Virtual Reality is seen by many as a transformative force that could shape the future of gaming.
VR represents a new exciting frontier with potential to finally bridge that gap between playing games and experiencing them in a virtual space.
Tapping this wealth of potential could completely revolutionize gaming altogether, and lead to a new wave of immersive engagement that allows players to actually enter and interact with digital worlds.
Although VR is a total game-changer, the platform faces considerable challenges on the road ahead. Since the tech is still in its early stages with development kits and prototypes, we’re not going to see any finalized VR heavyweights release their products in 2015.
But what kind of hurdles does VR have to overcome before its ready for mass consumption? Let’s take a closer look at the technical side of things, starting off with the hardware.
The VR boom is well underway and it seems like everyone wants to get in on the new tech.
The platform has attracted a growing number of hardware-makers who are eager to tap VR’s feature-rich pipeline, resulting in a surprising melting pot of interested parties. And as more players show up competitior form rivalries that ultimately propel the hardware forward.
The most prominent players in VR include Oculus, whose Oculus Rift headset is among the first movers in the emerging industry sector, and Valve, who made waves at GDC 2015 with the announcement of the HTC-manufactured Vive VR headset.
Other notables include Razer’s open-source OSVR headset which uniquely aims to marry all types of gaming platforms to a flexible ecosystem.
But VR isn’t just limited to the PC.
One of the things that makes virtual reality so appealing is that it transcends any one platform and can provide a unified scope across mobiles, games consoles and computers.
With the Project Morpheus headset, Sony (NYSE: SNE) wants to bring VR to your living room’s console environment. Leveraging the power of the PlayStation 4 console, Project Morpheus delivers what looks to be a consolidated and underdeveloped attempt at console-friendly VR.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), on the other hand, has entered the rush with a different type of headset. The Hololens is essentially more AR (augmented reality) than VR, merging hologramatic image overlays ontop of real-life environments.
Microsoft’s Hololens effectively allowing the company to not only set itself apart from competitors, but also create a focal point for its massive Windows ecosystem.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and South Korean mobile titan Samsung (KRX:005930) have even found a way to simulate virtual reality on mobile devices with Gear VR and Google Cardboard, respectively.
The mobile VR sector is just as important in pushing the boundaries of the tech, and developers can learn a ton from user feedback and it offers another experimental medium.
To make the platform more accessible for developers Google is actually making a custom VR-ready Android OS to help foster mobile VR. This effort will assuredly help continue innovation and productive growth in mobile VR, and in translation, virtual reality as a whole.
Despite the excitement, anticipation and projections of a billion-dollar growth industry, virtual reality faces a number of real roadblocks.
VR headsets are cumbersome, bulky, and are fastened with a huge array of snaking wires that tether the peripheral to the host machine that powers it. The tech is currently in the phase where performance is key, so how the peripheral looks isn’t really an issue.
Although the hardware is constantly tweaked and changed for optimum comfort, nothing can be done about the massive amount of cords. From data transfer, power, headphones and controller inputs, all of them are needed and won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
It’ll be much harder to market a device that has so many cords, as users prefer the convenience of wireless hardware. This is most likely why almost every single promotional image of VR tech shows the headsets/devices without cords.
Virtual reality gaming currently requires higher-end gear, meaning it won’t be accessible to everyone.
The real key to establishing the illusion of VR is latency, or frame rates. To hit higher-end frame rates in, say, an Oculus Rift Crescent Bay headset, you need a solid rig with an adequate GPU, CPU and RAM.
Right now VR is more attuned to the enthusiast gamer market, and even Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) has started to make “crazy fast” GPU’s optimized for virtual reality performance.
Essentially the headsets are only half of the picture. You still need an adequate PC or source to run it, as well as all the controllers and software, and that means a lot of cash that many gamers aren’t really willing to shell out.
Sony’s Project Morpheus aims to curtail the accessibility problem by making a VR solution for PS4, but the console will only be able to deliver a fraction of what a higher-end PC could. Sony has even been forced to make an extra “processing box” for the headset that basically processes the images and relays them to the headset’s stereoscopic screen.
Virtual reality sickness is a real thing, and it’s no secret that many users have reported disorientation or motion sickness while trying out the Oculus Rift.
In order to become a fully-fledged consumer-friendly device, every single VR peripheral needs to find a way to work around motion sickness. That being said, there are some people who simply won’t be able to try out the hardware because of health conditions.
But what about other safety issues? Could VR distort a person’s sense of reality? Maybe we’re getting a bit Matrix-y and metaphysical here, but if a person spent too much time in a virtual world, could it affect their perception of what’s real, and possibly negatively affect their entire sensory reception altogether?
We understand the physical affects of VR, but are there any psychological effects of the virtual space? Thorough psychological and physiological research would be required simply because some people would just play VR all day, and we simply don’t know enough about its effects to know if it’s actually safe or not.
Lack of Games
What’s the point of VR of there’s no good games?
After a lot of tweaking, some existing PC games like Elite Dangerous, the terrifying Alien: Isolation and of course Skyrim. are actually compatible with the Oculus Rift dev kit models.
But as of yet the current VR games are more for the wow factor that delivering true memorable experiences. At its core the platform seems like it’s best left in arcades rather than for personal home use, as the games are tailor-made to showcase the peripheral’s capabilities and push the tech forward.
Considering the known and unknown health risks, extensive gameplay within the virtual reality space might be a bad idea, and that might be why there aren’t any real expansive VR-exclusive games as of yet.
Virtual Reality is coming, but not in 2015
Although VR is a budding and growing market with tons of potential, it likely won’t be ready for 2015.
The platform needs a lot of work and developer’s need time to shape, refine and ultimately configure their respective hardware and software before its optimized for mass consumption. Right now VR is an interesting spectacle to say the least, but it’s a sort of on-the-rise novelty that is poised to either dominate or fizzle over the next decade.
Phil Spencer, head of Xbox development over at Microsoft, agrees that VR just isn’t a “now thing”.
“I don’t think VR is a now thing. I’m not saying it’s five years from now, but it’s not really a now now thing,” Spencer said in a recent interview with Edge magazine.
“It’s more of an announcement than anybody really having any VR stuff right now–and that’s not a shot at Sony.
“I mean, it’s hard tech, and I think it’s great what they’re doing with Morpheus. But they’ve announced [it for] the first half of 2016, so a little over a year from now.”
This is just the beginning of a new frontier, and we’ll likely see it harness its full potential in the next five years or so. Just like consoles, the hardware needs a good cycle of tweaks, changes, tests and hardware modifications before it can hit its full stride.