Virtual Reality, or VR, is a dream we all carry with us. At the moment though it is far more awesome in concept than reality. Many of us read books like “Ready Player One” and “Snowcrash” and fantasized about living in a virtual world where we can do anything. I don’t just want to play games where I’m acting the hero. I want to be the hero. I want to fly, to fall, to pick up cars with my bare hands. Okay, honestly I probably want a holodeck, but a fully integrated virtual reality system is a close second. But virtual reality is here and holodecks are not, so let’s get into whether VR is worth adopting yet.
First off, let me take a moment to clarify something I accidentally misrepresented in this week’s Podcast (Recorded 3/7/2017). I incorrectly stated that the Vive and the Oculus came down in price $200 and that’s not accurate. The Vive headset has not dropped in price at all, and the $200 people are talking about with Oculus come in the form of a $100 price cut on the Oculus headset and another $100 price cut on their Touch motion controllers. This puts the effective price of the Oculus and controllers at $600, compared to the Vive which is currently sitting at $800 (which includes the headset and both controllers).
I mention that first because price is perhaps one of the biggest hurdles most people come across when contemplating whether to adopt the technology. For gaming purposes alone, dropping $6-800 on one accessory you won’t use with all/many of your games is a hard sell. Nobody bats an eye if your monitor or your TV costs that much because no matter what you’re playing it’ll work just fine. That said, even monitors drastically came down in price and now can be had for $150 or less.
Any new technology is expensive at first though, so let’s assume that over time the price will come down as it did with flatscreen TVs and monitors, CD players, and smartphones. Not only will prices drop because the technology is cheaper at scale, but also because competition will drive prices down. This is already what we’re seeing in the Oculus change a couple weeks back. Oculus got soundly beat by the Vive and PlayStation VR, so they lowered their price and hopefully, for their sake, cut their costs as well in order to do so. Samsung has their cell phone based VR solution. Google’s got something (something in cardboard I believe, if not something more in development). I saw that LG was making a VR headset too. And then you’ve got a lot of other smaller companies developing their own solutions like Razer, Pico VR, CastAR (this is more augmented reality, but still), etc.
These companies, along with software developers, are tackling technological challenges with gusto. Merely cutting the cords will make the whole package more attractive, and offer more value as well. I used to work for a company developing a VR headset and very early on they wanted it to be as wireless as possible but it just wasn’t feasible yet. They understood that nobody wants to have 13 different cables hanging off of their head trailing across the room to their console or computer. There’s something to be said about having zero setup time as well. Using headphones is as simple as picking them up, turning them on, and popping them on your head. Using a VR headset on the other hand involves clearing the room, running the cables so you don’t trip over them, calibrating the sensors, and hoping nobody films you while you look around and wave your arms about vigorously.
Which brings us to our next point of contention. Even if they were affordable, and even if they were wireless, they effectively require a room that’s clear of obstacles (unlike most people’s living rooms where their console lives). Generally speaking there’s software built into most of these systems to prevent you from walking into walls, and some will account for furniture, but you will almost definitely want to minimize the risk to your own safety by clearing out a room for your shenanigans. How many people have an extra room they can devote to VR?
And finally, there’s the dearth of software. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. The VR games in existence, for the most part, are at the level of tech demos. You might get as much as a few hours out of something like Rocksteady’s “Batman: Arkham VR”, but at the end of the day the game developers haven’t quite figured out what they’re doing.
You don’t just get new technology and then immediately conquer all the new challenges and create the best, optimized, content. The same is true for VR where there are issues with motion sickness and disorientation, and more generally the necessary rethinking of many game mechanics. Some of these are initially being overcome by not letting people actually move or walk around, forcing the user to teleport from one place to the next so as to bypass the problem entirely. But soon someone will discover a workable solution for this, and many other problems. And once those hurdles are overcome, more involved and deeper games will be made.
Given its current state of affairs, are you ready for VR? Is VR Ready for you? In my world the answer to both of those questions is No, but once Star Citizen is released in its entirety I’ll have to reassess the situation. Are you an early adopter of virtual reality? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.