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Is Virtual Reality The End Of Just The Beginning
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Naruatsu Baba, the 38-year old billionaire and founder of mobile game developer Colopl Inc. breaks the mold of your typical Japanese executive: he's completely immodest about his success.
"Professionally, I’ve never really made any mistakes," Baba said in an interview at his Tokyo office, sitting next to a life-size R2-D2 and a soccer jersey signed by Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda. "No matter how small a matter, I've always delivered something decent regardless of the deadline or the circumstances. But that’s probably a given for anyone who has made it to my position."
Those words are backed by the company's valuation of $1.9 billion on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Baba still owns half of Colopl and wrote most of the early code for games himself, including one that had players earning points by walking around with their phones, an early precursor of Pokemon Go's signature egg-hatching feature.
Baba believes success mostly comes down to luck, but detecting opportunities as they come along is a skill he says he's honed through years of experience. One of his earlier hits came after he noticed Japanese carriers began introducing location tracking for mobile phones. As smartphones took off, he pivoted to making games designed for touch screens.
Now, Baba is setting his sights on what's considered to be the next big leap in computing: virtual reality. He's already one of Japan's biggest investors in the technology through his $50 million Colopl VR Fund, which has taken stakes in about 30 startups this year. His company is also one of the most active VR developers among Japan's gaming companies, having released nine titles in the past two years.
Baba says virtual reality's most significant feature is its ability to trick users into thinking others are physically present. That will soon let humans communicate in a way that approximates face-to-face conversations.
"It fools you into thinking that both you and the other person are actually there, and it does this in a way that makes you really believe it is true," Baba said. "That’s probably the real essence of what VR is all about."
Asked why VR has the potential to revolutionize communication, Baba thinks for a full minute then snaps a photo of a teddy bear lying around in his office, the company’s mascot. He says a flat picture is basically the best that current technology like video telepresence offers, while VR can deliver the sensation of actually being with the toy.
“Just looking at the picture doesn’t fool you into believing the bear is actually there,'' he said. ``But with VR you can do that. It makes you think it really is.”


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