Insert Title – Virtual Reality


Welcome to Insert Topic, where once a week I’ll spend some time talking about stuff. Topics will vary from what’s big in nerd culture to my experiences with trying games or movies or anything really that I’d written off as not my kind of thing. This week we’re talking about the hot topic in gaming and technology, Virtual Reality.

We’re quickly approaching a point where Virtual Reality will be a viable thing in your home. Growing up it was just something from movies and television, like VR Troopers, or those hulking units you’d find at arcades and movie theaters. In just a couple of months the first of several home VR systems will be hitting the market. For the last few years we’ve been hearing all about them, unfortunately the general public has yet to really see what it’s all about. That unfortunately means we the consumer are starting this game behind the curve. Media and developers can talk it up or down as much as they want, but what does that mean for those of us who need to decide if and when to invest in this new technology.

Last week we got our first insight into how much this technology is going to cost when the Oculus Rift went up for pre-order. As of now you can get your hands on the Rift for $599.99, that includes the headset, sensor, Xbox One controller, and all the cables you’ll need to hook it up. In addition to the hardware you’ll get the games EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale. Sadly what it doesn’t include is the relatively powerful PC you’ll need to use it. With hefty requirements such as a GTX 970 video card, the Rift and PC together are looking to come in around the $2,000 mark.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift

The Rift isn’t the only headset hitting the market soon, the HTC Vive, also known as Steam VR, is going up for pre-order at the end of February. No specifics on price or hardware requirements are available, rumor is both will be pretty hefty with the unit itself possibly costing upwards of $1,200. There is also the Playstation VR, whose code name Project Morpheus was much cooler. Like the Vive we don’t have many specifics on the Playstation VR, but it’s safe to say the entry point will be lower. Playstation VR will require you to have a Playstation 4, and the Playstation Camera which together are far less than the gaming PC you’d need for the other two. That doesn’t mean the headset couldn’t still come in at a price pushing the $500-$600 range, though hopefully not. The Playstation VR also has the highest number of announced titles in development, which is another plus.

No one ever said the future was cheap.

Like every other new technology, the initial generation is always the most expensive. Cost to produce is high so to make money the cost per unit must be too. Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift, has said they’re selling it at cost. Whether that’s true or not, who knows, but it just goes to show how expensive the parts are for this stuff. Think about HD TV’s when they first started coming out, or DVD and Blu-Ray players. They’re all relatively recent technology that started out incredibly expensive, but slowly and surely the parts to manufacture became cheaper, and the process as a whole was refined to a point where you can find these things for pennies compared to their original costs.

HTC Vive

HTC Vive

The problem is, does VR have enough going for it to get past the initial hurdles? Will enough consumers be tempted to spend upfront for something that may not survive long term? As of right now, there aren’t a ton of reasons to pick up an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, only a handful of games are known, and only a handful of people have experienced them. You can’t go into your local Best Buy and look at the wall of TVs. You can’t see the fancy split screen that shows the difference between HD and SD. These devices are going to be available in the coming months, and users are going in blind for the most part, especially those already pre-ordering their units. I’m sure by the time these things are available to purchase at retail outlets they’ll have demo units, just like everything else does now. Whether people are going to be keen to throw on a headset that a thousand other people had on that day is a different hurdle all together.

At the beginning of this I mentioned those old ’90s era Virtual Reality systems. If you went to an arcade or a movie theater back then you’ve seen them. Sometimes you stood on a circular platform with this gigantic contraption on your head, partially surrounded by a circular railing. They were always more expensive to play, and usually had an attendant working them to assist players getting in and stumbling out as the vertigo and nausea washed over them when the gaming experience ended. These were gimmicks, and they didn’t last. You may still see the occasional light gun shooter at an arcade that has some kind of headset attached, but those are rare these days. Those arcade games weren’t the only VR offenders of the day, Nintendo had their own blunder with the Virtual Boy. Commonly known to cause massive headaches, eye and neck problems, and generally just not be much fun.

Virtual Reality has a major uphill battle with consumers

I personally think that VR is a great idea, I would love to see itf take off and have the enormous impact on society that it shows potential for. I’m not sure that this first wave is going to be the one to do it though. It’s all over the news, it’s the ‘next big thing’ according to pretty much any media outlet you check, but the consumers all seem so much more jaded. I know that generally speaking, the negative comments are going to be the minority. Particularly on the internet where people come to hate things. I don’t actually know a single person who’s ready to invest in this stuff though. I know they’re out there, I see them on Twitter and Reddit, but I haven’t actually met a person face to face that wants one enough to spend the money.

Playstation VR

Playstation VR

Right now my prediction is these things sell alright, nothing outrageous or recording setting. We hear a lot in the news about companies losing money on this technology in the next year or so. Software starts out interesting, but ends up being similar to what we saw with the Wii. Lots of gimmick without much substance. An overabundance of the lowest common denominator in game form. But slowly we’ll see companies, and people, taking risks and putting out crazy stuff, it just may not be timed well enough with the number of people who actually own a headset.

No Man’s Sky for instance is a no brainer, we’ve talked about it on PodQuest, and plenty of other people have to. If the Playstation VR doesn’t ship with at least the plans of bringing that game to VR then all hope may very well be lost. At the same time, while it will undoubtedly be cool, who many people will own the Playstation VR at launch and be interested in No Man’s Sky? Video games, especially the big AAA titles are expensive to make, putting those same games into Virtual Reality is only going to get more expensive. If a company can sell a million copies of a game for kids where you play with dogs or build a sandcastle they’ll make them ten times instead of taking a risk with a big title that could fail and lose them millions of dollars.

It’s been a great couple of years for narratively driven interactive story games. Games like Life is Strange and Gone Home, they could hit new levels of immersion by segueing to VR. Sony is already at work on an Until Dawn VR title with Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. These games aren’t for everyone, some people look at this as a waste of time or not really games. That’s just the benefit of a society where people have a plethora of choices, you don’t have to play something you don’t like. I would bet any of the naysayers would rethink their criticisms if those games were truly putting the player into the characters shoes in a way only Virtual Reality could.

Like all things, only time will tell how well VR does, the wait is almost over and in the next several months we should see the hype train die down, and slowly get a real feel for where this new technology is at, and what developers are really focusing on. There’s speculation on a lot of different games; the game development mixed with the emerging ideas with other forms of interactive entertainment means we could soon live in a very different world. Sci-Fi is really becoming reality and we’re lucky enough to be living at its beginnings.

talks a bunch on PodQuest each week. He's also been known to write about stuff from time to time.

You can Email Chris or follow Chris on Twitter @Just_Cobb or Facebook

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