To many gamers, the year thus far can be called the “Year of Virtual Reality.” With the release of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive in the Spring and the recently released PSVR, it seems that virtual reality is the next big step in gaming. However is this really the next big step in gaming innovation or is it just another fad in the history of gaming? Let’s look at VR and where it could potentially falter.
As the owner of a virtual reality headset, I truly believe that it is the next step for the industry. I’ve had the Oculus for a few months now and it truly is a life changing experience. Whether it’s a simple game like Keep Calm and Nobody Explodes or a bigger game like Edge of Nowhere, the experience is engaging on a level I haven’t felt playing a game since I was a kid. Over the last couple of decades, games have become more and more immersive in the way they present and make their worlds and putting on a VR headset lets you step into those worlds (or at least some of them for the time being).
So, if VR is so good than what’s the problem? Well, one big problem with VR at this point is that not many people have them. VR has two barriers of entry that are keeping many from investing in a headset. First, the headset itself is expensive. Oculus is $60o and another $200 for Oculus Touch while the Vive is $800, and once you get the headset, you need a computer powerful enough to run the headset (edit: generally the cheapest VR-ready computer I’ve seen is about $800).
Now, recently Sony released PSVR for $500 and is compatible with all PS4s, but for the cheaper price tag, you sacrifice headset quality and how well the tracking works. Regardless, what all this means is that the install base for VR is pretty low and while it remains that way, larger game developers might not want to invest in making VR games.
However, the bigger problem is that many people see VR as a gimmick. After all, this isn’t the first time gamers have seen a so-called “game changing idea” only for it to fall flat on it’s face. Let’s look back a decade ago. 10 years ago, gamers across the world were getting ready for the launch of the Wii. The Wii initially took off on the premise of motion controls and the pitch of getting closer to games than ever before. People loved being able to ‘actually play’ tennis or sword fight with friends on the weekends or family around the holidays. The success of the Wii even prompted Sony and Microsoft to add motion controls to their consoles with the Move and the Kinect respectively.
Yet as it turned out, motion controls was not the next step in gaming. The Wii eventually peaked since gamers didn’t want to play it in the long term and developers didn’t want to make games for it. The PS Move was a flop and was a dead idea (at least until the PSVR came to life but we’ll get to that in a minute). And even despite Microsoft trying as hard as it possibly could to make the Kinect a thing, it has officially died a pitiful death with the release of the Xbox One S.
So, is VR destined for a similar life span as motion controls? And why mention motion controls at all? Well all three major VR headsets have a connection with motion controls. The Vive shipped with two motion controllers, PSVR supports the Move, and the Oculus will get its own motion controllers soon with the release of Oculus Touch in December.
But here’s the rub. Motion controls actually have a home here with VR. After playing around with the Vive, I have to say it’s incredibly fun to interact with the worlds you are seeing. Games like Job Simulator and Raw Data present you experiences that you could not recreate without both a VR headset AND it’s respective motion controls.
Despite my complaining above, motion controls are actually fun again. Perhaps it’s because it allows you to interact with the VR world more than you can with just a headset. Maybe it’s because most VR playing sessions are done in short bursts, which is better suited to both VR and motion controls. Maybe it is just that motion controls just came too soon and now is their time to shine. Or. Maybe it’s because we’re still in the honeymoon phase and in three or four years we will all be sick of it. Regardless of what it is, HTC and Sony have done something incredible with their headsets and motion controls and I cannot wait to see how the Oculus Touch enriches the experience of the Oculus Rift.
So back to the original question. Is VR the future of gaming? I say yes. What Oculus, HTC, and Sony have made, coupled with what developers have created using the technology is nothing short of amazing. It is something that I think everyone, both gamers and non-gamers alike, should experience at some point. While the price of both the headsets and the necessary computer or console is a large deterrent, VR is still the next huge step for gaming. I think the better question is “how long will it take for VR to really catch on?” Perhaps it’ll be a few years or maybe longer for headsets to be affordable for it to be in every home but I am certain that once people experience this, they won’t be able to look back.