With the recent announcement by Sony that Playstation VR will release October 2016 and with the upcoming consumer release for the Oculus Rift amongst other VR devices, many gamers have begun to question if the future of gaming is upon us. Like the leap from 2D to 3D graphics, is the next big step upon us? I decided to put my own thoughts in writing on the matter and consider if VR is truly the future of gaming. I should, at this point state that I have never even touched a VR headset, let alone used one so this article is very much from an outsider’s perspective. Nevertheless, as an outsider I am exactly the type of person these devices need to attract to be a viable platform for gaming into the future. Here’s the pros and cons as I see them:
Barrier of Entry and Price
Like all new technologies VR is an expensive choice right now. A number of VR devices including the Oculus Rift require a hefty PC rig to run them at all and the headset’s themselves are expensive too. This limits their impact on a mass market because as prevalent as PC gaming is, not everyone owns the latest and greatest gaming rigs. Sony hopes to circumvent this problem by using the Playstation 4 as a platform to run Playstation VR on. The device is cheaper than its competitors although it is of a lower quality in terms of build and display resolution. It also requires a PS4 and a Playstation camera to function, adding on more cost and building the barrier to entry. Sony’s device is perhaps best placed to hit the mainstream though since its flagship console is selling so well and continues to do so.
It could be argued that all technology starts off expensive and will gradually become cheaper as manufacturing costs decrease and users increase. However, gamers are a selective bunch and its an undeniable fact that VR is an expensive proposition for those that aren’t pioneering the technology. Price isn’t everything but the device must prove its usefulness before the majority of gamers lay down their cash…
Seeing is Believing
Let’s say you’ve sold the gamer on why the device is pretty expensive, how do you demonstrate the experience of VR? There’s really only one way and that’s to have the gamer try it for themselves. This is a problem because unlike traditional games, VR games don’t showcase well on stage or at presentations; it isn’t as simple as showing a trailer or footage from a particular game. The technology is so immersive that you really need to use the device to be convinced of its potential. Unfortunately, most gamers aren’t going to have immediate access to try these headsets on and they would be reliant on using one via a demonstration at a kiosk or borrowing a friends’ to try before they buy. The key for companies like Sony is getting these devices into as many people’s hands as possible so that they can see for themselves what everyone is talking about right now.
On the positive side, VR is an immersive experience and its an experience that you won’t find elsewhere in gaming. Many gamers enjoy escapism. They enjoy not thinking about their own lives for a little while so they can exist in one form or another in a different world. There’s a lot of potential for VR in gaming if it is used correctly with games like EVE: Valkyrie and (if rumours are to be believed) No Man’s Sky, by being able to immerse you in their games like never before. The concept and idea of VR is not new but if developers can really nail the experience of being in a cockpit of a spaceship or traversing creepy haunted houses, then people will sit up and pay attention.
Is VR the Next Playstation Move?
Gamers tend to look to the horizon to see what’s coming next whether it’s that game they’ve been anticipating for months or the next gadget that will transform their gaming experience. However, you don’t need to look very far back to see peripherals that have fallen by the wayside. Microsoft’s Kinect has been pretty much abandoned by Microsoft and was removed as part of the Xbox One’s main bundle some time ago. Playstation Move didn’t work as well as intended and consequently wasn’t fully embraced by developers or even Sony. VR needs to avoid these pitfalls and why it doesn’t necessarily need to capture the zeitgeist like the Nintendo Wii’s technology did, it does need to prove its here to stay. Gamers were promised a lot with peripherals like the Kinect but the reality turned out to be very different.
Part of this problem is a lack of games and here is where I think VR is most liable to fail on the gaming market. A lot of the launch titles for Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are more like experiences and tech demos rather than games. Most people can point to a particular game or even app that made a device a must-have for them. Playstation VR needs this more than other VR devices since Sony has marketed itself as the place for gamers to play. If No Man’s Sky will be a VR game then Sony may have its must-have game but only if it performs well critically and these devices can’t just hang their hats on one game forever. It remains to be seen if larger developers and publishers embrace this technology in the long run.
There’s a lot of stigma and perceived social issues still attached to gaming whether it’s the ongoing debate about the link between video games and violence, sexism or simply that you should be spending more time outdoors. Whatever you think about these issues, similar ones are going to not only heighten these issues but bring up new ones too. Some people, including parents may be concerned at this new, immersive experience harming their children or having a negative impact on their lives. What is the effect on your eyesight by having a screen that close to your face? Are you too cut off from the wider world? There are numerous issues that are bound to crop up and whether you disregard these questions or not, these are the questions mainstream media outlets will latch onto and VR’s image could be ruined before it had the chance to get going.
Practical concerns are important too, as someone who wears glasses I wonder if the experience will be diminished for myself and others like me. Most VR headsets still look clunky and heavy and quite frankly, a number of people are going to point out how stupid you look. These are problems that VR may never completely escape from but there still needs to be good answers and new innovations to improve them.
Into the Future
Although much of this article may come off as negative, I do believe VR has a future in our society however I don’t necessarily believe that future is gaming. There’s a lot of potential for the device when it comes to sport, film and interactive experiences rather than games. That’s not to say great games won’t make their way to VR but I don’t think VR is about to revolutionise gaming and will become in my opinion, a niche product. It is still early days when it comes to VR and the technology will continue to evolve but it remains to be seen if gaming will push this technology to its true potential.