Virtual Reality - The Challenges We Face - Part 1
My first VR experience was playing Team Fortress 2 at an Australian game convention in 2014. The line was long; the experience was nauseating and ultimately underwhelming. This set the tone for how I would envision virtual reality since. It has been nearly two years later, and I've recently been employed to work as a Unity Specialist at a VR Lab. With access to the newest equipment, I've spent roughly 20hrs in VR (Primarily the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift).
My opinions about VR have been radically reformed - Hurray! VR Sales are underwhelming and haven't been the commercial hit we've expected - Boo! While I'm hopeful that we see an uptick in sales around Christmas, I'm not holding my breath...
Virtual Reality has some large obstacles to overcome if we want to be relevant for consumers. This series will go over several of these challenges, but I'll start with the issue immediately apparent to developers.
There is a great tug of war occurring between developers and consumers. Developers are hesitant to create content for a new platform when they could reach 50x as many potential customers on existing consoles. Consumers are making a risk investing in a product with a fraction of the development attention that modern consoles and platforms receive.
Developers spend tons of time and energy creating experiences for VR. Even if VR hits its most optimistic Christmas projections, any developer creating content for this platform will be targeting a much smaller audience than they would otherwise reach if they instead focused on the established film and game hardware. On top of this, there are currently five unique VR platforms;
Each device has its strengths, weaknesses, and utilities. Many business savvy studios are aware of this. Many studios are covering their butts by watering down their product to run on multiple devices instead of focusing in on the strengths of any individual headset.
Or worse, several studios have realigned VR integration as a bonus feature, instead of taking center stage. From the short time I've spent developing for VR, I have learned very quickly that many game and film design philosophies fly out the window as soon as you strap a headset to someone's face. I haven't hopped into a game experience with VR as a side-setting that has "Wow'd" me yet.
All of the above boils down to one big problem. There isn't enough high-quality content unique to VR for many consumers to buy into. This is an issue we saw with motion controls and the Xbox Kinect. Few studios embraced the full potential of the technology, and the few consumers who did drop good money on the tech got burnt by the lack of content. Eventually, it ended in a stalemate.
I'm looking at you Kinect, Playstation Move, and to an extent, the Wii U.
One side needs to break before we reach a stalemate.
Fortunately, there are a lot of huge companies pouring billions of dollars into the technology. HTC is aware of this, and earlier this year announced they were partnering with venture capital firms to help fund $10 Billion worth in VR Development. With enough push, developers can take safer gambles into VR development and eventually the consumers will follow.
Thanks for reading!