It’s been one year since the current generation of Virtual Reality headsets arrived, so how has it gone down? Is VR everything we hoped it would be?
There was much excitement around the launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both headsets were hyped to hell as devices that were apparently going to change gaming forever. When my Vive arrived and I pulled it on for the first time (after also messing with the Oculus DK2 for months), I was super excited. I’ll admit that perhaps I had succumbed to the hype machine just a little. Having opened what would be considered a VR arcade in the nineties which set me on my PC gaming path, I’ve always kept a close eye on the technology.
The two main choices
I will admit, I was slightly disappointed with the visual quality of this generation of headsets. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Still, the Vive was a step up from the DK2, and that was a big plus. However, neither the Vive nor the Rift’s headset designs were especially great. Only Sony managed to get it right with their PSVR headset; which was surprising, because there are plenty of examples of comfortable headsets from the nineties.
Over the past year I have watched all kinds of VR games hit the market and I think it’s safe to say that the first six months of VR were more than a little ropey. There were all kinds of experimental experiences, but it was clear that developers were slightly struggling to make engaging games with the new tech.
The wave shooter has been the most popular VR game type in the past 12 months, but the problem with these is repetition. Once you’ve shot at objects moving around a virtual room or flying towards you a few times, it starts to wear thin. Fine for half an hour but not exactly an engrossing experience.
Seated VR inside some kind of cockpit is probably still the best way to experience VR. It usually prevents any motion sickness and, more importantly, it feels right. It’s also probably why Oculus were not too concerned about roomscale when they launched the Rift. With the cockpit-based EVE: Valkyrie being pushed to sell the Oculus Rift, it was impressive enough to encourage gamers to buy the hardware.
CCP created a visually stunning game with EVE: Valykrie
I’ll also address motion sickness quickly: While still an issue for some, it’s not been nearly as bad as many expected. Nineties VR was terrible for motion sickness, but the new tech (with an increased FOV) has helped reduce the symptoms. I’ll admit that on occasions inside the Vive I will start to feel it coming on. I’ll start to go lightheaded and sweaty. It’s not pleasant. It’s therefore still an issue, but not quite as bad as I was expecting prior to the new hardware launches last year.
In the past six months, we have started to see more solid VR releases finally come through too. Games such as Raw Data and House of the Dying Sun have proved that VR can be more than just a ten minute blast. While I’m not a huge fan of Early Access, there are benefits for VR developers, as it gives them access to valuable feedback from what is essentially a small audience of gamers. That’s an important step.
House of the Dying Sun looks cracking in VR
The price of the top-end VR kit is still too expensive, and, in my opinion, it’s not worth the money. We have seen Oculus making an attempt to bring the price down, and Vive recently knocked $100 off as part of their anniversary, but it’s still a long way off from being acceptable. A year on and I think many gamers had hoped that VR would be slightly more affordable by now, but the whole VR thing still feels very experimental. With other manufacturers such as LG working on their own headsets, we can only hope that competition starts to drive prices down as tech improves.
Developers will struggle to make money developing for VR and many have opted to finance their titles by joining forces with Oculus and their marketplace. It’s not easy making money when the audience is relatively small and costs are high.
Vive dominates on the Steam charts
Looking at the Steam stats, only 0.24% of Steam users are playing VR games. The Vive is still dominating market share at the moment which is to be expected considering it released with roomscale and controllers. High-end VR kit numbers are growing, but very slowly. Probably slower than many expected; and price is still the main issue.
It could still be a few more years until it becomes a worthwhile investment, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the hardware manufacturers who are looking at getting their hardware in front of the public via VR specific venues. Countries such as China and Taiwan appear to be leading the way here. Having first-hand experience of opening a VR venue back in the 90s I know that can work. When I opened my venue in the late nineties the mainstream press interest in what were trying to do was very high. There’s no reason why that would be any different now. Just let more people try it first.
So how do I feel about VR currently? After being very excited about VR tech back in the 90s I was skeptical about this generation. 90s VR came and went in a flash due to the less than spectacular technology. This generation of VR tech has been a slight disappointment, and it’s still going to need more time, cheaper hardware, and developers that understand the platform to make the most out of the technological possibilities. It’s by no means dead, but it has some way to go.