Virtual Reality Was Supposed To Be The Future Of Gaming. What Happened?

E3 2015 was supposed to be the year of VR. It was supposed to be the coming out party for the future of video games. What happened?

It’s a question I’ve been giving a lot of thought. Along with the obvious follow-up: will virtual reality actually live up to its promise? Will it be a success?

My opinion in a single sentence. I love VR, and I want it to succeed so badly because I love it, but recently I’ve started worrying about the obstacles.

Perhaps there are too many obstacles. Perhaps those obstacles are insurmountable.

Here is a list of reasons why VR should succeed.

-- It’s a unique, truly immersive experience that feels like a genuine forward leap for interactive experiences.

That’s one thing. It’s an important thing. But here is the flip-side of that argument. Here is a list of reasons why it might not succeed, off-the-top of my head.

-- It’s an expensive peripheral.

-- It’s not a social experience.

-- Setting it up is complicated.

-- It’s heavy.

-- There’s going to be a lot of negative mainstream press.

-- It’s a fragmented thing, too many different models.

-- You have to use it to ‘get it’.

-- People get motion sick.

-- People are going to get injured while using it.

-- There aren’t enough games yet.

-- No-one has really solved the issue of how to move in 3D space.

-- VR has failed in the past and has a bad reputation.

That list took me five minutes to write. Worst of all: it feels like the beginning of a longer, more detailed list. It’s not definitive. Not even close.


How to describe the moment when I first used the Oculus Rift. Life-changing seems silly and overblown. It didn’t literally change my life, but here’s what happened: my brain was immediately alive with all the possibilities, I was suddenly enthusiastic about the future of interactive entertainment. In short: I was aboard the hype train. I was aware of the obstacles then, but they somehow melted away at face of my white-hot-burning enthusiasm. How could this fail? It was incredible.

VR is still incredible.

It still has the potential to blow me away. This is not 3DTV. This is not a pair of weird glasses and $28 for a movie ticket. VR is the real deal. It changes your video game experience, it transforms it. VR is not the kind of thing you get ‘used to’. It’s not an augmentation, it’s a revolution really. Literally.

To have tried VR is to love it.

Well, that’s what I used to think. I used to think the world was divided into people who didn’t like VR and people who had actually used it. Now it’s starting to feel a little fragmented. There are people who literally have no intention of ever trying it. There are people as hyped as me. There are people who tried VR and were completely underwhelmed. People who tried VR and instantly wanted to throw up.

Once upon a time VR seemed like the safest bet to me, but in the wake of my first play reality has slowly started chipping away at the armour. Casting the first stone: you, the Kotaku Audience. I very rarely comment on what you guys and girls click/don’t click on, but this is impossible to ignore: Kotaku readers simply aren’t that interested in reading about VR. Whether it’s the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus or Gear VR, VR is simply a topic that has never gained traction with you. That surprised me. That still surprises me.

Second thing: VR’s struggle to solve problems that I hoped might be solved already. Prime among them, the fact that it’s still being sold as a mostly PC peripheral. By this time I was hoping that Oculus would have some sort of solution that made VR more accessible to a broader audience. I expected some sort of console style package, some one-size-fits-all solution that people could buy in JB Hi-Fi or Dick Smith. We don’t have that yet. If mainstream tech stores do sell VR headsets, they’re gonna sit snugly between keyboards and expensive headsets.

That’s not where VR belongs.

Thirdly, and most recently, VR’s absence from E3 was concerning. It barely registered at Microsoft’s conference, despite the fact the Oculus is going to work with the Xbox One. It barely showed up at Sony’s conference despite the fact Sony is working on its own proprietary tech. The games Sony did show? Worryingly low-tech, short experiences. Sony isn’t going all-in on VR just yet.

So a disappointing showing, but one that makes perfect sense.

And this is probably the most worrying part. These companies – your Microsofts, your Sonys, your Valves – they’re starting to realise: VR is an extremely tough sell. You literally cannot comprehend the impact of VR until it’s on your head and you’re experiencing it. This is, by far, the biggest obstacle to the success of VR as a medium.

