Welcome to the ultimate guide to Virtual Reality (VR) programming!
This guide will cover everything you need to know about what is VR programming, what are the best VR programming languages to learn and first steps on how to get started.
What Does a VR Programmer/Developer do?
Virtual Reality (VR) programming is the process of creating interactive, immersive digital worlds. At its core, VR programming involves designing, developing, and implementing software that powers VR devices and applications. From VR gaming to education, VR programmers are the geniuses behind some of the most innovative and captivating experiences in today’s tech landscape.
The Day-to-Day Tasks of a VR Programmer
The day-to-day tasks of a VR programmer involves:
- Team Meetings: For large corporate jobs, VR programmers regularly communicate with team members from various disciplines, such as designers, artists, sound engineers, and producers. They participate in meetings, brainstorming sessions, and reviews to discuss progress, solve problems, and coordinate their work.
- Coding and Development: VR programmers spend a significant portion of their day writing, updating, and debugging code. They work with programming languages like C#, C++, and scripting languages within game engines such as Unity or Unreal Engine.
- Design and Prototyping: VR programmers often collaborate with designers, artists, and other team members to design and prototype gameplay elements, interactions, and mechanics specific to virtual reality.
- Implementing Assets: VR programmers work closely with artists and designers to integrate 3D models, animations, textures, and other assets into the game engine, ensuring they work correctly in the VR environment.
- Testing and Optimization: VR developers are responsible for testing their work in VR headsets, identifying and fixing bugs, and optimizing performance to ensure a smooth and immersive experience for users.
- Version Control and Documentation: VR programmers use version control systems (e.g., Git) to manage and track changes to the codebase. They also create and maintain documentation to ensure their work is understandable and maintainable by others on the team.
- Problem Solving and Debugging: VR development often involves solving complex technical problems and addressing issues specific to virtual reality, such as motion sickness, user interaction, and performance optimization.
Is VR Programming Hard?
The complexity of VR programming largely depends on your background and experience in programming and related fields. For those new to programming or 3D graphics, VR development may present a steep learning curve and I recommend starting with 2D.
Here are some factors to consider when evaluating the difficulty of VR programming:
- Familiarity with programming languages: If you’re already comfortable with C# or C++, learning VR programming will be significantly easier. But even if you’re starting from scratch, many programming concepts are transferable between languages, making the learning process smoother.
- Experience with game engines: Unity and Unreal Engine have their quirks, but they also boast comprehensive documentation and large, active communities. If you’ve worked with these engines before, you’ll have an advantage in understanding how they handle VR development.
- Complexity of projects: The difficulty of VR programming can vary depending on the scope and complexity of your projects. Simple applications, like basic VR environments, are very accessible for beginners. However, intricate projects, such as multiplayer VR games with realistic physics, can pose a tough challenge even for experienced developers.
Why Should You Care About VR Programming?
In one word: opportunity.
Here are just a few reasons why VR programming is worth your attention:
- The VR market is booming: The global VR market was valued at $15.81 billion in 2020, and it’s predicted to reach a staggering $62.1 billion by 2027. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 21.6%!
- Job prospects are impressive: With the rapid growth of the VR industry, there’s a soaring demand for skilled VR programmers. According to Burning Glass Technologies, job postings for VR developers increased by 93% between 2019 and 2022.
- VR applications are diverse: From gaming and entertainment to healthcare and education, VR is revolutionizing numerous industries. As a VR programmer, you’ll have the chance to work on groundbreaking projects that can truly make a difference in people’s lives.
- Unsaturated Market: Quest Store apps receive an average of 1523 reviews – which is estimated to be $3,000,000 in revenue (based on the average VR game price of $14.75).
The Best VR Programming Languages to Learn
While a variety of programming languages can be used for VR development, certain languages have emerged as the frontrunners, thanks to their compatibility with popular game engines, extensive libraries, and robust support for VR applications. Here are the best VR programming languages to learn:
C# is a powerful, high-level programming language that offers a balance between ease of use and performance. Developed by Microsoft, C# is often the go-to language for VR developers using Unity, a game engine renowned for its support of VR platforms, such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
C# boasts a clean, easy-to-understand syntax, making it an attractive choice for beginners and experienced developers alike.
Furthermore, the extensive Unity Asset Store offers a wealth of pre-built assets, libraries, and plugins, making it easier for developers to create immersive VR experiences quickly and efficiently.
As a long-standing, high-performance programming language, C++ is widely used in the gaming industry, including VR development. It is the primary language for Unreal Engine, a game engine with robust VR support.
While C++ can be more challenging to learn compared to C#, it offers greater control over hardware and memory management, which can be advantageous for complex, resource-intensive VR projects.
Unreal Engine’s visual scripting system, Blueprints, also allows developers to create game logic without writing a single line of code, making it more accessible to non-programmers.
