The Current Virtual Reality Push is Half-Baked

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Virtual Reality is tout­ed to be the next big new thing. Except it re­al­ly isn’t, but that is for a dif­fer­ent ar­ti­cle. This time it’s dif­fer­ent! Right? We have more pro­cess­ing pow­er at­tached to the head­sets folks are now strap­ping to their face­space, and the head­sets them­selves have a high­er fi­deli­ty than any­thing pre­vi­ous­ly in­tro­duced. So this is per­fect time for a big con­sumer push of this tech­nol­o­gy, right? Not every­one is con­vinced, and I num­ber among them.

But for me it’s more about how they are ap­proach­ing it, be­cause the world of Virtual Reality (VR) does have promise.

That’s not stop­ping the in­dus­try from lay­ing down a lot of time, ef­fort, and mon­ey on tech­nol­o­gy that is still too raw. Looking at it now in the mid­dle of 2016, there are three front run­ner plat­forms and only one step­ping in the right di­rec­tion. That’s not even count­ing the head­sets built to have a smart­phone shoved in them. It seems every tech man­u­fac­tur­er wants to get their fin­gers in this new scene, and yet no­body is re­al­ly look­ing to so­lid­i­fy and ad­vo­cate for the plat­form in gen­er­al. Only their lit­tle fief­dom of it.

At least Oculus has re-allowed soft­ware like Revive back on their sys­tems, to al­low Oculus based soft­ware to be used on the HTC Vive. And Valve’s OpenVR is a step in the right di­rec­tion to­wards a so­lid­i­fied plat­form, but it’s en­tire­ly too ear­ly — and a look at the VR games avail­able con­firms that in my view. But to tru­ly flour­ish as a plat­form, VR hard­ware man­u­fac­tures are go­ing to have to push for much more ubiq­ui­ty. And be­fore that, they have a few steps to im­prove the qual­i­ty of the ex­pe­ri­ence, and to ac­tu­al­ly con­vince the gen­er­al con­sumer that this is some­thing they want in their home.

These de­vices are just be­ing pushed too soon, and it’s only now that pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers seem to be look­ing to even start at pro­vid­ing ex­pe­ri­ences worth the in­vest­ment. Things have to change un­less they want a mar­ket the size of the hard­core flight sim crowd.

It’s not too late to pull VR from the nose­dive that I see it tak­ing, but it’s go­ing to take some work. As it stands, though, the cur­rent tra­jec­to­ry is not a promis­ing one. But what can be done to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion? How can tech man­u­fac­tur­ers sell VR correctly?

First I think we need to look at the ex­pe­ri­ences be­ing pro­vid­ed on these plat­forms, and de­cide if what is be­ing pro­vid­ed in the way of soft­ware and hard­ware is even ready for the typ­i­cal tech adop­tion curve.


When look­ing at the nor­mal flow of tech­nol­o­gy adop­tion, you can see that the push­ers of VR are in the ear­ly adop­tion phase. Or at least they think they are. It’s what their mod­els, busi­ness plans, and PowerPoint pre­sen­ta­tions like­ly point to. But as a man on the street look­ing at VR tech, I can’t help but feel they pulled the trig­ger way too ear­ly. The ex­pe­ri­ences be­ing built cur­rent­ly in VR are ex­treme­ly hol­low, and not sub­stan­tive enough to what con­sumers are used to when it comes to home gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in 2016. That’s not even men­tion­ing the hard­ware it­self is un­wieldy, ob­tru­sive, and so pro­hib­i­tive­ly ex­pen­sive for the mea­ger of­fer­ings you get.

Oh, but would they like to sell the promise of ex­pe­ri­ences to come. Looking at the E3 2016 an­nounce­ments to­wards VR does not in­spire con­fi­dence in me, though. And no, port­ing games like Fallout 4 is not go­ing to be the sav­iour of VR. We al­ready have eas­i­er ways to play that mediocre title.

But that isn’t to say that I don’t see fun ex­pe­ri­ences in VR at the mo­ment. I just don’t see it be­ing com­pelling enough for even ear­ly adop­tion to re­al­ly take hold in the way it needs to for it to push over the hill in the market.

You know what the cur­rent crop of VR “ex­pe­ri­ences” and games look great for? Arcades and en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters. And this where I feel a lot of VR needs to be ex­ploit­ing be­fore they try and bust into a mass home market.

I don’t know any­body that wants to spend $1000+ on the head­set and hard­ware re­quired to run a lot of these ex­per­i­ments of VR that are be­ing pushed for up to $40. But put some of these same ex­pe­ri­ences into a mod­el of “pay $5 for 30 min­utes” style of play at places like Dave and Busters, and you can start in­tro­duc­ing the av­er­age per­son to the thought of VR.

Some folks have got­ten the right idea. VR gam­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence cen­ters are start­ing to pop up over the world, and this is a ma­jor step to­wards cor­rect­ing this VR nose­dive, and I be­lieve these need to be dou­bled down on. The VOID in Utah, Zero Latency in Australia, and the Bandai Namco VR cen­ter in Japan are all on the right path.

