Where’s that virtual reality craze now?
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A few years ago, when Oculus announced its initial highly successful Kickstarter campaign for a virtual reality headset, the community became overly excited – to say the least. It was viral. The company’s plans revealed that we might finally experience proper virtual reality – unlike the early attempts including the notorious Virtual Boy by Nintendo. Now it’s 2019, but VR technologies – despite huge innovations and several well-known manufacturers – is still more of a niche industry. Why is that so?
The good intentions
You might remember those days when Oculus released the very first Development Kit of its Rift headset. It was far from perfect and suffered from various early issues, most of which were successfully battled in newer revisions. The overall initial impression and response, however, were overly positive. The famous DK1 was being sold at an unbelievable speed, and the demand for the device was enormous. Oculus Rift went a long way until the first proper consumer version of the headset entered the market – but it was a blast! The potential of the device led to a huge deal with Facebook – the social media giant bought the company for $2 billion. Before that happened, Oculus was joined by Valve/HTC and Sony among others – when it became clear that the virtual reality market had potential and could be profitable. Valve partnered with HTC in order to produce its HTC Vive headset and a series of tracking solutions including whole-room tracking and positioning of the user along with a set of special controllers.
The original Oculus Rift prototypes made us believe that the VR miracle is close. Sadly, it wasn’t the case.
Interestingly, there was only one console manufacturer to join the VR race – Sony, the creator of PlayStation. At that time, PS4 was already packed with a proper tracking device – the PlayStation camera – so it was pretty clear that the necessary solution was already in place. However, PSVR was a completely new device for the company, and the need for additional computing power forced Sony to pack the headset with a special block – simply because the original PS4 wasn’t capable of rendering a VR picture in real-time. Despite all the issues on the way to mass production, PSVR dealt with them and joined the PlayStation family of devices. In conclusion, after half a decade invested into improving virtual reality and close collaboration between the aforementioned companies, the technologies became fairly sophisticated and the headsets became packed with some really interesting VR projects. But how come virtual reality isn’t popular enough yet?
Wake up, Neo…
Before you run to the local store and buy yourself a headset, you need to understand that the current state of virtual reality is still miles away from the proper immersion. It is really cool and exciting the first few times – just because the initial impression of something you’ve never tried before is overwhelming. You might’ve seen those poor people who cry out loud after being spooked in VR horrors and those who try interacting with nonexistent VR objects – only to fall over and hurt themselves. But even if you don’t become the victim of the VR deception, you start noticing a lot of flaws. And the poor immersion is the major issue. Right now, you can’t freely move and act in virtual reality without a bunch of additional devices and equipment like special controllers, movement tracking devices, special body holders and pads, etc. Add tons of wires to that – and the picture loses all of its romantic beauty. It’s not “The Matrix” level of immersion by any means – and while it is understandable, the development of VR technologies has drastically slowed down. It is limited by existing solutions, and it’s clear that we need a breakthrough in general science to make a step further.
Perhaps, the best VR game was Resident Evil 7 – but the sad side of this story is that RE7 was possibly the only one worth remembering.
Right now, the industry can at least try to deal with the issues that can be effectively avoided. Wireless solutions for headsets still face the problem of latency, and that is a huge issue given the fact that the movement in virtual reality needs to be fast and fluid and the reaction time has to match your actions in real life – otherwise, you’ll encounter motion sickness and nausea. The companies involved in VR development are slowly countering this issue – and we are confident that wireless headsets will soon become a common thing. On PCs, the need for high computing power in order to launch VR games and support headsets is being somewhat battled with the further evolution of computer parts. The same goes for high prices of devices – with time passing by, they are subject to become lower. Still, there’s a huge issue of poor VR games – the best ones won’t even make a list of ten titles whereas regular games for consoles and PCs are literally countless. There’re very few developers interested in making VR projects since the current audience is humiliatingly small – but the audience is unlikely to expand while the offered games are mostly poor.
Yup, that’s a vicious circle – and the VR industry can only escape it with the help of a few major companies still interested in developing the market. Valve, for instance, is hard at work making its very own line of VR devices – separate from HTC this time. It’s not a guarantee that this intention will lead to sensible results – we all remember how the Steam Machines initiative ended. The VR industry is struggling right now, and the initial impression brought by Oculus devkits was lost in the past. The present hasn’t gone far enough to draw the interest of a wider audience – and if we don’t get better games, immersive experience, and comfortable hardware solutions, the situation is likely to worsen even more.