Deciding which game engine to use to develop your virtual reality (VR) eLearning experience can be confusing. This article will help you understand the most important game engine features to consider when developing your particular VR eLearning projects.
Key selection criteria
The major game engines are generally a better choice for developing VR experiences than most proprietary authoring tools. On the plus side, proprietary tools can be easy to learn and use. They often have straightforward user interfaces with only the functionalities you need, and they may not require a powerful gaming computer to run them. They’re also typically designed for a niche group or specific purpose. However, unless you build the tools yourself, they often have limited capabilities and might not address the specific needs of your project or industry. They may be buggier, get updated less frequently, be harder to customize, require additional software (i.e., they’re simply plug-ins), or have unique file formats that may not work elsewhere. Lastly, they’re often made by smaller companies that have a higher chance of going out of business. Thus, this article focuses on game engines for developing VR eLearning experiences.
We’ll begin with the end in mind: what hardware platform and VR headsets are your delivery targets?
VR headsets and hardware
One of the first steps to selecting a game engine is deciding which out-of-the-box system your company will use for showcasing an eLearning VR experience. Some of the most popular systems include:
- HTC Vive
- Oculus Rift
- Google Daydream
- Sony PlayStation VR
Deciding on the type of VR hardware you’ll use is important—it will determine which game engine can be supported, as well as platforms for deployment.
System requirements and technical specifications
The next step is evaluating system requirements for each game engine. For example, you’ll need to determine how much RAM, hard drive space, CPU, and GPU power are needed. You’ll need to consider whether the testing capabilities allow you to edit within the game engine or require the use of a VR headset. If you have multiple developers working on an eLearning experience, will they be able to collaborate and save changes during development? Are the above requirements more feasible using a PC or Mac? Most higher-end gaming PC’s meet these requirements, however they cost more than the average machines. Research which publishing platforms are compatible with the selected game engine and provide the most seamless distribution to your team.
Decide which eLearning experiences will be developed
These experiences include VR/AR, 3-D, 2-D, turn-based, social/multiplayer, and walkthroughs, to name the most significant ones. Research which game engine(s) will provide the needed support. While a game engine may support most types of experiences, the engine may not be well-suited to the experience you’d like to build. That said, most game engines adequately support most types of VR experiences. Because most eLearning VR experiences aren’t technically complex, this may not be a major deciding factor for the technology for your project, but it will certainly affect your design. If you are going to be working with an outside developer, the type of experience and the developer’s familiarity with it will be important.
Ease of use
Ease of use is a major reason why most game developers use the top game engines. Research the available documentation and resources (i.e., video tutorials, manuals, libraries, online courses, customer support, etc.). Make sure your game engine has:
- Active online communities and forums that offer open source code
- Frequent updates to support the latest VR features and hardware changes
- Smooth integration with other software
Decide which programming language (i.e., C++, C#, Lua, Java, etc.) is most beneficial for your team to develop in. It may also be worth seeing which game engines allow WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) development without any coding. Lastly, decide whether you need a game engine that supports the following noteworthy features:
- Advanced immersive/spatial audio
- Customized and realistic art/characters
- Multiplayer functionality
Game engine pricing varies from a monthly subscription fee, to a royalty-based revenue model, to cloud storage fees. You may need to call the game engine companies directly to get custom quotes for your development team.
Don’t get lost in the weeds comparing technical specifications and nuanced features of the various game engines. Maintain a 30,000-foot view in order to decide which game engine will be the best for developing your eLearning VR training and simulation projects.
From the Editor
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