Analysis of Virtual vs. Augmented Reality for Mobile Gaming

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Virtual Reality

Once upon a midnight dreary, 2016 was supposed to be the year in which virtual reality gaming on mobile platforms really took off. A host of new hardware options were meant to inspire both gamers and developers alike into pushing the boundaries of this new frontier of digital technology.

Ultimately, however, a number of factors conspired together to ensure that this didn’t happen. From exploding smartphones to changes in the cost and structure of data plans, to the ways in which the imminent end of net neutrality would see a ripple effect resonating throughout the games here; these issues kept mobile gamers distracted, throughout the entire 2016 year. As a result, the expected boom in virtual reality simply didn’t take place. The industry isn’t dead, but insiders and experts are disappointed in the current state of affairs.

Now, a previously overlooked contender for the crown has entered the gaming arena, and people the world over want to know: is the augmented reality going to supplant VR as the next big thing in mobile gaming?

What Is Augmented Reality?

Virtual reality is fairly well-known, at least in terms of its basic concepts. It’s been a presence in video games and pop culture for years, albeit as something teetering in between science fiction and reality. Its first practical manifestation goes back even further than many people realize, all the way to 1957. Augmented reality is a comparatively recent phenomenon; now, thanks to Pokémon GO, it has broken every record in the book with regard to the usage of (and revenue generated by) mobile software applications.

Virtual reality offers users an immersive replacement for the familiar reality around them. It can reflect anything, from a ride on a roller coaster to a medieval battlefield. When you turn your head while playing a virtual reality game, you see another vantage point on the simulated environment “around you.” Augmented reality is different: within an augmented reality game, the familiar, everyday reality of the real world is enhanced through composite imagery. Digital imagery is superimposed upon the real-world background around the player. Simple AR games virtually disregard the particulars of the surrounding environment. Monsters, enemy soldiers, and other entities might simply “show up” on your mobile device’s screen, in a way that completely disregards the surrounding environment. More complicated games have the potential to recognize and incorporate things like doors, windows, furniture (and other artificial obstructions), trees, and so on.

AR offers a lot of as-yet-unrealized potentials and is already being looked at as the next great leap in mobile gaming. So, why the change of heart? What has AR got to offer, that VR does not?

The Advantages of Augmented Reality

In weighing the pros and cons of VR and AR as they exist today, there are clear advantages inherent to augmented reality gaming.

The simplest of AR games, such as Pokémon GO, require only a basic smartphone in order to play. The need for expensive, clunky hardware and dedicated gadgetry is not present. While high-end gadgets are being developed for AR, which will have to compete with some of the same issues as those facing their virtual reality counterparts, general-purpose devices are essentially useless for VR gaming. Even lightweight digital eyewear, like the Google Glass, is well-suited to augmented reality gaming; such devices are poor choices for VR.

Another strength in AR would appear to be its composite nature. Virtual reality completely supplants actual reality, to an extent that our brains are actually temporarily fooled. Augmented reality augments, as the name suggests — but it’s more than a name. Like a good novel, which has to root itself in some basic concepts of reality in order for the reader to suspend disbelief, the AR game combines the expected nature of reality with the unexpected, and potentially all the more exciting, augmentation.

Where AR comes up short is on the development end of things. Present titles, such as Night Terrors, are fun — and gimmicky. Many games coming off as reskinned versions of earlier augmented reality titles. Whether it is due to the unique limitations of the gaming style, or simply the relative novelty of AR, development creativity does seem to be lagging behind technical capability — but that hasn’t stopped Pokémon GO from being an unparalleled success. Ultimately, at present, the score stands at 1-0 in favor of augmented reality, as VR has yet to emerge with a similarly explosive title. Good news pops up here and there, like Valve’s plans to make Half-Life 2 playable in VR, but it’s all rather sporadic still.

So, Who’s Winning the War?

Despite the shortcomings of either technology, the future holds a lot of promise for both virtual and augmented reality gaming; platforms like the HoloLens, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear VR aren’t off the table just yet. As flagship smartphones struggle to stay relevant despite costing an arm and a leg, Samsung and Apple are sure to invest in AR and VR. Apple is yet to come up with a proper answer, however, leaving Samsung to rule alone at the moment with their Galaxy + VR combo. If you ever wondered if you really want to spend so much on Galaxy S8, there’s your answer.

As for AR vs VR… To declare a clear winner between these two options would be to disregard the considerable advancements that are being made in the world of VR gaming. That being said, it is clear that AR is an eleventh-hour contender, a surprise last-minute entry into the field of altered-reality gaming, which VR was once expected to dominate indefinitely.



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