Virtual reality might become the catalyst that leads us to stop associating video games with a sedentary lifestyle, and not only because there are titles in which it is better or essential to stand up, but also because there are more and more applications popping uo whose main goal is to make the user move as much as possible, to the point that it involves a physical effort that even makes the user sweat. There are simulators of all kinds of sports in virtual reality, and it is difficult not to think of them as the next evolution of e-sports, the gym activitires, or home fitness routines, since they combine an active and demanding style of playing with the enjoyment of video games.
Let's deep into the relationship between virtual reality, fitness and sports simulators.
VIDEO GAMES AND SPORTS SIMULATORS, ORIGINS
To some extent, VR sports simulators are the evolution of the technology with which Nintendo experienced a second golden age at the end of the first decade of the 2000s. We are talking about the absolute success of the Wii console launched in 2006 along with the Wii Sports game, a title that has the honor of being the platform's best seller. Its almost 83 million copies place it above those starring Mario, being the 5th best-selling game of all time in any electronic entertainment system.
But in addition, among the list of best-selling games in a Nintendo's console, which has found its way into practically every home, we find other video games focused on sports and physical exercise, such as its second part, Wii Sports Resort, and the home gym that brought us Wii Fit and its sequel Wii Fit Plus, whose scales are still being used in many homes.
TECHNOLOGY AND FITNESS, A GROWING TREND
Beyond video games, several attempts have been made to gamify the sports experience at home through technology with proposals such as Mirror and Volava.
MIRROR is another platform seeking to turn our home into our private gym, offering live and on-demand fitness classes through a mirror, using a technology that could fall within what we know as augmented reality. The user stands in front of a screen where a trainer invites us to imitate the exercises he is doing (yoga, boxing, Pilates...), which is also a mirror where we see ourselves training and statistics with our progress. The startup was born in 2017 and its success caught the attention of Lululemon, the sportswear provider, which invested in it 1 million dollars to later end up acquiring it for 500 thousand dollars.
Another example of combining something as physical as sport with digital is VOLAVA, a company that began selling exercise bikes and training classes online, to later also include treadmills with integrated HD screen and even punching bags and gloves. To prepare for its international expansion, it raised 850,000 euros in a first round of financing and almost the same amount in last year's round.
Its business model is similar to that of Peloton, an American company that in 2019 had a turnover of almost a billion dollars and last year starred in a resounding IPO on the NASDAQ, being the only company to end 2020 with a price per share higher than the initial one.
VIRTUAL REALITY, FITNESS, GAMES AND VIRTUAL SPORTS
If we talk about virtual reality games, there is one kind that is triumphing above the rest: rhythm games, and sports simulators and fitness games are also very successful. There are proposals which users try to burn as many calories as in a gym, but without leaving the comfort of our their homes.
At the end of April, Facebook's standalone headset was advertised in the pages of The New York Times and on billboards with a Fitness is Fun on Quest 2 campaign, promoting their VR headset as a fun and affordable alternative to gyms, exercise bikes or rowing machines.
Virtual reality sports simulators could reach the success of those Nintendo games and devices, and many companies are betting on them, realizing that among the most popular and best-selling VR titles, are those that involve physical exercise.
The most glaring example of that is Beat Saber, a rhythm and music game, but let's focus on the specifically sports ones, those that aim to emulate the practice of a real sport (soccer, basketball, tennis) or to help us keep in shape (fitness apps, reflex improvement).
In a podcast interview with The Information on March 8th, Mark Zuckerberg talked about the success of his Quest 2 viewer, whose sales in its first half year of life are said to be around 5 million units, while the new PlayStation, a brand already consolidated in the electronic leisure market, sold 7.8 million PS5 consoles. By comparison, in the same period the new PlayStation model, a brand already consolidated in the electronic leisure market, has sold 7.8 million PS5 consoles. The Facebook CEO explained that with its VR viewer you can do much more than play games, and gave as an example two fitness apps that have been very successful on the platform: FitXR and Supernatural.
