Feel the difference: how wearable tech will take video gaming to a whole new level

Wristbands and smartwatches that track your movements, earbuds that modify your performance according to heart rate - wearables will be integral to the virtual reality and biometric gaming experience

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 10:00pm

Wearables such as wristbands and earbuds will soon double up as control devices for the fast-growing virtual reality (VR) and biometric gaming market as the technology becomes more accurate at recording data, according to industry observers.

“For virtual reality, you need sensors to detect whether the user is standing or squatting, and to control input,” says Li Zhifei, chief executive of Chinese start-up Mobvoi, which produces China’s most popular Android-based smartwatch, Ticwatch. “A wearable device such as a ring would easily achieve that.”

Li says devices worn on the hands, such as rings and smartwatches, would be able to track user movements and interact with virtual reality interfaces.

“Smartwatches have potential because of the complex interactions and rich user experiences,” he adds.

This potential is not lost on video game developers, some of whom have already created titles that take advantage of this technology.

Steven LeBoeuf, president of US-based biometrics technology company Valencell, says wearable technology is becoming increasingly accurate at recording data such as heart rate and calories burned. Valencell’s biometric sensors are medically accurate, according to the company.

Such technology could be used in immersive virtual reality gaming, or even biometric gaming, in which a user’s biometric response directly affects their gameplay.

One of the pioneers of biometric gaming is French gaming company Ubisoft, which in February this year released O.zen, a wearable heart-rate monitor that can be plugged into the Lightning port on an Apple iPhone or iPad.

O.zen measures the user’s heart rate, which affects and controls the gameplay of over 10 mini games available on the accompanying app.

“Biometric gaming is still in its early stages, but there are companies who are integrating and experimenting with our [biometric] technology right now,” says LeBoeuf, whose company’s technology is integrated into various wearable devices such as sports earbuds and wristbands from companies such as Jabra, LG and Sony.

Other applications for biometric gaming could include action games that require the user to hold their breath while the game character is underwater, according to Valencell.

“Another application would be for the gamer’s heart rate to directly affect accuracy in a shooting game,” he added. “With access to earbuds, and the rise of virtual reality, such wearables could directly affect virtual reality game play in the future.”

Dr Neil Wang, managing director for consulting firm Frost & Sullivan in China, believes that while wearables have “huge” potential in integrating virtual reality control functionalities, it is necessary for the virtual reality market to mature first before the peripherals market can take off.

“Virtual reality technology is the main body for everything else. Peripherals are only accessories to virtual reality,” says Wang.

As virtual reality hardware evolves, it will include more functions, “and the increasing number of virtual reality applications will also need the support from a great number of accessories”, he says.

Frost & Sullivan estimates that the global accessories market for virtual reality, including wearable interfaces such as gloves, clothing and even shoes, will reach US$1 billion by 2020.