Consumer AR glasses company Nreal just announced a beta Steam integration. The company also announced an “AR Jam” developer contest, as well as other details about their roadmap for internally produced content. Here, we’ll look at the announcements and how they play into the company’s game plan.
Nreal’s Hardware and Virtual Screens
Nreal is currently the only real contender in consumer AR glasses on the market. Their market penetration still isn’t huge. The glasses only work with Verizon 5G and Android phones so, while anyone can get their hands on them, it’s only a relatively small percentage of the potential market that can use them as intended.
The glasses have big potential for more robust mixed reality applications, but so far their main use case is in “virtual screens.” Wearers can generate and anchor screens in place to browse the web, watch media, or play games in a heads-up form factor that is private, discrete, and doesn’t require the use of big physical monitors.
I got the opportunity to try Nreal Light about a year ago. The glasses are comfortable and the display is vibrant. It’s also easy to look around or even through the virtual screen, so it’s easy to see how they can be handy and fun for situations where the wearer doesn’t want to be completely removed from their surroundings.
It’s also easy to see from reading this brief refresher how a Steam integration fits into their strategy.
“We are excited to be the first to bring Steam into AR,” Nreal co-founder, Peng Jin, said in a release shared with ARPost.
Bringing Steam to AR
Steam has been making games – including AAA titles – more available to people for a while. And, they’ve increasingly been going mobile with cloud services that allow gamers to access their game library on different devices, including mobile devices. (I once got oblivion to run on my cell phone through Steam. I don’t recommend it, but it’s possible.)
Nreal has already had games running on the glasses through an app and developer ecosystem, including their own content. Browser games can also run in the glasses, and there are some good web-based XR games out there. But, serious gamers need a little more than app games and browser content and now they have it. At least, beta users have it.
“The beta release is meant to give people a glimpse into what is possible,” Peng said in the release. “After all, AAA games should be played on a 200″ HD screen and they should be played free of location restrictions.”
According to the release, the beta “requires a bit of setup effort and is not optimized for all Steam games.” Further, details like the number of people in the beta and the roadmap for publishing a full version are not yet available.
Like releasing their glasses to Verizon 5G devices, this beta is a classic Nreal move. Limiting rollouts gets products into people’s hands generating hype and revenue, but also gives the company time to develop and scale sustainably. Even with their relatively limited release of Light glasses, the company initially ran out of glasses because of unforeseen demand.
Calling All Developers
Steam integration gives Nreal a huge and growing library of available content to offer their customers. Following their recently announced partnership with Cinedigm, it might be easy to get the idea that the glasses manufacturer wants to be a dedicated hardware company by relying on outside content.
This is not the case. In the same press release as the Steam partnership, the company announced that they are implementing a content fund for software developers. They are also instituting an “AR Jam” with over $100k in cash prizes for the winning developers or development teams.
The main categories are At-Home Fitness, Art, Games, Screen 2.0, and Port – for existing experiences that developers want to bring onto Nreal. There are also special categories for social experiences, educational experiences, and experiences that utilize NFTs. The AR Jam starts on June 27 and runs through July 27.
“We’ve always been focused on creating consumer-ready AR experiences with groundbreaking tech, to redefine the way we interact with information and content in our everyday lives,” Peng said in the release. “With the AR Jam and content fund, Nreal is demonstrating its commitment to supporting pioneering developers and their AR passion projects.”
A Headset Worth Waiting For
When I first started covering Nreal, there were two or three other companies in this wheelhouse. Now, there’s one. It’s easy to just want the glasses to be more available to more people. But, while the hardware is there, the glasses manufacturer is painstakingly building out their content ecosystem. Pumping hardware with no content has killed giants in the past.