So that whole virtual reality thing sort of didn’t go according to plan, right? It was widely reported that 2016 was going to be the year for VR, and in the end, it was a bit of a lukewarm response from consumers in general.
The three main competitors are all doing well of course – the Oculus Rift is the quality enthusiast option, the HTC Vive remains the premium option, and the PlayStation VR setup is great for console gamers not looking to break the bank completely. There have even been some new competitors in mobile space such as Google’s Daydream headset for their new Pixel smartphone, and an updated model of the Samsung Gear VR.
Virtual reality isn’t dead – let’s get that out of the way. It just didn’t blow up like people expected it to. The two big reasons are obvious – price and software. It’s expensive to get a proper VR setup, and there are not enough games to justify buying one.
Personally, I’ve really enjoyed owning a PlayStation VR since picking one up at launch. It’s got flaws for sure, but I don’t regret buying one at all. Yet I can see why people are hesitant about VR.
So if you’re unsure about the future of virtual reality, I’ve found four solid reasons you should be optimistic about the burgeoning technology and its future. It may have had a rocky start, but there’s a lot to look forward to.
1. GOING WIRELESS WILL HELP A LOT
One surefire way to kill the immersion of a good VR game is by tripping on the cable that connects a headset to a PC or console. When the Oculus Rift was in development eliminating latency was a huge problem, one that had to be overcome before the technology could be considered market-ready. The reality is the cable is a necessary evil – much like how ethernet is still better than WiFi for online gaming.
But the future of virtual reality is most definitely wireless, and it may be closer than you think. Headset manufacturers and third-parties alike are working on wireless solutions right now, such as a startup called Rivvr which has a prototype device in the works that will convert existing HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets.
It should be noted that even with the cable, VR can still be great. The handful of times I’ve found myself tangled in cables haven’t taken away from the brilliance of games like Rez Infinite or Resident Evil 7. But when that cable is finally cut it’s going to be a nice step forward.
2. PRICE DROPS IN THE NEAR FUTURE
As is the case with all consumer products, price drops are inevitable. Right now the PlayStation VR has a retail price of $399, and at that price point has managed to sell over one million units in less than a year. But after satisfying the early adopters (such as myself) Sony will now have to go after new users to grow their platform. It’s the same with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
In fact, earlier this month Oculus dropped the price of their Rift headset and Touch controllers bundle down from $798 to $598. At that price, it’s still a big investment, but it’s proof that change is coming. Though the HTC Vive will likely remain the more expensive option for a while, it feels very likely the PlayStation VR will drop in price.
My prediction is at E3 2017 Microsoft will unveil their new Project Scorpio console and formally announce their partnership with Oculus, putting pressure on Sony to drop the price of their own VR headset. This is just my opinion of course, but if 2016 was the year VR hit the market, 2017 has to be the year it starts getting into people’s homes.
3. BETTER CONTROLLERS MEANS BETTER GAMES
The Oculus Rift originally shipped with an Xbox One controller, which in many ways showed the headset wasn’t ready for the spotlight. What’s the point in VR if you have to use a controller to move within the world? The PlayStation 4 took advantage of the PlayStation Move controllers, which work great for something that came out in 2010 (they were originally a PlayStation 3 peripheral). The HTC Vive, however, had fantastic motion controllers right out of the gate and set the standard for what people should expect from premium VR platforms in the future.
Now in 2017 things are getting even better. For starters, the Oculus Rift has its Touch controllers that have intelligently placed buttons to help simulate grabbing things within games more realistically. As exciting as that is, though, what HTC Vive have planned is even more ambitious.
Called the Vive Tracker, these plastic stands looks like thick beer coasters on stilts and can be attached to a variety of objects to give you realistic tactile feedback. For example, the trackers can be put on your feet so that you can stomp on monsters crawling towards you, or stuck to a gun that’s modeled within a game allowing you to hold a weapon that feels more like what you’re seeing in the game.
People have also attached these trackers to their pets so they can see where they are while playing and used them as coasters to indicate in the virtual world where a real bottle of water is. There’s so much potential for the Vive Trackers, and it’ll hopefully push every other headset manufacturer to start thinking outside the box too.
4. BIG BUDGET VIRTUAL REALITY ARCADES ARE COMING
When people think about VR they generally think about it in terms of a living room setup. When you’re wearing a headset you not only look a bit stupid, but you have to deal with cables, being blind to the real world, and the fact that generally, VR is a solo experience for now. But the future of virtual reality is rooted in video games’ past – the arcade.
Forget the quarter-sucking machines of the 80s, VR arcades are going to be big open spaces where groups of people put on a backpack, a headset, and pick up a big plastic gun and enter a virtual world together. Imagine laser tag, but instead of wooden boxes scattered around a dimly lit room, you’re in an entirely different world.
One company currently working on making this happen is Modal VR. Co-founded by Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Atari and arguably the video game industry itself. The team at Modal VR want you to enter virtual worlds with friends and move around inside them as if you’re actually there. Up to 20,000 square feet of space will be transformed into alien planets, zombie-filled cities, or whatever else the game designers can dream up. We all may have to wait awhile for this dream to become reality, but rest assured people are working on making it happen.
Modal VR isn’t the only company thinking this big about VR, which is great for people everywhere. Think about it – imagine if Disney sunk some serious money into VR in this way and created a Star Wars themed adventure in VR. There’s so much potential here and we’re just seeing the beginning.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Virtual reality has already died once in the 90s, but back then it was more of a gimmick and less of a viable technology. Nowadays, VR is edging its way into ubiquity. You can literally make a rudimentary headset out of cardboard and a smartphone using designs made by Google.
But before VR can be truly mainstream it has some hurdles to overcome. It’s the same issues all new technology has to contend with – ease of use, affordability, and a clear reason to buy. And I’m confident VR prove its worth in time. I mean it better, otherwise there’s gonna be a lot of annoyed people with useless plastic goggles.
So, if you’re on the fence about VR, I’d recommended jumping in now, but if you’re still not ready to blow the money on a setup of your own, know that there’s a future in VR happening regardless. It’s just taking a little bit longer than previously scheduled.