Will VR succeed? In the long term: probably. When experiencing VR is as simple as putting on a pair of sunglasses, when all problems are solved and all obstacles are removed there is little doubt that VR will be ‘a thing’. Right now that future is a blip on the vanishing point. It’s an end point stretching into some impossible distance. Somehow it feels further away than it did two years ago.

That’s not how these things are supposed to work.

Somehow, by becoming more real, VR feels less likely to succeed. As details become more concrete the obstacles become more obvious. An irony: the closer virtual reality comes to actual reality, the less real it becomes. Sort of like a mirage. Close enough to touch, but my hand goes right through it. Almost as if it doesn’t exist at all.


Comments

    Yep, agreed all around.

    I tried the DK2 with a simple rollercoaster sim and watched 3 minutes of a movie in a virtual movie theatre (with other virtual people). The limits seem endless but the hardware and fragmentation of it is concerning. It'll slowly trickle it's way across but heaps of early adopters will get burnt.

    I'm keen either way :)

    I sincerely hope you are wrong, and its huge.

    Maybe Sony/Occulus need to pay for a roadshow type setup, where they travel the country with demo units and take preorders
    ?

    I pretty much agree with all of this.
    VR is great fun for 'experiences', art installations, promotions, maybe even arcades with the right games.
    It is fantastic for Xwing vs TIE Fighter type games, No Man's Sky, Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen etc. and could be great for driving games, and I think the simulator/racer/space guys will buy, and more importantly, use them.
    Outside of that, strapping on even a lightweight HMD is a pain, its immersion also becomes its downside, and controllers are problematic, and play can be plain exhausting.

    Games will be expensive to develop well, and likely have a far lower install base than say, the Kinect or Sony Eye, so big risk for anyone spending investment in a AAA title.

    This leaves out motion sickness, safety, and potential vision issues.

    I love that VR is pretty much finally here, I develop for it, but have been pretty sure all along (I was there with Virtuality in the 80s) that it won't be the massive hit, and paradigm change that the media has been hyping these last few years. I'll be surprised if it is as successful as 3DTV.

    I'm hoping it does really well, a long portion of my life has been invested in working with it, and wanting it to 'happen', but I can't see it being the killer peripheral so many advocates think it will be.

    I do hope someone does make a VR Xwing vs TIE fighter title though...

    Quick question to all the Rift owners out there (we have a few here, DK1s and DK2s) who aren't developing for it, how often do you use your rift, i.e. how many days a week on average, and for how long per session?

      Have a Dk1. Rarely, in short bursts.
      Mainly due to the low rez and lack of optimisation in games.
      If I had a release version I'd use it every time I played Elite and any game designed with it in mind.

      I recently got a DK2, but I'm using it for development. Got plenty of small ideas that I want to make.
      When I'm not making stuff, I enjoy watching videos on it.

    My biggest problem with getting excited about VR at the moment is that it seems like a luxury item akin to 3D TV, flight sticks/steering wheels, expensive sound systems and gaming chairs (The rumbling kind). It's not really the same as going from SD to HD, nor is it like going from Cassette Tapes to CDs it's another way to interact with a game.

    Of course, I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who hasn't tried it yet but even still, unless I am totally blown away by it and find that I just can't go back to the games I play and enjoy right now there's just no reason to see it as anything other than something I would go somewhere else to play.

    You're also going to need big titles to support it and given how many promising peripherals have come and gone or stagnated (eg. Kinect, Move, Wii and Wii U tablet) because no one did anything interesting, VR may never find the support it needs to thrive.

    Last edited 24/06/15 2:27 pm

    I wear glasses, so I dont think wearing the headset will work :(

      I wear glasses in my headset most of the times. There is enough room in the DK2 with the second set of lenses. So all is good in the world. :D

      NVM guy above answered with actual experience.

      Last edited 24/06/15 2:29 pm

      Both Oculus and Morpheus have been designed to allow for people that wear glasses. Many E3 attendees wear glasses and have reported no issues with the experience.