FitXR was born as a boxing trainer, but has ended up becoming a complete workout simulator, designed by professionals, but aimed at all types of audiences. Its exercise routines are accommodated to each person, depending on their mood, physical condition or goal to be achieved. Its business model was initially based on selling the base game (29.99 €), expanding its content based on DLC's, packages with different kinds of exercises of which they have published six to date, at a cost of 9.99 € each. However, it has recently moved to a monthly subscription, as Oculus has officially implemented this possibility. It is a very popular application in Quest, being since launching in the list of the top 25 best-selling games.
Supernatural was chosen as one of the best inventions of 2020 by Time Magazine, and for many it is like having a gym at home. In our country it is less known because it works with a monthly or annual subscription system not yet officially available in Spain. After a free 30-day trial period, we can choose for a monthly payment of $19 or an annual one for $179 (about 150 euros).
One of the reasons of going to the gym and pay a fee is to have a trainer to lead us and keep track of our progress, or also to socialize. And the same thing, but in virtual reality, offers Supernatural: qualified trainers, new exercises every day to avoid routine, social networks to share our progress, and all accompanied by the latest music hits, but in the middle of landscapes and environments much less boring than the four walls of our house or a gym.
Undoubtedly, sports simulators are a popular and successful genre in VR. Players of virtual experiences, of all ages, are by no means sedentary, they like to exercise with a visor on their heads, even if this is more uncomfortable, in principle, than putting on a pair of sneakers and a t-shirt and shorts.
Proof of the growing popularity is that searching in Steam with the tags VR + Games + Simulation + Sports + Playing Standing, 475 results appear: soccer, tennis, boxing, rugby, volleyball, cricket, fitness, golf, fishing, basketball, etc. titles. Meanwhile, in the Oculus Quest store, the most popular headset and the one that lends itself best to sports simulators because it is standalone (no wires hindering movements), there are 39 sports titles out of a total of 248 games.
In other words, one in six of their content are apps for physical exercise or that mimic the mechanics of a sports discipline to virtual reality.
SPORTS SIMULATORS IN VIRTUAL REALITY
Is there a place in virtual reality for traditional sports such as football?
Football is well represented in the virtual reality sector, even though it is a discipline that is more difficult to simulate than others with a strong presence in VR, such as tennis. Being a team sport, played on a large field of play and involving the use of the feet, it requires more imaginative or technologically specific solutions. Video games are used with the hands, with keyboard and mouse, or with controllers with buttons, sticks and triggers to be pushed with the fingers. How to add "legs" to the issue, how to do virtual exercise with soccer as the protagonist?
The answer would be SUPERPLAYER, codename of a game we are developing from BeFootball for Oculus Quest 2.
In Superplayer we will be able to choose between being a goalkeeper or striker. In the first case the goal will be to stop the rain of balls that will come to us from anywhere on the field using fists, both hands or even with the head. If we choose to be a striker our mission will be to score goals hitting the balls that are thrown to us with our head or targeting bull-eyes.
It sounds entertaining and it will be, but it also seeks to be an experience that promotes physical exercise, so there are tables to collect player performance, leaderboards, possibility of increasing the difficulty and stringency levels at the beginning of each game, etc.
This will make it possible to reach a much wider and more varied audience, both those looking for fun and those who want just to practice some physical exercise.
It is very likely that we will continue to see a growing evolution of this trend, both in number and in specialization, as sports simulators combine the promotion of physical activity, the tendency towards monitoring (fitness bracelets, smart watches with sensors) and the gamification of sports activity. This is the era of sportainment, the fusion of sport and entertainment.
From BeFootball we know football and virtual reality make a perfect match, and we will continue to promote new models and formulas for the football industry and the advancement in enjoyment, health and entertainment for new audiences thanks to the power of virtual reality.
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