Day 108: Sunday Thoughts on VR

As hinted last week, I figured it would be best for me to take a day out of the week to sort of decompress, not a day off so much as an opportunity to comment on things that I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to.  Sunday is probably going to be that day going forward, since it also happens to be the day I do most of the work on my (very horrible) novel.

Now that we’re in a post-release VR world, I have had some time to see what the big names have to offer, not first-hand, of course.  I’m not a millionaire.  Even if I was, I tend to not get launch hardware as a rule.  The software support is typically never enough to justify early adoption and new iterations are usually out the door in a short time frame.  I’d likely be still waiting for my Oculus to arrive in the mail anyway, if the reports I’ve seen are true.  Honestly, those patient consumers aren’t missing out on much.

VR games just… aren’t very good.  That’s not to say that they can never be good or that the whole idea should be discarded immediately, but that price barrier that prevents most of us from getting into virtual reality is probably a blessing in disguise.  As a Gear VR owner, I’ve enjoyed the novelty of the scant experiences on offer and wouldn’t say I have buyer’s remorse, but I also didn’t spend $800 on the headset.  Those that did don’t really have much to do right now.  There’s no killer app; no standout experience that justifies the price or makes a strong promise for the future of the tech.  The room-scale stuff that the Vive does is conceptually really cool, but I don’t know how many people have 5x6ft of empty space in their homes, let alone the ability or patience to wall mount cameras and go through all of the required set-up to play an archery game for 15 minutes.  Not to mention that the archery game is probably overpriced on its own.

Honestly, the biggest barrier for me so far has been the price of the software, even on the Gear VR.  It makes sense on some level; the idea that someone that’s sprung nearly a thousand on the new shiny thing is more than willing to shell out for some games, even if they’re mostly of the tech demo sort, something that’s trying to operate solely on the novelty of the concept more than anything.  It’s not all terrible, for the record.  Job Simulator is pretty cool, and I would gladly shell out for an expanded version if that’s in the works, but most games strike me the same way early Wii titles did, as proofs-of-concept for something development hadn’t quite caught up to, and in most cases, never did.

I know that motion control is probably the worst point of comparison, but I do think it’s way too early to dismiss VR as the next doomed fad.  It feels like the folks behind the tech are keeping their expectations realistic, likely selling headsets at a loss just to get something out there.  Now that I’ve seen it for myself, the idea of getting lost in these virtual worlds is likely still far off.  The resolution isn’t there and most games/videos still suffer from that “screen door” effect, but I think we will get there eventually.  As the technology gets more and more affordable and into the hands of more consumers, developers will have more incentive to figure this stuff out.  As it stands right now, maybe it’s more interesting to simply watch from the sidelines.

Personally, I’m cool with just trying a new roller coaster video once a week.

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