Virtual reality has been resurging heavily in the past few years. Oculus VR, Sony, Microsoft, and many more are all looking to grab a share of the market while there’s a chance. However, is there a place for VR gaming right now? Two of our writers go head-to-head to find out!
Nikola Katardjiev: It’s Hard to Imagine a Future Without Virtual Reality
The Virtual Boy was arguably Nintendo’s greatest failure, aside from inspiring Sony to create the PlayStation. In 1995, the Virtual Boy made its way to the market, with Nintendo’s expectations set high. One year later, Nintendo had to pull the plug on its virtual reality endeavour as consumers shunned the device for a series of by now well-documented flaws, and the project was dubbed a commercial failure. For all intents and purposes, virtual reality gaming looked to be dead before it even had a chance to live.
However, almost twenty years later, the times have changed. Technology has jumped leaps and bounds, the failures of the Virtual Boy have been [mostly] forgotten, and Nintendo even dipped its toe in 3D gaming with the 3DS, helping to pave the way for what was to come. With the advent of smartphones, augmented reality surged forward, and it was almost a matter of time before someone would take it to the next level.
Enter Oculus VR. In 2012, the company unveiled its first product, the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift, a head-mounted virtual reality display, and was quickly showered in money. By the end of the campaign, thanks to the generosity of almost 10,000 backers, Oculus VR found itself with $2.4 million in the bank. That sum would eventually prove paltry when Facebook moved in for the kill:
a $2 billion buyout was what it took to get Mark Zuckerberg and his band of executives to acquire Oculus VR.
It was perhaps inevitable then, that a rival company would set its sights on the blossoming market of VR technology. Sony, always looking to stay on the bleeding edge of technology, unveiled Project Morpheus at last year’s GDC, a 1080p virtual reality headset designed to go hand-in-hand with the PlayStation 4. Sony appears nothing if not sure of this move, with games already in development for the device. In fact, news broke recently that the company set up North West Studio in the UK to work exclusively on Project Morpheus games.
In the midst of all this, the always-enigmatic Valve put its cards on the table. At the Mobile World Congress 2015, smartphone developer HTC, partnering with Valve, unveiled the HTC Vive. Samsung recently joined the fray with Google, Razer, and even optics companies like Zeiss already preparing their own virtual reality kits. To complete the set, we just have to wait until the likes of Apple moves in on the market.
So here we are. It’s 2015, and the first few VR headsets are just beginning to break into the market. Even as we speak, more and more companies are announcing their own takes on virtual reality, and it seems that every day, a virtual reality-related Kickstarter hits another stretch goal. Companies left and right are throwing themselves onto the VR train with no end in sight. With so much on stake, it’s hard to imagine a future without virtual reality.
Jeff Edelstein: VR Has a Mountain of Hurdles to Make it Through
Gaming, as a form of recreation, is meant to be an escape from reality as we know it. Whether it’s saving the world in one’s favorite RPG with the use of incredible powers and abilities, or taking it slow and steady in a lifestyle simulation of your own design, we choose to put effort and energy into a world that is, for all intents and purposes, imaginary. And as we become less and less able to distance ourselves from these fantasies, the endgame – a true, virtual reality – seems to inch closer and closer. At this point, it’s certainly a matter of
when, not if, this final fantasy will come to be, but that day is still further away than we might hope.
While virtual reality technology such as the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus is leaps and bounds ahead of the premature Virtual Boy, this is not enough to elicit a true paradigm shift in gaming. True, advances in the consoles and computers used for gaming have enabled the quality of our experiences to improve, but in the last thirty years, our method by which we play has essentially remained the same: stare at the screen, press the buttons where appropriate, enjoy. Hesitancy towards changes along the way have been mitigated by this system, and its strength has prevented other gaming innovations from reaching their potential.
Take Microsoft’s Kinect, for example. While an exciting technology and undeniably impressive at times, fans are still extremely hesitant to accept it as a new gaming norm, much less spend money on it. And on the other side of the equation are developers who are certainly intrigued by the doors the Kinect might open for gaming, but who remain entrenched in their ways. Such staunch apathy has even forced Microsoft to begrudgingly accept that the Kinect is not
essential to the enjoyment of their system, and with the financial benefits they’ve seen since this acceptance, they’re unlikely to change their mind soon.
Beyond these issues, virtual reality has a mountain of hurdles to make it through before it comes into vogue. From the understanding of the potentially detrimental effects on those who experiences it, to making it easy to understand and accessible for consumers, to creating a “killer app” that convinces both gamers and game developers of its value, this technology has much left to prove. Nevertheless, I am excited for the potential it has to truly change gaming – and I’m willing to wait.