The State of VR
How many units are being sold?
Should a game company invest in a highly speculative but leading edge market? Do the benefits of leading the way in new technologies outweigh the realities of what a company can make on VR titles?
It is well known that Facebook spent US $2 Billion to purchase Oculus. As such, it is no surprise that they are tight lipped about how many units they are selling. They did release that Gear VR is selling much better than Oculus.
These are just some of the considerations that companies need to weigh when entering into unknown territory. At the end of the day it is not only about profits. Staying on the cutting edge, being prepared for the future, and just the sheer allure of being able to build experiences with such potential have brought most of us in, even if only ankle deep.
Given the many VR headsets aimed at mobile users and the low cost of entry level VR, it is very tempting to want to get started here with virtual reality development. It is ready to go right out of the box and the tech is getting much better.
The fact remains, however, that when compared to “Real” VR, mobile solutions remain lacking. Better tracking hardware, framerate and better graphics cards all allow for more complex worlds. Together, they become more than the sum of their parts, delivering on an experience that at least optically, is approaching the realm of actual reality.
The Future of VR
Given the state of the art, high-end VR means wearing a large uncomfortable headgear. Connected to your computer with cumbersome cables, extended game sessions can become uncomfortable. One of the great benefits of the console experience is that you do it from the comfort of your couch, playing on a large hi-resolution display. PC gaming is similar sitting in an office. VR adds another layer of complexity, cost, and difficulty.
Many of these issues will get worked out over time and new technologies, like augmented reality, will help bring VR into the mainstream. For the moment, it is much easier and less expensive to get started with solutions for mobile devices. This technology is also much closer to reaching saturation with many more inexpensive headsets being sold.
VR isn’t just a new way to experience games. It is demands new types of games and gameplay mechanics. We have had decades to grow accustomed to game controllers and the experience of moving through virtual environments. Many of us came to consoles from the world first person shooters on the PC. Not having a mouse to aim with took some getting used to, but it happens and is soon second nature.
With VR you are asking gamers to learn a new way of playing. This new abstraction takes some time to accept and more time to master. For many it is worth the cost and difficulty. If you can learn to suspend your disbelief, the experience is amazing and often difficult to convey in words.
One of the challenges facing game studios is the sense of sea sickness that some people experience with certain VR games. Wikipedia states, “The most common symptoms are general discomfort, headache, stomach awareness, nausea, vomiting, pallor, sweating, fatigue, drowsiness, disorientation, and apathy.” This reads more like the warnings associated with a new antidepressant than precautions for a new entertainment technology. The problem, it appears to be your brain getting mixed signals. When your eyes tell you that you are moving and your body tells you that you are not, a disconnect happens that leads to some pretty notable uneasiness. There are some that get over this over time, and some that do not.
There are ways to design games that helps minimize this. Some games use teleportation, others use the idea of constant motion and zero gravity to trick the brain into compliance. Our feeling is that teleportation really is a kludgy solution. You are taking away one of the best aspects of game design, free exploration.
Room Scale VR
Room scale VR and AR offer compelling solutions to improving the virtual experience. Unfortunately, this means upping the cost even more. When you consider the footprint, props and wireless hardware you are far beyond that your average gamer can afford. Some though, are finding the rewards well worth the cost.
Either way, there are going to be some growing pains and it may be some time before hardware and software developers catch up with an eager public’s expectations. It may mean that the tech survives on the fringe until better solutions and greater market penetration become a reality.
We did the research for this article as part of the planning for our arcade game Proton Star. Our approach was to focus on inexpensive VR hardware. Given the arcade nature of this title, this technology fit the best. We have another game in the works that will be more narrative in nature that will take better advantage of available technologies. At the end of the day, we are aiming at the VR space because we love it and each VR experience is unique and offers something different for each type of gamer.
If you are interested in participating in the beta program and helping us test out new virtual reality experiments, please contact us here: info@gravitywave.