Opinion: Virtual Reality Needs to Advance to Stay Relevant

Courtesy of Pixabay

If virtual reality (VR) is going to be the next step for the gaming industry, there’s one important thing it must do: advance.

Virtual reality has come a long way since its inception. Beginning as stationary arcade machines, VR never got a foothold in gaming reality until Oculus Rift — a crowdfunded project on Kickstarter — was announced in 2012. Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) and the HTC Vive released to the public in 2016, featuring a hands-free and portable product setting them apart from their 20th century counterparts.

PSVR has been the most successful VR headset to date, selling 4.2 million headsets as of March 2019, according to an official blog post by Sony. But even though the hardware has been successful, that doesn’t mean VR companies should get complacent.

For consumer interest to remain, bold moves must be made. Similar to how “Halo: Combat Evolved” — a futuristic first-person shooter (FPS) game — revolutionized the FPS genre, the VR market is in dire need of a title that realizes its full potential.

Games like “Superhot,” “Beat Saber” and more make full use of a VR headset, but reception to VR games with mainstream characters, such as Batman, have been lukewarm so far. This is partly due to pop culture character VR games still being in their infancy —  exacerbated by big publishers not willing to take the risk funding a failed project.

Batman’s VR experience — “Batman: Arkham VR” ($20) — received a 74 out of 100 rating and a 7.2 out of 10 user review score on Metacritic, a user and critic review-aggregating site. Reviews ranged from praise for its proof of concept to disappointment for the short length of about one to two hours.

The announcement of “Marvel’s Iron Man VR” — developed by Camouflaj — for the PSVR is showing promise, with players able to control flight freely by moving controllers to their sides. With the developers saying the game world will be fully traversable — and Sony Interactive Entertainment publishing the product — it may be the breakthrough the VR industry needs to move forward.   

Efforts are still being made to keep VR relevant for years to come. The next Sony gaming system, PlayStation 5, has been confirmed to support the current PSVR system with newer iterations on the way.

The big challenge is to introduce more people to VR systems, a task that can prove difficult for the savvy spender. The current cost of a PSVR headset is more than $250, with a PlayStation 4 (PS4) Pro — a PS4 system released November 2016 with updated technology — costing about $300. With a price of entry similar to that of the latest Sony console — and a game library eclipsed by it as well — it’s difficult to justify spending so much on so little.

According to Sony’s internal estimates, the PS4 console sold more than 90 million units by the end of 2018, with only 4.2 million PSVR headsets sold by March 2019. This means only about 0.05 percent of PS4 owners own a PSVR headset.

Developers must also create VR games worth coming back to for the market to grow. With the current market consisting of mini-games and brief titles comparable in a couple hours, the creation of fully fleshed-out experiences —  such as “Marvel’s Spider-Man” and “God of War” — is a necessary step yet to be taken.

Similar technological advancements in the gaming space have met unfortunate ends due to a lack of focus. The Nintendo 3DS handheld system — the successor to the Nintendo DSi XL handheld system — released in 2011 with a distinct feature: the ability to play games in 3D without special glasses.

Despite an interesting selling point, the system went on to become the weakest Nintendo console launch since the Nintendo Virtual Boy in 1995. The 3D gaming market has since dissipated, with 3DS games relying on the 3D feature less for gameplay and more for gimmick.

In order for VR to become as accepted as modern video game hardware, developers and publishers need to put the same funding into the market as they do their consoles, lest it fall into obscurity.

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