The 20th Annual D.I.C.E Awards took place earlier this week, bringing together the best games of 2016 as voted for by members of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Not only do the Awards recognize games, but they also shine a light on the individuals and development teams within the industry.
Originally set up to give video games the same treatment as films and television, the D.I.C.E Awards have grown year on year. For its 20th outing, Kinda Funny co-founder and previous ‘Trending Gamer’ award winner Greg Miller hosted the event along with Nerdist’s Jessica Chobot. Games industry celebrities like these help to raise the profile of the Awards and increase their visibility within gaming communities.
The big winner of the night was Overwatch, with six nominations and four wins, including Game of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Game Design. Other big winners included PlayDead’s Inside and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, with three and four awards respectively.
New Kid on the Block
For the first time, virtual reality games had their own categories: Immersive Reality Game of the Year and Immersive Reality Technical Achievement. Both categories shared several entries including Eagle Flight, Superhot VR, Job Simulator, and I Expect You to Die. IR Game of the Year also featured The Lab, and Tilt Brush in Technical Achievement.
These two new categories show how the D.I.C.E Awards is in the midst of a change to accommodate this emerging technology. Thanks to these dedicated awards, VR games have their own space to show off what they’ve got to offer. It also shows recognition of VR games and their importance within the industry, identifying them as equals to more established video game forms without forcing them to compete.
However, the VR games library still remains fairly small, despite Oculus Rift and HTC Vive being out for almost a year. Even PlayStation VR — arguably the most accessible headset — has less than two hundred compatible games. This could be the reason that only six VR games were actually up for awards. But despite the limited pool of games and the technology that’s still in its teething stage, VR continues to become a more established platform.
When comparing Eagle Flight and Superhot VR to other D.I.C.E winners such as Battlefront 1 and Dark Souls 3, they might appear lacking. The first is a simulation where the player controls an eagle with tilts of their head as they fly around post-apocalyptic Paris. The second is a virtual reality version of the PC and Xbox One 2016 first person shooter with a minimalist art style. Compared to the depth and complexity of the latest edition to the Dark Souls series, these games could seem simplistic.
What we have to remember is that consoles, in their various forms, have been around for decades. Virtual Reality is still finding its feet, and developers are still testing the boundaries to see what they can do with it. Some games for VR may feel more like demos, but they are improving all the time.
The success of Resident Evil VII is an example of this. Although the game supported both console and VR versions, its positive critical response and popularity show the potential for VR-focused games. Final Fantasy XV is another major release that’s choosing to incorporate VR with its DLC minigame. Other franchises could follow suit, creating VR-only experiences.
Virtual Reality games might never be able to accomplish what something like Skyrim can. The first-person perspective may lend itself well to VR, but for many players, motion sickness is a major problem. This will impact how long a player can withstand VR, but also what type of experience they’ll be able to enjoy. Comfort is another issue, with some players not willing to spend hours with a headset strapped to their face.
These problems aside, there’s still lots of potential. The rise in popularity of indie games shows that players are looking for varied experiences. Inside’s wins at D.I.C.E this week show that smaller, more unusual experiences can still get as much credit and attention as more mainstream games like Overwatch. This is a perfect example of the type of game that could flourish on VR. Horror also seems like a perfect fit for the platform, if you’ve got a strong enough stomach. Although still a fairly niche genre, the likes of Silent Hills P.T and now Resident Evil VII have made sure that horror has a place in modern gaming.
By getting a better handle on the technology and exploring what it’s capable of, VR games will only get more complex and polished. It may seem like a long way off now with only two awards categories, but in the future, a VR game might not only be nominated but could win the main Game of the Year category.