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VR devs urge caution, describe five- to 10-year path to 'mainstream' acceptance

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The gold rush will end, and then it's all about survival

CCP Games is investing heavily in virtual reality, and the company's Eve: Valkyrie is included with the Oculus Rift pre-orders. CCP's CEO, Hilmar Pétursson, isn't keen to talk about the number of people playing Valkyrie, however.

"No, I can't really do that," he told Polygon when we interviewed him during Eve Fanfest 2016. "I think it would be much better for the platform companies to talk about their own numbers. I don't want people to be triangulating their numbers out of our numbers."

CCP also knows that making money in VR is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. The company's strategy for VR is to take things slow, and understand that it's going to take a long time before hardware is in enough homes to make VR software sales a major source of revenue.

"It's a 10-year plan," Pétursson explained. "We have taken the view that the first five years are going to be very slow and they're going to be very chaotic, and a lot of things are going to change and a lot of things are going to fail. But in the second five years, then we're going to see a rapid expansion like we've never seen before. But it's going to take five years from this year to sort itself out."

In other words, 2016 is going according to CCP's plan. We'll slow, persistent growth in VR that leads toward a wider acceptance.

"Is there a lot of hardware [right now]? It's all based on what people are expecting, and I've seen people are expecting a lot of hardware this year, but we never expected that," Pétursson continued. "We had the expectation of the first five years of VR are going to be madness, and we're going to structure ourselves to find success in that madness."

CCP Games is also diversified when it comes to VR. The company released Gunjack, a game that first appeared on the Samsung Gear VR and is now also available for the Rift and HTC Vive. Valkyrie was packaged in with Rift pre-orders, and is coming to the Vive and PlayStation VR as well. Valkyrie will also be the first VR game to support play between the three platforms. Project Arena, shown in the video above, uses Oculus' Touch controllers but could also work on the Vive and PlayStation VR.

We also met with Aldin Dynamics, another VR developer located in Iceland, and that company also stressed the need for long-term planning. Aldin has released games on the early versions of the Rift hardware, as well as the Gear VR. The studio is also working on development tools for virtual reality.

Aldin takes a realistic view of the VR market as it exists today, and they've learned much about what it's like operating in an industry with so many unknowns and rapid changes.

"Assume the worst," Hrafn Thorisson, CEO of Aldin Dynamics, said. "Assume that the worst will happen, and plan around that, and have a lot of redundancy in the plans that you're making, at least business-wise. Maintaining a realistic expectation has been one of the key factors allowing us to start this early, and to still be here today."

With shipping delays hitting the Rift and Vive shipments coming slower than expected, planning for the worst may have been prudent.

"The reason we're here now is we always assumed the worst could happen, and planned around that. Without sounding too dark," Thorisson said, laughing. "It's just that this is a really risky space, and everyone going into VR right now needs to understand that."

Aldin Dynamics also guessed that it would be around five years before virtual reality exists in enough homes or businesses for developing in that space to be a safer proposition. The studio also admits that it doesn't know what form "mainstream" VR will take, and notes how quickly things have changed in just the past few years. It's a shifting, dangerous business to be in.

"This is a technology that we think is going to be one of the most impactful technologies in the history of computer science," Thorisson said. "But it's going to take time, and that has always been our strategy."