Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at the past attempts of VR with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Sega VR and discussed the present VR offerings with Vive, Rift and PlayStation VR. But what does the future hold for VR? Will it change the way we play games forever? Will it go beyond that into changing our lives and the way we live in the future? Or will it be forgotten about and become nothing more than next year’s landfill. Come with me as we take a trip into the future. Unfortunately, I don’t have a big blue box to travel in so instead let’s take a ride on the speculation train!
VR has always been seen as tech of the future.From films like the Lawnmower Man and Johnny Mnemonic to books like Ernest Clines Ready Player One we have dreamed of a world where VR was real. But now science fiction is science fact! It’s here. Although we’re not quite on the level of strapping ourselves into full body suits, and turning into raging psychopathic geniuses yet.
It’s fair to say the technology behind todays VR headsets is impressive and certainly does offer an immersive experience, but it’s all for nothing if people simply don’t buy it. VR has been tried before and it failed to catch the imagination of users. In order for VR to have a future it needs to attract users and there are a few important questions that every user is going to want to know, “how much will it cost me?” and “what can I play on it?”
Cost is a big stumbling block that the likes of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift need to overcome to become VR for the masses. At the moment they’re just too pricy for the average gamer to afford. HTC could be happy to become an elite device for those that can afford it but would that be enough to allow it to survive? There currently is around 3 million PC’s capable of running VR and that is a market both Vive and Rift are competing for. But how many of those users have pre-ordered or already bought a headset? While sales figures of the HTC Vive have not yet been released its possible to gauge how many units have been sold based on the data from Steam VR downloads. This puts the number of HTC Vive users at around the 100,000 mark as of July 2016. Oculus, which has yet to launch in the UK did have Development kits available through Kickstarter. Figures from that campaign show there is currently 175,000 Oculus rift units sold between the DK1 and DK2 headsets. Both run on windows 10 so that should make software between them compatible, right? Well yes and no. While the majority of games are compatible with both systems making software like that places limits on the developers. For example, Oculus Rift won’t support room size playing so that’s out if you want to run it on there. Developers have to ask themselves with such a reasonably small user base at the moment will you make a return on your investment? So developers take a risk making software for these systems knowing they simply, at the moment anyway, won’t be shifting millions of games. It explains why the majority of games and software available just now could be compared to tech demos rather than full blown games. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It allows developers to try something out, to see if their innovative new game mechanic will work and that can only lead to new interesting games in the future.
The PlayStation VR on the other hand has the 40 million PlayStation 4 users all to itself. PSVR has no competition in the console market. However, having 40 million users available doesn’t translate into instant success unless you can convince them to part with their cash. And that’s where VR faces another problem. How do you get the immersive experience of VR across in a non VR method? Certainly the best way to sell VR is to have users try it for themselves but that’s not always possible. While they are doing their best to have units available to try at various games conventions and events Sony seem to be relying on word of mouth. A quick search on YouTube will show you a whole barrage of people blogging about their experience with it. Will that be enough to translate into sales? Sony have yet to release any pre-order sales figures but we do know the units available to pre-order in March this year sold out within hours of release. A second batch have since been released and are available to pre-order from sites such as Amazon and Game. Sony are playing an intelligent game with their headset. They have learned from past mistakes made with other gaming peripherals which, while good technology, failed due to lack of software support. Funnily enough, PSVR wouldn’t have been possible without them though. Both the PlayStation Eye and the Move controllers didn’t have enough software support to make them a success but both are a key element in PSVR. Sony are gambling big with their headset so aren’t taking the same kind of risks. Andrew House, the CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment has said the hardware part of PlayStation VR was ready nearly a year ago but was held back from launching until such point they felt there was enough software support for it. With 50 games being released between now and the end of the year and a further 200 in development that gamble might just pay off for them. Having the hardware available and in the hands of developers for a good 12 months has led to an interesting development for those who order a PSVR. When launch day arrives you do not need to buy any new games, some of the games you already own will have their own VR experiences for free. Now this does sound like a gimmick, but when one of the games in question is Star Wars Battlefront then things start to get exciting. On October 13th this year gamers who already own Star Wars Battlefront will be able to download the Star Wars VR Experience for free.
VR can also be seen as an isolating gaming experience because the very nature of strapping on a headset blocks out the rest of the room, excluding anyone else from taking part. While it’s true there are a number of multiplayer games available such as RIGS or Star Trek Bridge Commander, the majority of games are a single player experience. One game which has gotten around this in a wonderful way is “Keep talking and nobody explodes” The premise is simple. Solve a series of puzzles on a bomb before the counter reaches zero. The trick is only the person wearing the headset can see the bomb and the puzzles. The other people in the room however have the solution to all the puzzles, they know which wire to cut etc. it comes down to the person in the headset describing what they see accurately enough for the others to determine which puzzle they need to solve. Social gaming at its best!
So does VR have a future in gaming? I think the answer is yes, but it might take some time. There are still a few obstacles that need to be overcome. It needs to attract users, and for my money PlayStation VR is the one with the best chance of doing that. It’s fair to say we are a long way away from Ready Player One’s OASIS where people not only game in virtual reality but also go to work and live their lives in it. But we are heading into a new world of gaming, one that may have a glorious future. That is of course as long as it can survive the competition from Augmented Reality….