My misgivings of VR and the mainstream audience

I’m still skeptical about VR. About this supposed virtual renaissance we’re about to go through. I don’t doubt that gaming media will be filled with stories about VR in the coming months, that it’s going to be a big talking point for a while. Billions of dollars of Facebook money has made it obvious that it’s an inevitability. Where my misgivings about VR are bubbling up is them finding their way into the average person’s home, becoming the staple device that the console or PC are by the end of this year or next.

oculus-rift-final

Video games media is gushing left and right about the upcoming VR headsets, but it’s easy to say that when you’re getting guided tours of the future. I’m not trying to be petulant here, I’m just stating that in the position of privilege games media find themselves in, of course they’re going to see this for the exciting innovation that it is. The hard sell, and nobody is fooling themselves that this isn’t one, is getting these devices in people’s homes.

I’ll concede that right now that I have had no first hand experience with a VR device, everything I know is based on second hand information from genuinely excited game’s media. Maybe the day I do get to play with one of these devices, I’ll have a revelation, throw my hands to the sky and change my option utterly. But I haven’t, and I think that’s the genesis of my whole issue with VR right now.

It’s said that you can’t appreciate or fully understand VR until you try it yourself, and I believe that, but as an amateur video game’s writer with no access to the industry, I’ve got no way of trying one of these headsets. And these products are all due to go on public sale in the next few weeks, considering they need to get goggles on faces to convince people of their concept, making that happen doesn’t seem a priority right now.

I do not plan on buying a VR headset of any kind, in fact I have no plans to ever buy one as things stand right now. There are a whole slew of reasons for that, not least of them is the price of the things.

The Oculus Rift headset is tested by attendees at the Eurogamer Expo at Earls Court in London.

The Oculus Rift, the one that started this whole thing off. Initially funded through Kickstarter and later bought up by Facebook for billions. It’s the first device that got real media coverage and brought the attention of VR as a real and tangible thing to the informed masses. Upon release The Rift will cost £500 ($599), which is not too outrageous for a new console or PC, but the Rift doesn’t work on it’s own and requires a pretty powerful PC setup. Increasing the price further.

But there are alternatives to the Rift, like the HTC Vive, an option for the even more invested. Making use of a wireless headset and multiple lasers placed around the room, not only does the headset place your head into the virtual reality, but your entire body too. The downside being you need quite a large open space to play it in, somewhere you can trust you’re not going to put a dent into your shin or fall from a precipice. Again, you need a very beefy PC to run this. £689 ($799).

HTC-Vive

 

It’s not all going to require a elephant PC though, Playstation VR, previously known as the Morpheus, is not run by a PC, but rather a PS4, which might make it a good alternative to people who don’t have a PC. It’s an accessory akin to the Playstation Camera or the Playtation Move Controller, both of which you will also need to incorporate the VR. While being cheaper than alternatives, it still costs £349 ($399). But with the camera costing £45 ($60) and the move controller being £30 ($50), neither of which most people will have, the price will climb up.

Then we get to the lesser known models; the Sulon Q. This headset differentiates itself by combining VR with Augmented Reality, allowing you too see whats in front of you while still generating virtual images. Unlike the previously mentioned headsets, the Q is in itself a PC and could be used as a standalone product, and doesn’t require a PC or console to run. No price yet, but defiantly still has to prove itself against the high end experiences of its comparators.

There are a number of other products in development like the Samsung Gear VR or the LG 360 VR, but these are less about gaming, and use phones to give their VR experience. All purposes make these products seem like they might have more practical real life uses than the gaming focused headsets I’ve already mentioned, giving virtual tours or spaces or being used by doctors.

nasa-sony-playstation-vr-mighty-morphenaut

I’m not just going to complain about price here though, despite it being an obviously sizeable investment. Because it’s not just the price stopping me from wanting one of these devices of the future; they’re a first generation device, with no prior goodwill to look or basis of comparison with existing products. it’s uncharted waters. It’s because of this that, to me, everything on these headsets feels more like a proof of concept than a complete idea. There are still a lot of things we don’t know about VR, how certain games will integrate control without a game pad for example. Basic locomotion within a game, without using a pad or without making the player sick is still a sticking point for some developers.

The experimental nature of many of the VR games in development comes across what I’ve seen of the launch library for them. To me many of the VR games look like gimmicks, concepts or sometimes superfluous to being on a VR headset at all. And when it comes down to it, the thing that would turn me into a consumer of these products are good games, and I simply haven’t  had anything pique my interest.

We’re going to have to endure a lot of marketing with faces like this.
We’re going to have to endure a lot of marketing with faces like this.

There certainly are more polished and complete looking VR games out there for the release, like Edge of Nowhere and The Assembly. But they’ve yet to sell me in how playing them on a headset is superior to my television in any way. As much as those who have tried these headsets speak of immersion, I think there is always going to be an inherent disconnect with these games when it comes to any kind of movement when using the headset. In regard to the Vive, moving around a three meter square space can only provide so much for a video game. The second you start bouncing around in something like Rigs, then the disconnect becomes apparent and the headset suddenly becomes nothing more than an intensely expensive right thumb stick.

While I might be coming across a rather negative here, by no means do I think Virtual Reality is a dead end or a short lived gimmick. VR has huge applications beyond video games, like medicine, science and architecture. It’s breakthroughs in those sectors I’d be more interesting in hearing about. VR has been an inevitability for a long time now, but when it comes to video games, it has a lot more to do to turn my head, and convince the general public they need to drop as much money as they do to be a part of it.

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