Python’s simplicity and readability make it a popular choice for many developers, including those involved in VR development.
While not as tightly integrated with major game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine, Python can be used for scripting, prototyping, and even full-scale VR development with engines like Godot or Panda3D.
Python’s extensive libraries, such as PyOpenGL for 3D graphics or PyOpenVR for interacting with the OpenVR API, can be valuable tools for VR programmers. However, keep in mind that Python’s performance may not be as high as C++ or C# when working on more demanding VR applications.
This approach can be advantageous for creating VR experiences that are more accessible and platform-agnostic. However, browser-based VR experiences may not offer the same level of performance and complexity as those built with game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine.
Java’s versatility as a programming language extends to VR development, particularly for Android-based platforms. Google’s Cardboard and Daydream VR platforms rely on Java for creating VR applications that run on Android devices. Java’s popularity and widespread use make it a viable choice for VR programmers, especially those targeting mobile VR experiences.
While Java is not as closely integrated with major game engines as C# or C++, tools like Android Studio and Google VR SDKs can help streamline the development process for VR applications on Android.
Ultimately, the best VR programming language for your needs will depend on your existing skills, project requirements, and platform targets.
How Long Does it Take to Learn VR Development?
On average, I notice it takes around 6-12 months for a beginner to learn VR development. A lot of beginner programmers are able to produce their first commercial VR title within 1-2 years.
With that said, the time it takes to learn VR development varies depending on several factors:
- Game Engine Familiarity: Most VR development relies on game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine. If you have experience with one of these engines, you’ll be better equipped to start working on VR projects. Beginners might need a few weeks to a few months to become comfortable with a game engine’s interface, features, and workflows.
- Learning Resources: The quality and quantity of learning resources available can impact the time it takes to learn VR development. Online tutorials, video courses, and documentation from game engine providers, as well as books and articles, can help accelerate the learning process. Additionally, participating in developer communities, attending workshops, or enrolling in formal courses can provide valuable insights and guidance.
- Project Complexity: The complexity of the VR projects you plan to work on will also influence the time it takes to learn VR development. Simple, static VR experiences can be created relatively quickly, even by beginners, while more complex, interactive applications might require a deeper understanding of the game engine, programming language, and VR hardware.
- Time Commitment: Your personal dedication and time commitment will play a significant role in determining how quickly you can learn VR development. Immersing yourself in learning resources, practicing regularly, and working on personal projects will help you build skills and confidence faster than a more casual approach.
Considering these factors, it’s reasonable to expect that learning VR development could take anywhere from a few months to over a year.
How Much do Virtual Reality Developers Make?
The salary of a virtual reality (VR) developer can vary widely based on factors such as experience, location, company size, and industry.
As of 2023, the average annual salary for a VR developer is $86,935/year in the United States. Salaries often range from $70,000 to $120,000, with more experienced developers earning higher salaries.
Here’s a general breakdown of VR developer salaries based on experience levels:
- Entry-Level VR Developer: Entry-level VR developers, typically with less than two years of experience, can expect to earn an annual salary in the range of $50,000 to $70,000.
- Mid-Level VR Developer: Mid-level VR developers, with two to five years of experience, generally earn between $70,000 and $90,000 per year.
- Senior-Level VR Developer: Senior-level VR developers, who usually have more than five years of experience, can earn annual salaries ranging from $90,000 to $120,000 or more.
On top of these base salaries, VR developers also receive bonuses, stock options, or other benefits, depending on the company and their role.
How to Get Started in VR Programming
To learn how to make a VR Game in Unity for the Meta Quest 2, start with these resources:
- Unity Learn: Unity’s official learning platform offers a wealth of tutorials, courses, and projects to help you understand the Unity engine and develop VR games. Look for VR-specific courses or search for “Oculus” to find content related to Oculus Quest 2 development. Furthermore, you can read their documentation on getting started with VR development in Unity.
- Oculus Developer Hub: Oculus provides extensive documentation, guides, and SDKs for developing VR games for their devices. Start with the “Getting Started with Oculus Quest 2 Development” guide to familiarize yourself with the basics.
- VR Development Fundamentals (Udemy): Udemy hosts various courses on VR development with Unity and this is one of the best ones for beginners.
- YouTube: Some popular channels include VR with Andrew and Dilmer Valecillos. Browse their content or search for specific topics to find relevant tutorials.
- Oculus Publishers List: If you plan on releasing content on the Quest Store, it might be useful to familiarize yourself with the Oculus/Meta publishers list.
Remember that learning VR game development is an ongoing process, and you will likely need to consult multiple resources to build your skills. Combine tutorials, courses, and community interactions to gain a well-rounded understanding of Unity VR development for the Oculus Quest 2.