It seems everywhere you look you’ll see people hailing Virtual Reality as the next evolutionary step in gaming, but is it really that monumental? We’ve seen loads of other ‘innovations’ in the past, some cementing themselves as cornerstones of the industry, and others fading away with people pretending like they never happened. Either way, very rarely have they lived up to the hype and predictions, pre-release.
Now I’m in no way declaring VR dead-on-arrival, I’m more facing the possibility that most seem to be avoiding. Release day comes and after a few hours with our new toy, we realize that we would rather be using a television and controller, sitting down comfortably on our couch. The initial ‘wow’ of being in a virtual world would wear off and we find ourselves with a $400+ pair of oversized sunglasses. I’m not trying to come across as pessimistic; I’m just observing a very real possibility.
Yes, even in the promotional shots, VR users look like idiots.
Let’s look back at the more recent ‘innovations’. Microsoft’s Kinect was originally pitched and planned to be used for everything from buying groceries to performing surgeries. Every game developer working on a Kinect title was sure it was going to be the biggest thing since the controller. They even spoke about how Kinect eclipsed the controller itself. Jump ahead five years, and where is Kinect now? Dropped by every developer and even Microsoft themselves. Billions of dollars were spent, and arguably wasted, on the ‘device of the future’.
I can picture myself coming home, opening my new VR hardware, (and in some cases re-arranging my game room to fit the needed sensors), loading up a title or two and being blown away by the ability to look around freely in a sort of alternate dimension. But after the amazement subsides, and the headaches roll in, I could easily find myself more annoyed by the lackluster controls and precision, and realize I am wearing something soon to be covered in dust.
While I myself find the idea of VR extremely promising, we just have to aim for the right goals. If used for cinematic games, immersive medias or any other sort of controlled environment, VR could produce some amazing results. But from what I’ve witnessed and experienced, especially with the HTC Vive, we are being flooded with shovelware games that lack any lasting appeal. Mix that with insanely high prices, more or less because the consumers have no other option, and you’re looking at something that will fail to impress a few years down the road.
A recent poll showed results saying only 11% of the western market are actually interested in VR. While 11% still contains a huge customer base, it is lower than what most people would expect given the mass amount of media coverage. A lot of this may have to do with the high price point without any real way of demoing the product first. You may get lucky to have a go with a headset at a convention or other event, but for most people they’ll be buying blind. Personally, I can’t bring myself to drop hundreds of dollars on something I’ve not had a decent amount of time to check it out myself.
I’ve spoken to a few acquaintances that have spent some time with both Oculus and PlayStation VR. While they did admit that there was an initial ‘wow’ factor, they all also experienced a bit of motion sickness afterwards, along with headaches. They also told me the most exciting and fun games were the first-person horror titles. These seem like the sorts of games best suited for VR in my opinion; first person, immersive, story-driven games. Strangely enough, I’ve actually come across a few third-person VR games, which in all honesty, the mere existence of these boggles my mind. My point being; if creators focus on the right things, VR could be a fantastic experience.
Take the recently re-released Rez Infinite for example. Already hailed for being a “religious musical experience“, mixing this with VR and even a vibrating body suit, the game truly submerges you into a digital world of color and sound. Playing this title alone sold many players on PlayStation VR. But Rez is a very unique game, and it’s doubtful many others will grab the player as well as it does.
Rez Infinite is a perfect example of VR gaming done right.
If blended into other applications, such as educational, I could see VR being used in a incredible way to teach students while also grabbing their attention. But as for other recent concepts I’ve seen pop-up, such as PayPal purchases, and even shopping in VR, I can’t help but feel that those ideas, while interesting in theory, will fall flat just as that notorious Pizza Hut app where you could custom order a pizza via Kinect. Overcomplicating things is the opposite of where technology should be taking us.
These days the media, companies, and even the consumers themselves tend to praise any new technology as the absolute end-all advancement. If you’re on the fence, then take a look back at some of the promotional Kinect videos from yesteryear and count how many times you hear the phrase “Change everything”. I have a feeling you’ll need a calculator to keep track.