I'm Jon Olick. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I presented Sparse Voxel Octrees at Siggraph 2008.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rant on Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality

I've recently been doing a bunch of interviews on AR/VR around the internet, and I want to put my opinions here in my own blog.

First, when talking to a skeptic, its basically impossible to convince them otherwise. These are people who may have been burned by AR in the past and will only believe when they actually play it for themselves. In the famous words of Steve Jobs, "A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them."

Second, we should not be asking whether virtual reality or augmented reality is better than the other. They are different. They have different strengths. They each have different killer applications. The question is, is augmented reality (when done right) fun? 'cause that is what really matters to games. Is it fun?

Third, I'd like to criticize a way of thinking that the only augmented reality that is good augmented reality is perfect augmented reality. This opinion is held erroneously by some prominent people in the games industry. Where the only good AR is where you can walk anywhere, use it in any condition, etc... If we followed this train of thought where we didn't work within limitations of technology to make great content, traditional gaming would have never made it past Pong. We would have been stuck thinking games would only work if they were all photo realistic and they worked with your schedule and you could take your games with you wherever you are. Obviously games are doing very well and they still are not photo realistic even today.

Fourth, Augmented Reality is nothing but gimmicks. While I agree that most AR games today are very uninspired and not creative enough, I strongly disagree that AR can only produce gimmicks. What is Mirror's Edge? What is Assassins Creed? What is Grand Theft Auto? These are all gimmicks, yet they make truck loads of money.

Fifth, will Augmented Reality displace VR or standard gaming? No. Just like mobile gaming will never kill PC or Console gaming. If that was going to happen it would have by now. I personally feel its more likely actually that mobile and standard gaming on a big screen TV will merge into one. There will always be room for deep emotional experiences that can be best experienced when played for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Sixth, the key to making great AR games that are fun and not boring gimmicks is to involve the world to a great extent and ideally involve other people.

So, can we make augmented reality fun? I've spoke with some incredibly creative people with ideas I could have never come up with. There are fun ideas out there for Augmented Reality, but you have to think inside the limitations box to come up with them. All it takes is a bit of creativity, and remembering what it is like to have the imagination of a child. AR is a new field a lot like the beginning of video games where you have to re-learn how to make things fun. Like a child we are learning to walk and that comes with bumps on the road. But like any child, they will grow up one day and those which were there from the beginning can grow with it.

In my spare time with some friends I am making some indie games for VR, AR and traditional games. Our first game is called Dragonfly. I'll post more about it later :)


  1. I see AR as the next great disruptor, like the internet was. The implications of total sensory awareness (going beyond signage and into live data feeds/aggregation and realtime analysis of the environment)... are staggering.

    Link it up to ubiquitous computing systems embedded everywhere... oh boy, it's going to be awesome!

    Once AR tech is sufficiently advanced, VR will merge into it by simply "closing the blinds", ie blacking out the transparent part of the AR device so it's just you in a closed virtual room.

    PS: Please move to Wordpress.com or some other place with a better account system for comments :/


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  2. Nice overview. You are however only using 'marker' AR examples - and there's so much more to Augmented Reality. Why don't you take a look at this article.