UPDATE2: Tokyo Game Show kicks off as virtual reality generates buzz

Virtual reality devices and games grabbed the spotlight as the Tokyo Game Show opened Thursday in Chiba, east of Tokyo.

Visitors can get a feel of what to expect next from the gaming industry as exhibitors from around the world gather for the annual extravaganza that precedes the much-hyped debut in October of the PlayStation VR headset by Sony Corp.’s gaming unit.

The four-day event through Sunday is expected to draw 230,000 visitors to the Makuhari Messe convention center, where a record 614 exhibitors are showcasing 1,523 game titles.

Foreign exhibitors accounted for more than half of the total, bringing the number of participating countries and territories to a record-tying 37, according to the Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association and Nikkei Business Publications Inc.

VR enables players to have immersive gaming experiences and is seen as a promising technology advance that is not limited to gaming.

Major new VR-related games at the show include Capcom Co.’s survival horror title “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,” and “Final Fantasy XV,” an action role-playing game by Square Enix Co.

“If you use VR you can go to places such as world heritage sites and see things from angles that would not be possible in the real world,” said Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia. “You can also relax on the beach in VR even when you are in your own room.”

One of the challenges facing developers is how to create software that delivers gameplay where someone or something that does not exist appears before players’ eyes believably. Creating better eye contact and interactions with virtual characters is also a priority in the future of VR, according to developers at the show.

It is not just Sony that is trying to win the hearts and minds of gamers with innovative VR devices. Taiwan’s Micro-Star International Co. is debuting what it says is the world’s first VR backpack, weighing 3.6 kilograms with two battery packs to allow 90 minutes of gameplay.

Fove Inc. has developed an eye-tracking headset. “I think the potential of VR is almost limitless, bound only by our will to execute, and people’s imaginations,” said Chief Technology Officer Lochlainn Wilson.

“Even if the player is not aware of what they are doing, we can be aware what they are consciously or unconsciously aware of,” Wilson said.

The recent buzz over VR comes as conventional console games are increasingly challenged by mobile games. The domestic market for smartphone games has been expanding in recent years and is expected to reach 945.0 billion yen ($9.2 billion) in fiscal 2016, up from 925.0 billion yen a year earlier, according to Yano Research Institute.

“It’s good in a sense that people can enjoy playing more games,” Sony’s Morita said in an interview. “That said, I believe console games are better at giving immersive and thrilling experiences.”

In addition to VR, the global success of “Pokemon Go” has also focused attention on augmented reality where the real world is overlaid with digital elements.

Nintendo Co., a co-developer of the popular app, is not taking part in the event. The Kyoto-based maker of the Wii U console said a week ago that its iconic “Super Mario Run” game will be available on Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

Ahead of this year’s Christmas shopping season, Sony will launch two new versions of the popular PlayStation 4 gaming console that is compatible with the VR headset. Cumulative global sales of the PlayStation 4 have already surpassed 40 million units, outpacing rivals like the Wii U.

The game show is open to the media and gaming industry for the first two days and to the public on Saturday and Sunday.


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