How to Become a VR Developer: Your Guide to a Career in VR Development
So, you’re interested in last year’s most in-demand job sector: virtual reality (VR) development. You’re in the right place. In this article, I’m going to teach you how to start in this industry as an absolute beginner, based on my three years of experience as a VR developer.
Since there’s no bachelor’s degree for VR technologies, you need to get by on courses, books, boot camps, and training. But first, let’s dive into what VR is and what’s possible with VR. Then we’ll start your VR development journey.
What does it mean to be a VR developer?
First, let’s consider the actual definition of “reality”: the state of things as they actually exist. Reality doesn’t have to be ideal, nor does it have to fit anyone’s standards in particular. But when we pair that with the word “virtual” (“not physically existing as such, but made by software to appear so”), we end up with two opposing concepts.
In many ways, “virtual reality” refers to an idealized form of reality. While we all currently have a non-ideal form of living in our hands, about 60 years ago, engineers started to think of ways to make life more ideal, fun, efficient, and practical. They came up with the idea that we could replace our whole reality with a virtual one. Then, they started to work on the first VR headsets.
While it may seem like it’s been a long time, virtual reality is still in its earliest stages. That makes it a great opportunity to start as a beginner and evolve with the industry.
Last Updated July 2023
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Before we dive into becoming a VR developer, though, let’s define the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
- Virtual reality aims to fully replace reality with software that supports full coverage of the senses.
- Augmented reality adds layers to reality to improve it rather than providing full coverage. It can be served through hardware like smartphones.
While the development of VR and AR are quite different, programs in use for developing AR and VR are generally the same. Both need a good understanding of three-dimensional graphics and a sense of depth.
Skills necessary for a virtual reality developer include:
- Programming languages and hardware knowledge. A VR developer will work with both.
- 3D modeling. A VR developer will likely need to work with a 3D system like 3DS Max and a 3D software development system like a game engine.
- Video game development. While this isn’t strictly required for virtual reality development, most VR platforms are gamified. The most popular VR apps are games, and the most popular platforms are platforms like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Becoming a VR developer is a lot like learning how to become a game developer.
- User experience. In virtual reality, user experience (UX) becomes dramatically more essential because the entire world needs to be interactive.
Often, a VR developer will have several years of experience in game development, web development, or software systems. From there, they can start developing for a VR headset and designing a full VR experience.
What’s possible with virtual reality?
VR’s impact on industries is much more than you think. We’ve already discussed that the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is a video game. Even the Google Daydream, a VR headset more tilted toward interactive experiences, hosted games primarily. And that’s undoubtedly a significant element of the VR industry. But it’s not the only element.
VR has changed the gaming industry forever. It offers a much more immersive gaming experience. Half-Life, Grand Theft Auto, and Skyrim have already been ported into VR. VR modder and gaming enthusiast Luke Ross is already working on a Cyberpunk VR mod. A career in VR Gaming has immense potential.
But VR can also simulate much more serious situations throughout a variety of industries. In education, VR can be used to teach. In medicine, VR can be used to perform virtual surgeries. In the military, VR can be used to simulate dangerous training operations. In real estate, VR can provide tours of houses remotely. In retail, VR can create tremendously large eCommerce portals.
VR makes the learning process faster, cheaper, and less dangerous. Augmented reality helps, too; imagine a surgeon with overlays on their hands, showing them the next step to take during a complicated operation. And with VR/AR, learning can be personalized.
According to Swag Soft’s research, for 2021, the implementation and development of VR in engineering can reduce model design time by 10% and construction time by 7%. This increases overall efficiency.
Let’s not forget that we live in the age of social media while we are in a pandemic. It requires self-isolation, but as humans, we all need socialization. Socializing not only drives away feelings of loneliness but also helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills and increases your sense of well-being. And when we were in search of socializing in a pandemic, VR had the best solution for it. It led us to hang out in our favorite virtual places with our friends online. It happened through games like Pavlov VR, Phasmophobia, RecRoom, VR Chat, or even gave us a chance to sit at a table to play card games such as Demeo.
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Again, that isn’t just for games. Online team gatherings for the companies have become so much easier with VR. As you all probably already heard after Facebook’s big investments in VR, such as Horizon Workrooms. By that, Facebook popularized a term called Metaverse in our lives. They even changed their name to Meta, referring to the Metaverse. The Metaverse can be explained as a perceptual universe where people mentally feel completely there and without any physical effort thanks to virtual reality devices.
Also, two very demanding topics, cryptocurrency and virtual reality, have come to a collaboration already. Metaverse Cryptos are already booming. For example, Somnium Space is a VR world-builder platform founded in 2017. It supports autonomous VR real estate ownership and trading, making it a direct competitor to platforms like Decentraland or even Second Life.
To conclude, it is self-evident that VR will keep expanding its horizon for the future. While today’s social media is limited to flat screens, with Metaverse, people will want to spend more time in a more independent place. So, this is the best time to be a VR developer.
How to get started as a VR developer
Which sector do you want to go into as a VR developer? That’s your first choice. It’s necessary to determine the hardware and software you will use.
For VR headsets, there are a few options:
- HTC Vive
- Oculus Rift
- Oculus Quest – Quest 2
- Playstation VR
- Valve Index
- Varjo Aero
Depending on the industry, your choice will vary. Here are some of the differences. For Rift and Vive, you might need to invest in a PC gaming computer that contains a high-end graphics card. For the Oculus, you don’t; it’s self-contained. The quality of the HTC and Oculus systems is more outstanding. But the Playstation VR is specifically designed for gaming.
After the hardware, you need to choose the software. Using the right game engine or 3D modeling program is the key to success. Here are the world’s most commonly used two game engines for VR and AR development:
- Unity: Unity is already used for a wide range of simulation tasks and games, allowing businesses and independent users to create virtual environments easily. To get started with VR development, Unity recommends using XR Management to load and manage your target platform SDKs.
- Unreal Engine: With the ability to create hyper-realistic environments, Unreal Engine is able to create immersive worlds that cater to the Virtual Reality Experience. Unreal Engine features tools that create complex cinematics, allowing developers to explore new ways to deliver a story.
Finally, you need to choose the right programming language. Here are the seven most popular programming languages for AR and VR development:
Just like the SDK, the language you are going to use will change within the engine. Since two of the most popular engines are Unity and Unreal Engine, you are most likely to learn C# (Unity) or Unreal Engine (C++). Also, Unreal Engine has its own visual scripting language called Blueprints that makes coding very beginner-friendly. If you are looking for a way to visual script in Unity, Bolt might be the answer you are searching for.
You may even want to go one step further and create your own Metaverse.
Don’t worry if you are not familiar with any programming languages or have never coded before. Online courses and boot camps have very detailed schedules that can lead you to become a master, usually within a year. VR development can be exciting and fairly easy for people who are already programmers and game designers to get into. Joining the right community can help you find the solutions you need. Meanwhile, you can check out a virtual reality course to learn more.