

From a VR and AR perspective, it gets worse. More developers said that Fortnite would become the model metaverse platform than Horizon Worlds. This isn’t bad news because Horizon Worlds is better than Fortnite, it’s bad news because Horizon Worlds is VR and Fortnite isn’t. In fact, many of the more popular “metaverse” contenders are flat platforms.

GDC 2023 State of the Game Industry - Metaverse promise
Source: GDC State of the Game Industry 2023

And it gets worse. “Microsoft/Minecraft” came in a distant third place with 7% of respondents choosing them as the model metaverse. This presumably included AltspaceVR. As this article was being written, it was announced that AltspaceVR is coming to an end.

A Note on Blockchain

ARPost is not explicitly interested in blockchain but as a potential pillar of both the metaverse and the future of gaming, it shouldn’t be inappropriate to share some of the survey’s findings in this field. And, if you aren’t explicitly interested in blockchain either, the survey results should please you.

When asked about their interest in blockchain integration in games, 23% of respondents said that they were “very interested” or “somewhat interested”, with 75% saying that they were not interested at all. The remaining 2% are using blockchain in games already, with blockchain being the principal monetization strategy of around 4% of games.

Interest in blockchain is down slightly from last year, but, according to the report, most respondents were against blockchain last year as well and simply haven’t changed their minds.

GDC State of the Game Industry 2023 - blockchain in game industry
Source: GDC State of the Game Industry 2023

“Many developers said there could be a valuable place for blockchain technology in video games in the future,” the report explains. “Others said that the risks outweigh the benefits and that existing technologies serve similar purposes that negate the need for blockchain.”

A Maturing Industry

If you thought that the gaming industry was moving a little too fast last year, you were right. Metaverse hype driven by hardware expectations and blockchain buzz may have led to a brief, hard burn in the industry. It now seems that a small correction has taken place but the VR and AR games industry is settling in for longer-term development.

For the full picture of the whole gaming industry, find the complete report here.