Opinion: VR Is The Future, But The Future Isn’t Now

by Daniel Tack on Jan 10, 2016 at 09:30 AM

Virtual reality promises to take gaming to new heights, offering unparalleled experiences and worlds that we’ve only been able to dream about. This isn’t the first time bold new technology has come into the gaming world, and despite genuine enthusiasm for the potential of the platforms, there are serious factors that could keep the VR flight from taking off. While I firmly believe that VR is the future of gaming, upcoming offerings face significant hurdles to becoming the experience that redefines the medium.

The Price Is Simply Too High

Everyone is talking about the Rift’s $599 price tag that Oculus announced a few days ago, and with good reason. When the exact same figure was dropped for the PS3 years ago, the gaming world was stunned, and that price tag still commands an eyebrow raise today. Factor in that the Oculus doesn’t come with the new touch controllers that you’ll probably also want to acquire, and the need for a mid-to-high end PC, and this technology is ultra-expensive right now. It’s far beyond the means of the average consumer, and certainly out of range for the gamer who can only grab a few titles a year for his or her preferred platform.

Considering 63% of Americans are a paycheck away from financial ruin, upcoming VR tech is essentially limited to enthusiasts and early adopters for now. As with all technology we can expect the price to go down as the years go by, but if VR flutters out of favor with publishers, developers, and consumers before then, we could see it dropping off the radar yet again, only to be revived years down the road when pricing is more reasonable for the average gamer. That said, be sure to check out Mike Futter’s analysis piece on this very topic and early adoption

Promotion Is A Puzzle

VR has a marketing hurdle that’s especially difficult to overcome when combined with the price tag – there’s no way to get an idea how it looks and plays without strapping a set to your head. Stage demos are awkward beyond belief and don’t convey the gameplay or experience in any meaningful way. Whether this is solved by in-store demos or some other marketing method, it’s hard for consumers to justify dropping a huge chunk of change without knowing what they’re getting.

Publishers And Developers May Be Reticent To Pave The Way

While there are potentially solid games out there that I’ve had the chance to experience myself like EVE: Valkyrie, one of the big questions for VR is where are the games? Where are the system sellers? If they’re out there, I sure haven’t seen them. Will developers and publishers take the risks to commit resources toward VR in this early stage when things are still in flux? This creates a dire chicken/egg situation; if no one gets onboard early to make those defining experiences that will blow people away and move units, will anyone ever do it? 

Someone needs to step up and prove that big games, big IPs, and genre-defining experiences can live on the new tech before others will be willing to wade into unproven waters. The question right now is who will take that risk and allocate those resources? We can push the potential of the technology all we want, but it needs system sellers to make it happen.

It May Be A Virtual Reality, But The Physical Issues Are Real

Even if you don’t suffer a bout of nausea during a virtual reality session (something the newer models are improving), there’s still the question about long-term sessions and long-term use of the technology. It’s easy to sit on the couch and blast away for hours on end with a non-VR title, but we don’t know if the same can be said for immersion in virtual worlds. It’s unfathomable to me to even consider using the upcoming models for even an hour or two, much less a marathon gaming session. 

This could limit what genres and styles of games are viable VR fare. Will the platform be limited to snack-session “experimental, exploratory” fare, eschewing many of gaming’s most popular genres? Everyone wants that epic, full-scale VR MMORPG, but is the technology ready to make that happen?

Virtual Reality, The Perfect Pairing With Porn

VR creates all kinds of new possibilities in the porn realm, creating a double-edged sword for this aspect of the technology. While I have no doubt that this will bring in plenty of users that are getting onboard for new ways to experience porn in the digital age, with the way games are already chastised for portrayals sex and violence, there’s little doubt in my mind that this aspect of the technology will generate plenty of vitriolic backlash from voices eager to paint the product as a ghastly delight for depraved degenerates. This could push the mainstream portrait of the gamer back to those basement-dwelling days of yesteryear. While I can hope that the outrage (and faux-outrage) that accompanies this particular element of the technology will be easy to brush aside, that is often not the case.

Final Thoughts And The Future

I truly believe that VR is the future for games and gaming – but I don’t believe that future is now. The technology needs significant iteration and improvement before it can become the widely adopted game-changer the industry wants to bring new experiences to the living room and beyond. I’m certainly not saying that VR is “dead on arrival” or anything so hyperbolic, but I do believe that the high price combined with the other factors mentioned above is creating a difficult environment for the technology to survive and thrive today.