These are es­sen­tial­ly VR ad­vo­ca­cy and train­ing cen­ters. You are get­ting the av­er­age con­sumer in touch with the tech­nol­o­gy on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and you are get­ting them ac­cus­tomed to us­ing the tech­nol­o­gy, as well as what to ex­pect from it. It also hap­pens to be the per­fect test­ing ground for div­ing into what re­al­ly works in VR. This is where the VR in­dus­try need­ed to start all along.

A ma­jor­i­ty of first, and even sec­ond gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ences on VR are go­ing to be shal­low by de­f­i­n­i­tion of how fresh de­vel­op­ing for it is. Developers are test­ing the wa­ters to see what works, what doesn’t, and how to push amaz­ing VR-specific game­play. But we are just not there yet for a con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy. There are way too many bor­der­line Wii-style flai­ly games on display.

But these ar­cades and VR cen­ters can be the per­fect for what VR and de­vel­op­ers are ca­pa­ble of right now. You can even push hard­ware and soft­ware that you nor­mal­ly wouldn’t be­cause it isn’t ex­act­ly con­sumer friend­ly yet on pric­ing and avail­abil­i­ty (e.g. omni-directional tread­mills that al­low FPS ex­pe­ri­ences, and hap­tic feed­back wear­ables). You can also tai­lor the rooms them­selves to­wards the ex­pe­ri­ences, in­stead of as­sum­ing your con­sumer has a cer­tain amount of space in their home, and the will to mount sen­sors just so they can ex­pe­ri­ence cur­rent­ly jankey and shal­low games.

Pushing VR into ar­cades and cen­ters tai­lored for it can help im­mense­ly, but what else can be done?

Well, for the love of God they need to uni­fy this plat­form more. As men­tioned above, the Oculus/Facebook gods de­cid­ed to al­low Vive games to be played on their plat­form again, but this is in­dica­tive of a prob­lem that con­sumers will not want to both­er with when nav­i­gat­ing what works and what doesn’t. They will just ig­nore VR, es­pe­cial­ly if there is not even com­pelling con­tent to be had in the first place. What’s to keep them from pulling the plug again?

HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony’s Playstation VR, Samsung’s Gear VR, Razer OSVR, FOVE VR, Zeiss VR One, Avegant Glyph, and more. Where is some­one to start? Which do you need a smart­phone to use and which don’t? Is your even smart­phone com­pat­i­ble? How is the av­er­age con­sumer even sup­posed to know what they want from VR yet, let alone what head­set and hard­ware com­bo will give them what they want?

Treating these dif­fer­ent pe­riph­er­als for VR like they are dif­fer­ent con­soles, and ini­ti­at­ing con­sole war style ex­clu­sive bids — look­ing at you Oculus — I think is only serv­ing to shoot the mar­ket over­all in the foot.

Something is go­ing to have to give, and I think we are go­ing to need a sort of VR al­liance among the se­ri­ous play­ers. We are go­ing to need some sort of stan­dard­iza­tion above the cur­rent OpenVR “stan­dard,” oth­er­wise this tech­nol­o­gy will nev­er get past the ear­ly adopter phase. Consumers are go­ing to need some clear in­di­ca­tor that “X head­set on Y hard­ware will play Z” for sure with no fuss. The cur­rent ecosys­tem is the an­tithe­sis of con­sumer friendly.

Which segues me into my next plea to the VR in­dus­try. The cur­rent bulk, the trail of wires, the sweaty face, the sheer awk­ward­ness of us­ing cur­rent VR tech is pro­hib­i­tive to con­sumer adop­tion. The cur­rent crop of hard­ware is way more suit­ed to short­er use times (see the arcade/VR cen­ter point above). To make more long term ex­pe­ri­ences for home use, and for the av­er­age con­sumer to want to pick these head­sets up, they are go­ing to have to be small­er, lighter, and WIRELESS. At least the mo­tion sick­ness in­volved with these de­vices has been ad­dressed. Whatever the HTC Vive does to mit­i­gate the is­sue seems to be working.

I just still can’t be­lieve they want to push a con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy that is tak­ing peo­ple to dif­fer­ent worlds, yet they need to keep a men­tal note on where that damn wire is when step­ping back­wards, or oth­er­wise mount wire trails to their ceil­ing. There was a re­cent stream from Giant Bomb where they went through a lot of the games avail­able for the HTC Vive, and the “high­lights” reel from that stream is striking.

It also il­lus­trates a lot of my ma­jor gripes with it as a con­sumer prod­uct in it’s cur­rent state. (Note: This is a 20 min col­lec­tion of clips from an 11 hour Stream, and is­n’t in­dica­tive of what Giant Bomb over all thought of their ex­pe­ri­ences. If you got the time, you should check out their whole stream and judge for yourself.)

The bot­tom line is that VR tech­nol­o­gy is promis­ing, but it is be­ing pushed en­tire­ly too soon. If this mar­ket gets the prop­er time to grow, it could be a very promis­ing area for amaz­ing­ly unique ex­pe­ri­ences. But the way it’s be­ing pushed, it’s go­ing to just be a blip un­til folks want to give it an­oth­er go in a few years.

What are your thoughts on the state of VR? Let us know in the com­ments be­low, or online!

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Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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