CCP's "audacious vision," CMO David Reid tells me, is to "create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life." The greatest expression of that vision is EVE Online, CCP's infamous space MMO and a game I already consider to be a sort of virtual reality. During our chat today at GDC, I nodded my head as Reid talked about the real emotions players experience in EVE. But CCP isn't at the conference to show off EVE Online—it's demonstrating the latest build of EVE Valkyrie, a VR space combat game that will launch with the Oculus Rift headset. It's clear, however, that CCP's ultimate goal is to combine Valkyrie's use of VR technology with the EVE Online sandbox.
"The bedrock of making a virtual world meaningful, for CCP, has always been things like everyone playing on a single [server], having a sandbox where players have real impact and real choices and consequence, and not just the illusion of choice and consequence, which you get from most games," says Reid.
"So that is kind of an operating system level, if you will, of how to build one of these things. And now that we're seeing partners like Oculus and now Sony with Morpheus coming in, where now you're going to have input/output devices that are going to have a higher level of visual and aural fidelity, and make that immersion that much more real in the operating system of a virtual universe—we absolutely believe this is where things are going. We kind of bet the company on it since we started."
Looking ahead to to that future—I threw out 10 years as our hypothetical time span—Reid expects all the EVE universe games, including Valkyrie and Dust 514, to be alive and well, and very likely compatible with VR technology of the time. "There's no question now that we're seeing—not just with Oculus, but with an industry titan like Sony entering this thing—[virtual reality] is going to be a real part of the business. This feels like it is moving quickly beyond the novelty mode into, 'Yeah, this is fundamentally going to change interactivity.'"
Moving even further into our hypothetical future, I bring up the possibility that experiences in virtual worlds might actually become more meaningful than real life, that virtual reality could become our preferred reality. It already happens on 2D monitors—obsession with MMOs—but depriving ourselves of input from the real world by strapping on goggles and headphones takes synthetic living a new, scarier level.
"You can only imagine that, at some level, if you could live in EVE ... You're not getting your nutrition and oxygen there, for sure, so the model only goes so far," says Reid. "But there is an economy there, and it's not crazy to think that some day one could earn a living. That could be your profession.
"And it's interesting, our CEO [Hilmar Petursson] talked about this a little bit in his DICE speech. There is something about a virtual world that lends itself to filling a lot of human needs that people aren't able to get in the world. There's an aspiration we all have, a standard of living we all want. Can this one world actually provide enough for everybody on it? He said in his speech that we probably need 10 earths to actually give all the resources that everybody would need to live at the standard of living they would like to live at, but maybe nine of those can be virtual worlds. It is a bit of a fascinating and scary concept to look too deeply into. I think we're just going to take it one big step at a time, and see where this takes us."
The next of those big steps will be the consumer release of the Oculus Rift, which just got a new Development Kit , and Sony's Project Morpheus on the PS4. And then, as I discussed earlier this week with Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, both VR and rendering technology are expected to improve to keep up with demand for better virtual worlds.
Those extra worlds may not initially satisfy more than the human need to blow up space ships, but if it continues to improve at this rate, EVE Online-style sandboxes may be, as Reid says, places to live and work as much as play. And the VR movement doesn't stop at Oculus and Sony—though EVE Valkyrie will be exclusive to those systems, Reid is certain that more companies will show up to the VR party.
"Certainly there are a lot of companies in the space, and certainly there are a number of companies that have maintained their interest in the space at a confidential level still," says Reid. "I don't think Oculus is the only company that is thinking about making a VR platform for the PC. I expect there will be more of these ... again, we want to see this happen, we want to see virtual worlds more meaningful than real life, and we want to see that change in our industry, and to some extent, without being too hyperbolic, the human condition overall."