Virtual reality draws the crowds at Korea's G-Star game show

The gamers wished they could be somewhere else, just for a moment, as they queued at a booth in South Korea’s biggest game show.

That was why they waited: for the sensation of being elsewhere, which is exactly what the virtual reality headset at the Oculus VR booth would grant them.

Virtual reality (VR) seems set to be the next big thing in gaming after mobile, and VR hardware and software were the biggest draw for the 200,000 game industry insiders and fans attending the G-Star show in Busan, which ended Monday.

Fans lined up around the Oculus VR booth to try the latest prototype of its Oculus Rift headset, called Crescent Bay, and play games or watch demo simulations while lounging on comfortable couches.

Korean game studios have embraced VR too, and many of the local companies introducing VR games and simulation riders in the surrounding booths had opted for the Oculus Rift gear. For example, NCSoft Korea presented a trailer of a 3D mecha, third-person shooting game named “Project Hon.”

In another booth, a user with the Oculus headset was riding a personal watercraft in her own virtual world. Hanyoung Engineering was also among the VR application makers to showcase its 4D movie theater chairs and hang gliders.

Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe said his company is developing an input device to complement its head-mounted display.

“VR vision is one half of it. The other half is interaction. Ultimately, you want to see your hands, you want to see other people and other people’s faces,” Iribe said at a separate conference in Seoul on Monday.

For content, he expects games and real-time cinema to be the first set of popular applications using the Oculus VR devices. In real-time movies, the audience will feel as though they are actually in the film, similar to the effect when they’re playing VR games. The closest application was offered by DreamWorks Animation, which introduced what it called “super cinema” offering 360-degree, computer-generated images to work with the Oculus Rift or Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR.

South Korea is a key market for Oculus because the country has key display manufacturers such as Samsung and LG Electronics, and strong PC game content, according to Dillon Seo, Oculus’s Korean business manager.

For the Oculus Development Kit 2, the prototype that followed the Rift, Oculus switched to Samsung’s OLED display from an LCD screen in order to alleviate the motion sickness some users experienced with the early versions, Seo said.

Samsung is to roll out its first headset, the Gear VR, powered by the Oculus software, at the end of the month. Similar in appearance to the Oculus headset, Samsung’s own device uses its Galaxy Note 4, a hybrid of smartphone and tablet, for the display. The Note 4 has a processor capable of rendering 4K videos at a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels. The South Korean electronics maker also introduced a 3D camera, Project Beyond, which allows consumers to capture 360-degree panoramic video and stream it live to the Gear VR.

Beyond VR, G-Star held other attractions. For more casual game players, some developers were already targeting smartwatches as a platform. Especially in developed markets, the wearables are an appealing platform for game developers, considering that there is an increasing pool of players and not many competitors, according to G-Star attendee Christopher Kassulke, CEO of Handy Games, a German game developer and publisher.

“Gaming means you have fun together. We don’t really believe that you can have fun together when everyone is wearing glasses or headsets, it just doesn’t look nice,” Kassulke said.

Handy Games specializes in what he calls “snacks” or casual games such as casino slots, racing, or simple arcade games, and the platform for those kinds of content are moving on to wearables from mobile devices, he said.

“You played mobile games for one to three minutes eight years ago, nowadays you play on your mobile devices for a longer period of time, but ‘snacks’ are missing and that’s what we’re coming up with on the smartwatches.”

He also saw opportunities where health-tracking apps meet games on smartwatches. For example, when users reach the goal of 10,000 steps, they get bonus points within their game apps.

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