E3 Proves Video Games Can't Save Virtual Reality
As someone who grew up with video games, descending upon Los Angeles for the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo felt like a rite of passage. Although many major publishers have opted for their own show, there is still an atmosphere of excitement to see the latest offerings from some of the most influential video game makers in the world. And while E3's noticeably software-heavy announcements confirmed we are in a hardware refresh limbo, there was one piece of tech that was curiously missing from the show floor spotlight - virtual reality.
In actuality, the two foremost champions representing the best interests of Virtual Reality - Sony PlayStation and Oculus VR - with the former commanding the charge. Oculus, on the other hand, was banished to a few small cubbies attached to the back of the Facebook booth. Microsoft and Nintendo are arguably Sony's biggest competitors, and neither had any plans on making VR a staple of their consoles going forward.
Now to clarify, all three of the major console manufacturers have dabbled, invested, and otherwise entertained the idea of adding VR to their offerings. However, it seems that they all are drifting to Augmented Reality, the more practical cousin of VR. Arguing the practical use cases and benefits of AR is pretty simple, but VR doesn't have those benefits, leaving it in a very tough position.
It seems that the industry is getting bearish with VR, and its last bastion of content in video games is now abandoning the otherwise DOA technology.
The problem seemed to revolve around content mostly. What can you do with VR that traditional mediums don't offer? The question is hard to answer and usually provides more problems than benefits. In fact, the main problem with VR video games involves fatigue and high entry barriers.
The point of VR is to use your body and be, to some degree, active. A 15-minute demo of the new boxing title Creed on the PlayStation VR left me sweaty, and a bit winded. I'm certainly not fit enough to go a few rounds with even the most amateur of boxers, but my experience with the video game indicated that this was not a title I could play for hours on end.
Considering I've put so many hours into some video games that it is simply easier to just measure that time in days, I don't see myself investing a lot of effort in something that intense. But even beyond the physical aspect, I'm not convinced that wearing any headset currently on the market is comfortable enough for hours of use. Some are manageable, but the extra peripheral takes a toll on the eyes.
And while those are indeed all subjective points, objectively speaking VR is still pretty expensive. We, as in industry, are in a better place to begin offering more affordable solutions (e.g., Oculus GO, Smartphone, PSVR) but $1,500 currently buys a headset and a computer that will otherwise struggle to maintain an enjoyable experience with modern VR titles.
I know many retailers know their way around an upsell, but I just don't see that many consumers investing that kind of money within the current wasteland of notable content.
So is there an upside with VR? Possibly. As mentioned, PSVR and Oculus are leading the charge, in two pretty different directions, and PlayStation has pushed 2 million VR models compared to their 70 million console units sold. Or, roughly 2.9% of users.
Of course, Facebook buying Oculus doesn't accurately spell the end of times for the company, but I'm not a big fan of the purchase. Some think Yahoo looked foolish for not buying Google in 1998 for $1 million, but that's because Google found a ton of success on their own. Oculus will never know what that future built on their own prosperity could have brought - which in all fairness could have been underwhelming - but immediately selling out to a social media company doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
So while VR is in a tight spot, it's also not entirely finished. The problems detailed here are minor, and VR is still a fledgling technology, but AR has already seeming begun vying for the crown, and there may not be any room for VR once mainstream adoption hits.