      Actually they've mentioned several times that the consumer version of the oculus rift is friendlier to glasses-wearers. They have a piece that can be inserted that offers additional space. Definitely something to look into!

    My Dk2, was great at first. But with all the wires in addition to my HOTAS setup it became too cumbersome. In the end i started playing Elite Dangerous without it for convenience. I mean the experience can't be beat, but there a times you plonk yourself down and just want to play something right there and then.

    For the way Elite should really be played, i would have to pull out my dk2, plug my usb cables in, plug the camera in, calibrate the camera, then plug my pedals and my Thrustmaster HOTAS in. Once that is done i need to have enough room for those wires to be draping over the back of neck and give my head enough movement, and after all of that add in my headphones. Yay... wires galore. Only then can I start playing. After all that work i better be playing for at least an hour or all that effort has gone to waste. Sometimes i skip the HOTAS setup entirely and just go for controller. But yeh, still takes awhile.

      Edit: never mind, 8 hours waiting for moderation for something to get posted. Deleted it, don't want to bother moderators.

      Last edited 25/06/15 3:33 am

    Chicken and egg imo, the units will move slowly until there's a compelling reason to buy (high quality content, killer app etc...) and the content will come slowly until there's a large install base. Judging the landscape at the moment is extremely premature, there's isn't a single consumer grade VR headset from the current generation on the market yet.

    There's really no point judging the impact and success of this round of VR until it's actually on the market....

    Mark, I remember seeing the video you did when you first really got some time on VR. You were so pumped and enthused that you couldn't wait to record your feelings about the experience, you filmed your talk about it while you drove home. Watching that video, your sense of excitement for the possibilities was palpable.

    I think that your concerns with VR are really valid - particularly the issues of motion sickness and movement in 3D. Those are my two main barriers to this tech. Most other things can be solved by marketing or clever design, but you can't change people brains when they struggle with this. And this is usually compounded by the disconnect between how we look around in VR (with our heads/eyes) and how we move (with our fingers). Those are hardware problems, but the hardware is us.

    I still think there's lots of possibility for VR, but it's going to be slower, and narrower in it's delivery than what we may have originally expected.

    I feel it would be pretty damn successful if the big boys got together and worked on it as one to ensure that one set would have you covered across platform and allow for more ideas - but as it stands at the moment I don't know which way to look - why should i be interested in x over y?
    It's like when I started looking into Airbrushes for my painting - I was so overwhelmed by the choices that in the end I put it in the too hard basket and will be sticking to brushes only.

    Plus, after the "failure" of peripherals seen in Wii, PS move and Kinnect, it only adds to the pessimism of gimmickary...

    Which all sucks because I love the idea of VR.... I just don't see it working.

    I was super hyped for VR after I tried the first edition rift. Still 100% want to get one at launch.
    The issue is it has been almost 2 years first I since tried it. That is far too long for a hype train to keen rolling. Apparently we are getting models in our hands of some VR by the end of the year, that is probably when I will get bullet hype-train again.
    Things like the dino based "The time machine" by minority have the hype levels at a low simmer, but until the tech is out in the wild I can't get super excited.

    This is purely from a gaming perspective but it's not the only utility VR may have *cough porn cough*.

    IMO it is at least 10 years away before it can make any real inroads. VR largest potential market would be console owners. The consoles just fall way to short spec wise, they currently struggle to maintain 30fps at 1080p. It's been shown that to avoid motion sickness in most cases you need a low latency display @ ~60fps. To avoid eye strain you need around 2160x1200 or 1080p for each eye. Now current gen pc's can handle this without to much issue but consoles? i think they'd sacrifice to much to get that res and framerate.

    Maybe when the next hardware revision comes through consoles (10years away) VR might be have a better look at that market until then it'll just be niche, primarily for sims on the PC.

    What VR really needs is an open standard - i was hoping oculus would do that but now that facebook have bought them up i'd be extremely surprised if they head down that road. FB will prolly want to lock it down and heavily integrate itself into anything it does - which totally turns me off it. If oculus requires a fb account i'll never purchase one.

