Welcome to VR

Posted: March 24, 2014 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , , , ,

Oculus Rift

As much as I’ve tried to ignore this, it appears that, for better or worse, virtual reality is going to become a “thing.” It appears that no less than four virtual reality devices are heading our way with the Oculus Rift, as well as projects from Sony, Microsoft, and Valve. While the hype certainly exists, I’m just not sure that virtual reality is destined to be as popular as that hype would suggest.

Though I'll admit that a game like this might sell me on VR.

Though I’ll admit that a game like this might sell me on VR.

The key question is, where is the hype coming from? If it’s coming almost exclusively from consumers, then that’s one thing. Remember the hype the Wii created? That was almost entirely consumer based. The industry wasn’t sure how the Wii would be received, so there was very little excitement there (that’s not a fanboy complaint, industry insiders usually hedge their bets on new consoles). In this case though, I’m not sure if that’s really where the excitement is coming from. Instead, this situation seems to me to be one created by the developers. Mark Walton of GameSpot says it best:

Today’s VR is very impressive. Developers love it too. But how do we know the public at large will? The majority of interest in VR has come from the industry, not from consumers. It’s impossible to really know the demand for such a device before it goes on sale; even the hugely successful Oculus Rift Kickstarter was backed only by a few thousand people.

See, while it’s obviously only my (and his) opinion and speculation, I agree with the sentiment of this statement. The demand just doesn’t seem to exist naturally, which could be a problem.

Virtual Reality tech actually reminds me of the 3-D fads we’ve gone through. It was the “next big thing” in the 80’s…and the 50’s…and the 60’s…and now. While I’ll admit to it doing better now, I think it’s just a byproduct of popular movies being made in 3-D. When I saw Iron Man 3, 3-D was my main option, so I went with it. I’d have been just as happy seeing it normally. My point here being that 3-D isn’t necessarily successful because it’s 3-D, but because it has attached itself to something that’s already popular. Virtual Reality can’t do that. These headsets are their own creation, not something that can just be included with future games, the way 3-D is with movies. That means a larger outlay of cash by the consumers. Remember when Sony and Microsoft did their own Motion Devices to compete with the Wii? Move was essentially a failure for Sony. Kinect, as I’ve written in the past, was more successful, but never approached the success of the Wii. The same Wii that included the new idea with every system instead of making it it’s own entity (which is a positive for the Xbox One, despite driving up the console price).

Of course, any mention of Virtual Reality headsets means we have to discuss the elephant in the room.

I just don't see why this wasn't successful.

I just don’t see why this wasn’t successful.

Yes, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Look, I realize that we’ve come a long way from red and black graphics, but it really is the best comparison we have, and it failed miserably. It was bulky, it created headaches, and people generally weren’t fans of strapping a machine onto their head. Even with the massive advancements in technology since then, I would still approach the virtual reality idea with a ton of caution, if for no other reason than the failure that was the Virtual Boy. I just don’t see this caution being exercised yet, possibly because no one wants to be caught flat footed. Companies see their competitors dabbling in something new, so they launch into that same area. They can’t allow their competition to be the only game in town.

As I said early on, this is all my opinion, but this whole venture gives me the same vibe I’ve gotten from other short-lived fads. Ultimately, I do hope I’m wrong here. Competition and technological advancements could ultimately make for better gaming and more immersive experiences. I can get behind the idea of exploring Rapture or Mars or a planet in the Metroid universe in this kind of set-up, but I’m just not yet sure that we’re at the point yet where that can be done in a way that is affordable and doesn’t require uncomfortable peripherals of some kind. I also need to confess my bias here as someone that wears glasses. Having to wear a second set of 3-D glasses is bad enough. I can’t even imagine how annoying hoisting one of these headsets on my head would be.

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