The Current Virtual Reality Push is Half-Baked
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!