      The Oculus team has been able to make wonderful experiences on a smartphone. Sony's Morpheus already has 30 games they've been teasing since E3. By all means the experiences should look and play better on a PC- but don't count out the consoles, they might have the largest impact due to the low entry price point.

    I love VR, but like I've been saying since the Rift headset revival this isn't VR. I know it makes me sound cynical but when you sober up and look at Morpheus, the Rift, etc it's clear as day that this isn't ever going to go where the dream of VR promises us. Audio/visual interaction with VR environments is the simplest, easiest part of the VR equation. A headset does a smashing job of those but it caps out there. There's no denying you can do some cool stuff with that tech, but no higher specs or better sensors are going to make a headset experience more than sitting in a cockpit piloting a puppet.
    I'm just hoping the surge in popularity of headset VR injected money into avenues that will eventually result in proper VR. I think it's only a matter of time but that surge in popularity and the resulting letdown could either push it forward or backward ten years.

    It really feels like the fragmentation issue is going to be the real killer here. It's hard for games companies and developers to try create unified VR content for multiple, often completely different systems. Too many people trying to take a slice of the pie may end up ruining it for everyone

    I personally don't like VR. Just not interested at all. However, I think this is because the VR I could get excited by is still too technically far away.

    In the meantime, I'm more interested in the augmented reality hololens might provide us with. Let's take baby steps here. Start with AR, learn from that, then develop full VR in due course. Present me with VR that isn't purely an overpriced, undersupported gimmick destined to fail from lack of consumer interest and I might buy in. It might be ironic that me being uninterested contributes to the very disinterest that will lead to failure, but there you have it. In my opinion there's just not enough to be excited about, yet.

    It's hard to get excited about VR. Games journalists and indie developers were excited when it first came out because they got to use it. To experience it. Us? We got a taste of it at conventions, glimmers of it every month or two as a new development happened. As things dragged out and the release seemed further and further away, we see less ambitious technologies fail to catch on.

    VR could be the most exciting development in video gaming since the home console. The problem is that you have to experience it to get excited. It's not something that translates to excited tweets and split videos. At least, not for long and it has been a long, long time. Well, a long time in internet terms.

    Price is such a factor in all this. At least for me.

    At what point does the expense of the setup get to the stage it simply cannot be a failed purchase? If the Rift, + all the peripherals necessary to use it properly, cost $1000AU, for me (and I expect for many) it MUST be something I'm gunna love using, use a lot, and have real legs over the long term - with little to no doubt, and no ambiguity.

    Right now there’s so much doubt, so much ambiguity – I don’t have enough disposable income to let an item of this value gather dust in the corner, because so big a proportion of a year’s ‘fun money’ may need to be devoted to it (rather than to other things I love).

    To take a ludicrous example, if the whole setup was $200, maybe I go take a punt regardless.

    Perhaps this will be the problem, at least short term?

    Porn will drive the VR industry, as it has for home video/DVDs & mass market internet in the past.

    I’ve never even seen someone else using one.

    I’m really looking forward to it though, because when I do, I’m going to punch them in the dick.

    Right in the dick/dick area! It’s going to be great. I’m really going to take my time to ensure maximum accuracy and impact while they obliviously flail around in their own little game world, enjoying the whimsy and then BLAM! I imagine their brain will freak out for a few seconds trying to work out where this suddenly interactive piece of in-game feedback came from, before realising their fate and crumbing to the ground in tears.

    The future really is going to be a special place.

    I think you're right, and with all the current limitations, VR won't go "mainstream" any time soon. However, it looks as though it won't die like it did previously. It will just chug along slowly in its niche while the tech gradually improves, and one day maybe 5-10 years down the track it stands a shot at the mainstream with the right marketing campaign.

    What I'm hoping for at the moment is more of those "experiences" that people say are so good. The tech may not be at a in-everyone's-home level just yet, but could be great for arcade-like games and experiences, augmented with other things like the motorbike racers you sit on in arcades, or those virtual rollercoasters that physically move you around. Also, interactive VR museum exhibits, both on-location in a museum and if you're lucky enough have a headset at home, you can experience it there, too.

