ARTICLE BY COLIN MCMAHON
For many, the gamification of exercise began in 2007 with the release of the Nintendo Wii and its launch title, Wii Sports. For the first time, a major video game console manufacturer ditched traditional controls in favor for a more active default system. In the years that followed, Nintendo tried to push its gaming-exercise software with products like Wii Fit, which took normal workout routines and applied rudimentary game mechanics. Now, virtual reality stands ready to gamify exercise completely.
Located-based VR entertainment is a hot topic with a focus on VR arcades and VR cinemas. Theme parks with VR-enhanced attractions are also gaining notice. The VR gym is not at the forefront of conversation. That said, there are companies already looking to gamify exercise with VR that has produced some interesting products. Experiences designed to hide the tedium and repetition of a workout behind the immersion of a VR game. VirZOOM and Holodia are two such companies.
Both offer VR software programs designed for use with exercise machines. VirZOOM is designed specifically with an exercise bike in mind (the company offers the bike as a controller for $399). This company has opted to fluctuate graphical performance in order to accommodate as many different headsets as possible. Currently, the VirZOOM program is available free on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Sony PSVR. A version for the Samsung Gear VR is in development.
VirZOOM's goal is not simply to sell its hardware but to retrofit its tech into current gym machines. A recent partnership with AMD aims to complete this goal. VirZOOM's software program combines mini-games, like driving a tank into battle or paddling a relaxing boat-ride, into a single package to appeal to many different types of consumers. Despite the presence of a headset, players can opt for multiplayer experiences, further deepening immersion with an element of competition.
Holodia aims to provide a similar goal, but seemingly more high-end. The company is not as far along in development as VirZOOM. Holodia's software program, Holofit, is designed to work with different kinds of machines. In addition to bike support, Holodia will work with rowing machines and walking/climbing machines. The product, however, appears limited to the HTC Vive. Holodia has also not announced plans to expand its network via retrofitting. That said, unlike VirZOOM - Holofit does not have a set controller. The program is already to work with current "leading exercise brands."
Like VirZOOM, Holodia's Holofit offers a mini-game compilation to users. These include experiences set in locations like Antarctica, Babylon, and Saturn. Again, users are allowed to compete against themselves or other players.
There are other companies working within the VR exercise space. All of them face the same challenges: to make the exercise affordable, enjoyable, and - most importantly - playable. Many expressed doubts as to whether the platform provided real exercise. In addition, some consumers viewed the gaming element as gimmicky content. Those experiences could not disguise the monotony of exercise.
VR has a natural advantage thanks to its immersive nature. The use of actual gym machines will also go a long way to silencing its critics. That said, the medium faces unique obstacles. Sweating into the headset is a problem as it is disgusting (especially with a shared/public HMD). Disposable surfaces and protection are in the field, but gyms will need to find a cost-effective solution.
Space is also a problem. If not going to a gym, users will need to make room to house rather large machines. VirZOOM is worth mentioning as it is taking this consideration into account. Its bike controller is small (for exercise equipment) and compatible. Storing the experience on the bike reduces space and cost as a high-end gaming PC is no longer needed.
The tether still poses a problem as it is an obstacle that can injure users. In order for VR exercise to truly take off, the tethered cord must be cut.
Location-based virtual reality entertainment will take more definite shape in the next few years. Given its already impressive start, expect VR exercise to be an experience that is not going away.