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The Sports Desk – The Positives & Problems Of VR Sports Games

by Matthew Kato on Nov 21, 2016 at 09:00 AM

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Virtual reality promises more immersion, but is it right for sports games? I recently dabbled with some of the sports titles out there in VR on the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive (I didn't play them all, FYI) figuring out what works and what doesn't in the medium.

WHAT WORKS

The biggest challenge for VR is reducing the possibility of users getting sick. This normally occurs when you give them the freedom of head/camera movement like in any normal first-person title. In my experience, those that worked best were those that restricted players movement to a set area. I'm actually a person that can suffer from motion sickness in FPS titles as they approach a solid 60 frames per second, and in instances like The Golf Club VR (above and in Early Access), Project Cars, Driveclub, and Dirt Rally (the later three conveniently seating the player in a cockpit) I more or less felt fine.

Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't movement in titles like these – it's just that restricting that movement due to the context of the sports makes sense. In golf I'm naturally interested in keeping focused on the ball, while still enjoying moving my head and looking around at the flag and the scenery. The racing games perhaps do this best. Walking around is not inherent in the experience, and yet there is great benefit in being able to look around in the VR space. Heading into a corner, if you turn your head and look to where you want to go through the corner and on exit, you take that corner better. This helps you not focus solely on what's directly ahead of you. Avoiding becoming target fixated on the bumper straight ahead of you or at the concrete barrier about to smack you naturally helps your mind adjust your speed and hands to the turn itself.

Sticking with the all-important nuts and bolts of gameplay, titles like the ones I've mentioned above also have foundations that simply make them good games. The three racing titles were fun to drive even without VR. The Golf Club VR has a really good fidelity in its swing, making draining a putt or smashing a drive a great feeling. Headmaster on PS VR has a simple premise – you're in a soccer academy in a dystopian world, heading balls through obstacles and into the net – and the game's physics produce a wide array of realistic outcomes depending on your heading motion and where the virtual ball strikes your head.

Some of them also have little touches that aid the overall experience in VR. In Project Cars you can adjust your seat in the cockpit to fine tune the FPS viewing experience. In Rec Room and The Golf Club VR, you can transport around the environment, which because they are whole room VR titles on HTC Vive, you don't have to worry about bumping into everything by walking around in real life.

WHAT DOESN'T

One of the things that is a positive for the VR sports experiences I've enjoyed can also be a negative – the restricted movement. While they benefit some VR games, as I've outlined above, being restricted in where you can go won't work so well in bringing a sport that naturally relies on freedom of movement like football, for instance, into VR. I'm sure many will artificially try to get around this, like being a hockey goalie in Oculus Rift's VR Sports Challenge and gesturing with your head and using controller face buttons to move around. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it's just introducing a barrier, albeit a necessary one, between your movements and the VR world to simplify it. For VR sports games to truly take off, gamers are going to need a full-fledged experience that enables players to live the experience via VR. One where you can be a QB, for example, and make all your movements and decisions feel as natural as possible.

Of course, enabling this freedom of movement and action are exactly where VR games can get people sick and disorientated. Furthermore, with most VR experiences so far being bite-sized in nature, for sports VR titles to reach parity with their non-VR versions, a full feature set is necessary. Thankfully titles like Project Cars and Dirt Rally contain exactly that.

Finally, while VR's draw is anchored on existing in exciting new worlds, its physical reality is a problem. I think the PSVR, Oculus, and Vive headsets try to be comfortable for what they are (hunks of plastic strapped to your face), but after about 20 minutes or so I simply don't like having them on my face. My head starts to sweat and my face is irritated by the device. It's hard to lose yourself in a game when you feel physically uncomfortable with each passing second. Add to this the sensation of wires when trying perform a full swing in The Golf Club VR on Vive or wearing headphones while heading the ball in Headmaster on PSVR, and so far VR is not a comfortable or elegant experience.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

RELEASE LIST

Steep (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) December 2
Don Bradman Cricket 17 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) December 16. For more on the game, check out this previous preview.

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.

Kazunori Yamauchi Talks PS4 Pro/PSVR Support For GT Sport

New Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 2.0 Data Pack Coming Soon, Makes Good On Licenses

NBA 2K17 VR Experience Hits PSVR, HTC Vive & Samsung Gear VR

NBA 2K17 Partners With Fitbit To Boost Your MyPlayer

More DLC Offerings For NASCAR Heat Evolution

FIFA Ultimate Team Coin Hacker Convicted