Editorial: Xbox Is Well-Poised To Dominate VR Next Generation

by Jamie Feltham • November 23rd, 2018

For years now, we’ve been waiting with bated breath to see if Xbox will throw its hat in the VR ring. Microsoft itself entered the market last year with a line of PC-based headsets developed with partners, but the Xbox One works with no VR headsets while Sony’s PlayStation 4 pairs with the PlayStation VR headset. This is despite Xbox boss Phil Spencer once saying the new Xbox One X console would be capable of “high fidelity VR”. This late in the game, it’s pretty much a certainty that Xbox won’t enter the VR fight this generation.

But what about the next one?

The PS5 and next Xbox are looming in the shadows right now; Spencer confirmed work had begun on “the next Xbox consoles” at E3 this year, while Sony’s plans to skip next year’s show seem to suggest something big is on the way. We’ve spent quite a bit of time dreaming up what a potential PSVR 2 on PS5 could look like, but, the more we look at Microsoft’s side of the console wars, the more the stars seem to align on a killer Xbox VR headset. Here’s why.

The Technical Foundations Are In Place

True, Microsoft may not have a consumer VR headset to truly call its own, but the Windows-based devices from Dell, Samsung and others are all based on a reference design it created. This design offers solid inside-out tracking, meaning users don’t have to set up external sensors in order to have positional tracking in VR. In fact, we liked the Samsung Odyssey VR headset so much we awarded it our Best VR Hardware prize last year.

That’s a good start, but it’s also important to remember that any potential Xbox VR headset is likely still years out. That’ll mean big improvements on current headsets like increased display resolution and field of view are even more viable for the kit, as is potential integrated wireless support. Back in 2017, Microsoft representatives said they believe console VR should be wireless.

The technical specifications of the next Xbox will also play an important role in the quality of a VR experience, though. Sony’s PSVR has a lot of great internally-developed games but some third-party titles like Arizona Sunshine and others had to make clear cutbacks to fit onto the PS4 hardware. Other major games like Fallout 4 VR and L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, meanwhile, simply haven’t come to the system. That’s why it’s important for both the next Xbox (and the next PlayStation) to surpass current PC systems and ensure they can keep up with the next generation of VR. With any luck, Microsoft is building its next consoles with that in mind.

Microsoft Just Bought Some Of VR’s Best Developers

Back at E3 2018, Microsoft announced that it was acquiring Hellblade developer Ninja Theory. Big news for the wider gaming industry for sure, but also an interesting development for VR. At the time, the UK-based developer had released one VR game, a likable on-rails shooter named Dexed. But, post-acquisition news, Ninja Theory also released Hellblade VR, a stunning port of its excellent epic that is sure to be in the running for VR game of the year. It’s also working on the upcoming Star Wars: Vader Immortal in some capacity.

More importantly, though, Ninja Theory is a technical powerhouse that’s developed proprietary real-time performance capture tech set to make VR experiences even more immersive. There’s been a lot of talk about the potential of this system and, under Microsoft’s ownership, it could all be realized.

Then, last week, it was announced that Microsoft was also buying inXile Entertainment. The studio is best known for Wasteland 2 but, to VR fans, the developers there are also famous for the excellent The Mage’s Tale. inXile is also working on a new open-world survival RPG for VR that we confirmed isn’t being canceled in the wake of the acquisition.

These are two of the most prominent VR developers out there right now. Though they may be better known for their 2D games, inXile and Ninja Theory are well-positioned to make great exclusive content for an Xbox VR headset too.

Oh, and Halo developer 343 Industries tested the VR waters with last year’s Halo: Recruit too. That’s worth keeping an eye on.

Content Could Be There In An Instant

Whereas Sony, Oculus and HTC have had to build up respectable ecosystems for headsets from scratch, Microsoft could benefit overnight from the swathe of VR developers hungry to put their content on as many platforms as possible.

An Xbox VR headset could feasibly launch with the likes of Superhot VR, Beat Saber, Skyrim VR, Fallout 4 VR and many more all ready to go. Add to that its own development efforts and it wouldn’t take long for an Xbox VR headset to rival the content library of any existing device, much like when the Windows-based kits launched support for SteamVR content.

It’s a strange sort of headstart but it will mean that there are plenty of reasons to buy an Xbox One VR headset from day one.

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