VR or not to VR, that is the question

After a very successful E3 conference, the VR market is finally beginning to expand from tech-demos to real-life examples of how this technology could be used to make existing games far better by adding a level of depth previously unreachable due to the detached nature of having a player sit, stand or lie with a control pad in their hands and have ambient noise from their surroundings interrupting their experience. This would seem to be a thing of the past after industry powerhouse Bethesda, announced Fallout 4 VR and Skyrim VR – yes it’s old but still loved. While there is no doubt that these games will benefit from this type of player experience overhaul, that is NOT to say that all games would benefit from a VR perspective. This type of gameplay mechanic would, more than likely, be something that would be mostly, if not exclusively available to the first-person video game market, which currently is dominated by shooting games and pointless simulators, so the question remains, can VR stand the test of time, after all it has been here before and wasn’t a giant success, well let’s see shall we.

A huge amount of hype is surrounding the VR world at present and most of it is entirely unwarranted and wrong. The whole sci-fi culture has given the populus a hunger of sorts for HMD devices and a more “immersive” experience which allows the play to be fully enveloped by the experience, but the question remains, is VR just another peripheral destined to be resigned to the bottom of your spare cupboard along with your PSeye and Nintendo Power Glove?
My experience in this industry and knowledge of prior events pertaining to VR state that ‘yes’ that is exactly what is going to happen.

The current leader in the VR craze is the brainchild of Palmer Lucky, the Oculus Rift. This is a stereoscopic, wide FOV, head-tracking device that removes the outside world from an audio-visual perspective. The device itself doesn’t actually change the image which is currently being viewed, only the way in which it is viewed, This is apparent by watching movies in the VR headset, if you are watching Batman flip a truck, he does that regardless of how you view it, either traditionally or using a VR headset, only the way in which we interpret it is being changed NOT the image/video itself.

VR doesn’t add or remove anything from the classic experience of darkened room gaming or watching a movie. The VR revolution which is being promised is a fallacy as – unlike smartphones and portable music players – the experience is largely the same and is more of a complication than an advancement. VR headsets sensationalize what we are already viewing, they don’t change it. As stated before, it could implemented into older games and new games are able to be developed with it in mind but to what end?
It changes nothing about the experience as a whole.

The misunderstanding behind the potential of VR as an industry advancement is made gloriously apparent by financial backers who have largely jumped aboard the hype-train while doing no real research themselves.
Goldman Sachs – among others – have predicted a net profit of over $70 billion dollars in ten years, however just as the craze with 3D television and e entertainment as retreated to the sidelines of history, so too will VR.

To make large claims as I have above and provide no proof as to HOW I reached those conclusions would be fallacious of me, so here is some empirical data for you to rack your brain with and try understand why I believe my prediction to be correct.

It’s too expensive

It is no secret that VR set-ups are expensive and have largely been aimed at the ‘social elite’ who can afford to spend hundreds on new technology provisionally. The Oculus Rift is currently £500 in most places, the PSVR is £350 and the Samsung gear is £100. While these amounts may not be huge comparably, they do however hit the bottom of the wallet of the majority of the gaming population. The average UK citizen earns £20,000 per year, the average gamer earns £18,000, this means that a very large chunk of their monthly wage would need to be put aside for a piece of technology which, at present, is still largely unproven as a medium.

The development is far more convoluted than usual for coders

Due to the nature of VR, the systems which need to be implemented to enable the player to enjoy a full VR experience are terribly complicated. The larger titles on the market that support VR right now do so through a series of backwards compatibility tests coupled with ground-up remastering, the issue with this type of development is that it takes longer and is far more expensive. There are only a handful of developers within the gaming world at this time who have a firm grasp on how to create VR games, this means that the most demanding and profitable aspect of the game industry is, for some developers, out of reach and reason for the time being.

It needs space

The VR headsets tend to be supplied with multiple wires which plug into your respective gaming setup – except the Gear which doesn’t require wires only a smartphone – these wires tend to be VERY long and are prone to become tangled as we have seen in many cases from around the internet. A standard VR setup requires an operating radius of 4 metres X 3 metres – this a great deal of room to demand for a system which you will use on average, two hours per day due to current limitations and lack of study in the effects of long-term VR usage.

We don’t know if it’s safe

It stands to reason that placing  a headset on, with headphones and detaching yourself from the world is going to have it’s moral and medical questions. Studies have recently shown that the VR headset can induce feelings of vertigo and many users have experienced nausea spells and headaches due to over-usage. The guidelines for VR usage are to play as long as you feel comfortable but if you begin to feel unwell, you must abstain for 30 minutes and attempt to return. VR removes the standard balance mechanic on which we all operate, it removes the world as we experience it and replaces it with a virtual representation of a different world. This causes problems for many as the smells, tastes and feel of your physical environment differ from that of your visual and audio perceptions, this leads to confusion within your balance system and thus vertigo and nausea are reported. As stated before, there are still many studies being undertaken as we speak and we will know the long term effects once we have collected and processed more relevant data.

The variety for games just isn’t there

VR games have to be played from a first-person perspective largely which eliminates a number of successful titles from the line-up of possible VR projects at least for the time being. Many of these series are long-standing and include titles such as; EA’s The SimsAge Of Empires and FIFA. Taking a game that is played in first-person and slotting that into a VR based-environment is a rather simple process compared to taking a project that was meant to be played from afar and doing the same. The developers come across many problems which simply cannot be gotten around using the technology we have today while keeping the overall gameplay and feel of the game itself.

By this point in the game it is obvious that VR is here to stay for at least a short while as of yet, however it is not a piece of tech I expect to revolutionise the gaming landscape as a whole but it is exceptionally transparent that it adds a level of immersion and enjoyment that many gamers have longed ever since the first time we encountered the ‘holodeck’ within the Star Trek series. Time will tell if this technology – which has been around the block previously – can stand the test of time and more importantly, the test of consumerism faith.

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About Jordan J Mozz

Honest reviews, under-exaggerated musings and hypothesis all coupled with a reasonable amount of wit and intelligence. Welcome to the first step in the gaming revolution, today is the first day of the rest of your life, not really, but wouldn't it be cool if it was? Enjoy my reviews, features, podcasts and videos and any suggestions can be sent to scarsofviolence@gmail.com. - all are welcome!
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