A short time ago, we brought you news of a new Virtual Sport from Inspired. That game was Rush Darts and we raved about how excellent the game looked and played and how it was, without doubt, the most realistic of all the Virtual Sports games that we had played over the years.

Part of the reason for that level of realism was that Inspired not only used motion-capture technology to film real life darts players throwing darts at the board, but they actually went out and agreed a licence with the Senior Tour and used a number of senior darts professionals, including Tony O’Shea, Dennis Priestley, Peter Manley, John Walton and Chris Mason within the game.

The net result of this is that when you view Rush Darts, you feel like you are watching a real darts match, even down to the referee being the same one you find at real life tournaments shown live on television. There is absolutely no doubt that while the film used in the game brings it to life, it is the fact that it is real players, from the real world of professional darts, which have made Rush Darts so lifelike and realistic.

This therefore brings about the question of whether other Virtual Sports could use real-life individuals and teams to be part of the Virtual Sports games of the future. While I have no doubt that Virtual Sports development companies like Inspired would love the opportunity to do precisely that, there are a number of key issues that may well prevent it from occurring.

  1. Licensing

Have you ever wondered why when you load up Virtual Football to play, there are real life team names for international teams, but when it comes to club teams, the teams are named fictionally, although clearly based on real life teams?

The reason for that is because the most popular football leagues in the world today, such as the Premier League, now license their team names and other data and if a company wants to use that data, then they need to pay a licensing fee to do so.

For a sport as popular and as financially powerful as football, that fee for the license can be large and that makes licensing a Virtual Football game to showcase real life teams somewhat impractical, as the cost to do this, would be excessive for the development company.

International teams, however, cannot be licensed as they are the names of countries, so this is why you can get England v Brazil in Virtual Football, but you cannot get Liverpool v Everton, but instead get Merseyside Reds v Merseyside Blues.

That said, for other sports which may have smaller, or no licensing issues, then it is certainly possible for Virtual Sports development companies to look into developing a partnership with these companies to include real-life teams, venues and competitions in the Virtual Sport of the future. For example, the licensing costs to adopt real life competitors in Virtual Cycling, or Virtual Speedway, would only be a fraction of that for Virtual Football or Virtual Motor Sports (assuming this would apply to Formula 1 or Indycar).

With licensing, it is down to affordability as to whether this will be a part of the future of Virtual Sports, which is why for some, such as Rush Darts, we are seeing real life players, while for others, such as Virtual Football, we are not yet seeing real life club teams.

  1. Footage

Part of what makes Rush Darts so realistic is that the game uses real life filmed footage of the players throwing their darts into the board, along with lifelike animations of the dartboard. The game is also presented as you would watch a real-life darts match on TV.

There are essentially two ways that Virtual Sports development companies could obtain real-life footage to use in their future Virtual Sports games. One is to film their own content, as Inspired have done for their forthcoming Virtual Basketball game, while the other is to purchase footage of a sport from the relevant authorities (which some companies have already started to do) and then incorporate this footage into their own Virtual Sports game.

While having real-life footage is key to making a Virtual Sports game more realistic, it also has to be of a type that isn’t too repetitive (so that the player gets bored watching the. Game) and it also must fit in with the Virtual Sport that is being represented on screen. So for example, if you are betting on a Virtual Tennis game between two male players, then seeing action from a doubles game, or a women’s match, or from two male players that are not named in the game you are betting on, would diminish the realism a great deal.

In terms of realism, it is probably easier for Virtual Sports development companies to film their own footage in specially adapted arenas and stadiums, which can work for some sports, but is difficult for others (such as American Football, horse racing or football).

It is going to be interesting to see how companies come up with creative ways to develop realistic footage for inclusion in the next generation of Virtual Sports games as the two main options at the moment both have their positive points, but also a number of negative points too.

To conclude, the more popular (and financially powerful) a real sport is, then the less chance there is, I feel, of you ever finding real life teams and individuals being showcased on the Virtual Sports games of the future. The cost of agreeing a license to use real life individuals or teams for these sports, such as Virtual Football, would be massively prohibitive for Virtual Sports companies to agree.

However, there are some ways around this, such as by using older footage as part of the Virtual Sports experience and this may well be a viable alternative and a cheaper option than companies being forced to create their own content for the Virtual Sport of their choice.

Rush Darts may well have shown us the way forward for Virtual Sports of the future, but there is still a great deal to be done in order to make all Virtual Sports as realistic and lifelike as the latest game from Inspired. However, there’s no doubt that the companies involved in developing these games will be keen to ensure that the next generation of Virtual Sports games are as lifelike as possible.