New technology is always an exciting prospect, but that doesn’t mean it’s what we really need or want. While virtual reality is an exciting prospect, it’s not something all gamers are interested in. Many cite less-than-popular technologies like the Kinect, 3D televisions, and the general distaste for the WiiU gamepad as reasons why virtual reality game systems like the Oculus Rift, Microsoft’s HoloLens, Sony’s Project Morpheus, and Valve’s Vive, are destined for failure.
But gamers have been asking and hoping for VR for a long time. The technology will take immersion to a whole new level, representing games in three dimensions rather than on a flat screen. Cameras no longer have to be controlled by two separate sticks, and HUDs may fall by the wayside as relics of a bygone era.
Hype is one thing, and it is great for raising cash from venture capitalists and Kickstarter projects, but is it more than hype? Can virtual reality live up to its promise for gamers, or will it just be another letdown?
Virtual Reality Brings the Future to the Present
There is a lot of potential in virtual reality. While first-person games already put you in the world, VR will make that immersion even more intense. Moving your head moves the camera, and the graphics and frame rate aim to be good enough that, even if they’re not photorealistic, you get the same bodily reaction to the virtual world as you do in a particularly well-crafted 3D movie. Objects fly at you and you try to dodge because the world of the game is all you see—VR technology like the Oculus Rift aims for true immersion, where playing a game is actually living in that world.
Games that revolve around exploration and scenery are among the most promising and exciting potential VR games. Minecraft is a particular favorite, as it’s already a first-person game and the ability to explore the world as if you’re really in it could be amazing. Though Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, pulled his support for an Oculus Rift version of his game when it was announced that the company had been acquired by Facebook, he’s since changed his mind and said on Twitter that the existence of a VR Minecraft game will be up to the developer team.
And Minecraft is a pre-existing game—imagine games that are developed from scratch with this technology in mind. A virtual reality game built from the ground up to be experienced in three dimensions and to use kinetic controls could be amazing, and it’s something that’s definitely possible with developers already at work on the system.
Potential Isn’t Everything
The problem is that what we’ve seen so far is a whole lot of potential and not much else. As much as we’d all like to forget the letdown that was the Kinect, it’s a great example of the problem of hype—the technology was intriguing and promising, but is primarily used to fire up Netflix without having to track down the remote.
Just as virtual reality games are full of positive potential, they also have a large potential for failure. There isn’t a consumer version of the Rift available yet, so it’s hard to say exactly what it will be like when it is released, but the recommended specifications for the Oculus Rift Dev Kit include the ability to run graphics at 1080p with 75 or more frames per second. While many people are content to run games at slightly lower graphic capabilities, the trouble with Oculus Rift is that a reduced frame rate can actually induce nausea and motion sickness in users.
And that’s not all—the company’s procurement by Facebook for $2 billion had some worried that the technology would shift from a gaming focus to a social one. And when Oculus Rift’s VP for products said that the technology may be used more for film than gaming, unfortunately, it didn’t come as a surprise.
Is VR Serving Gamers or Companies?
While we’d like to believe in the promise and potential of a virtual reality game system, the purchasing of Oculus Rift by Facebook, the announcement that the technology may be focused on film, and that every company seems to be trying to get a piece of the virtual-reality pie kind of make it seem like a blatant money grab.
New technology can be great for invigorating design choices and inspiring new games, but the first people it serves are the big companies producing it. Valve’s Vive is set to have a premium price tag, and all the hype surrounding these virtual reality devices has consumers excited to try the totally immersive experience.
But that doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be good for gamers. Lackluster technologies have burned us in the past, and there’s a notable amount of skepticism surrounding how well these devices are going to perform. Many people would prefer more innovation in the games themselves over innovation in the technology, but expensive new technology can be a boost in sales and buzz for big companies.
Whether making a virtual reality game will revitalize the industry or be another disappointing hardware flop will remain to be seen. There’s nothing wrong with a little skepticism about VR technology becoming the new standard; we can all be pleasantly surprised if the technology works as promised.