A debate has erupted online about the future of AR and VR input. Will studios soon have to completely rethink their strategy?
The debate began last week when Devin Reimer published an editorial on UploadVR predicting a major shift in the VR industry towards hand tracking.
Reimer was the CEO and CTO of Owlchemy Labs, the VR studio behind titles like Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator. The latter can be played and finished using only hand tracking. In 2023, Reimer founded his own studio focused on accessible VR games with a focus on hand tracking. Reimer wrote the article with upcoming headsets like the Apple Vision Pro in mind, which eschew VR controllers in favor of hand-tracking.
“As someone that has been working almost exclusively with hand tracking for the last 2+ years, I can tell you the state of the art is a huge leap from what is visible now. Combine that with the constant and continuous improvement to the quality of the underlying hand tracking? The landscape in 2 years is going to look quite different.”
Reimer predicts that hand tracking will become the standard input, and that studios that continue to develop for VR controllers will need to plan accordingly. The category will become “more and more niche.”
The triumph of Apple Vision Pro is not certain
VR industry veteran and Cloudhead Games CEO Denny Unger challenged that prediction in a video. His studio developed the successful rhythm shooter Pistol Whip, which relies on VR controllers.
Have some thoughts on this article that run a bit counter to the great “Visual Hand Tracking” debate ?(Trying more human video responses. Hopefully I can do more of these in 2024 if folks like them?) pic.twitter.com/FLFWyMiz9W
– Denny Unger @cloudheadgames (@DennyCloudhead) January 5, 2024
Unger cites a number of arguments: that it is too early to tell if Apple Vision will be a success; that the device will have a relatively small install base, at least at launch; that other manufacturers will not necessarily rely on hand tracking; and that hand tracking will not be able to cover the entire spectrum of possible VR experiences.
Reimer has since responded to Unger with a Tiktok video, which was available yesterday but is no longer available today, for reasons unknown.
My video response to @DennyCloudhead video response on my UploadVR piece on hand tracking!
– Devin Reimer (@DevinReimer) January 10, 2024
Hand tracking or controllers? It doesn’t have to be either/or
A former Owlchemy Labs developer who worked for the studio for many years on both controller and hand tracking interactions also weighed in. He basically agrees with Reimer and says that hand tracking exclusivity is more likely than many (including himself) would like to admit.
I was one of the primary maintainers of hand+grab tech at Owlchemy for many years. I worked on both controller and hand-tracking based interactions. Gonna share some of my own thoughts on this article. Threading. ??#VR #gamedev
– Zi (@MajorMcDoom) January 7, 2024
At the same time, the developer believes that the emergence of hand tracking is not good for the burgeoning VR industry because it fragments the market again and forces established studios to switch back to something completely new again. In this respect, his reasoning is similar to Denny Unger’s.
As for me, I’m a big hand tracking skeptic. Based on my experience, I can’t imagine the technology being good for anything more than controlling a spatial interface and maybe casual games, even if it becomes five times as good as Quest 3’s (which I have disabled 99 percent of the time).
In my opinion, hardware manufacturers should offer both and let consumers choose which input method they want to use because they enable very different types of experiences.
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