    People aren't that excited about VR yet because it is not a thing. We got shown its potential to be a thing but people will continue to doubt whether it will be a thing until it is a thing.
    I look forward to it being a thing, and once it is a thing we will then see where it goes from there with all its potential to do things.

    VR will succeed long term there is no doubt about it, If you have ever paid for a decent flight stick set-up, racing wheel or you ever experimented with triple screen setups you will get into VR.

    Will the average gamer get into VR? Not at first, adoption will be slow at first but it will pick up steam. (no pun intended) Especially as it become more plug and play.

    It's the next gen of consoles where the real war will be fought concerning VR.

    Counterpoint:

    I'm entirely onboard with virtual reality and I think it will become mainstream.

    The distribution model is a cinch compared to VR platforms of the past: take Project Morpheus, for example. All you need is the headset, with everything else delivered by the console you already own, including the games which can be directly downloaded. It's extremely accessible and the risk factor is a paltry $200 or so.

    Will it work for everything? Of course not. In it's current guise, you're limited to gaming experiences that involve standing or sitting but that still provides plenty of scope. At E3, people got to be a horse, fly in spaceships, race cars, shoot up banks and star in horror movies. None of it felt restrictive because you couldn't physically move around.

    But the main thing that convinced me virtual reality is the real deal was playing "normal" games after my VR experience. Traditional first-person games just felt kind of shit by comparison. It was like going from an IMAX theatre back to an old-timey nickelodeon. VR is totally going to happen in a big way.

      If Morpheus was $200, then it might be a success, at the more likely $499, far far less so.
      I can't see anything that bolts onto your head to go mainstream, I really want to be wrong, but I just can't see how it can.
      Going back to normal gaming feels crap after using VR, I don't think you will get any disagreement there, but talk to the space sim community that also own a DK2, and most people have gone back to playing, for example, Elite Dangerous, on screen after the initial excitement wears off a bit, and the Rift sits on the shelf.
      Convenience is king in this decade, and VR experiences so far have been far better in short bursts, like casual gaming, except, and this is a big but, without the convenience, and that is where, apart from all the other obstacles, I think it comes undone.

        In total agreement that it works better in short bursts. Ideally, a story-driven VR game should last no longer than 60 minutes and be enjoyed in a single sitting.

        This is completely at odds with how traditional games are played -- which is exactly how this stuff needs to be marketed. Instead of a gaming peripheral, it should be treated as its own thing with new rules and expectations. It's going to be a tough sell, but I think it's doable.

    This reads a bit like any number of articles I've seen attempting to answer "I love X, how do I convince everybody else to love it too?"

    The basic answer is "show them the best bits of X." The problem with VR right now is that it's not at the point where people can buy, or even really try, the technology. If I wanted to buy a VR platform today, the only one I can actually get is Google Cardboard. The rest are in development or in beta.

    That's fine if you're a developer or a beta participant, but there comes a point where from the outside looking in where the breathtaken exclamations stop being interesting and start being boring. The publicity on VR tech peaked too quickly. The basic mantra of "show, don't tell" is not an option.

    Once the headsets start arriving at retail this may change. For now, the only exposure you can get is at a conference like E3... and there aren't enough such opportunities to get the bulk of gamers interested. Journalists, sure, but I've been reading excited journalists spout on about Oculus Rift for about three years now. The story is getting old; give us something we can try ourselves.

    My question is, why are we using decades-old tech for VR? Where's my freaking peripheral vision?

    If purely for driving games, VR would sell a crapton. If you buy a wheel/pedals, you buy VR.

    But not now, cos it sucks.

      http://www.starvr.com/ This headset has 210 degrees vision.

        NICE. You're the man, Thompson. That shit is beautiful. Two QHD screens? 210 degree? That's what I'm talking about.

        Oculus blows. Outdated tech with even more outdated design. My tinfoil says that their marketing is insane, which is why this is first time I've heard of Star VR - the superior device.

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