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Response to Editorial: Why VR Is Going To Be An Enormous Flop

John Walker of Rock Paper Shot Gun recently published an editorial arguing that consumer VR would fail to take off as an industry. While dissenting viewpoints about VR are always welcome, and the possibility of the failure of consumer VR remains in the realm of possibility, I’ve seen these particular arguments raised and refuted many times before. A point-by-point rebuttal follows.

even if they can figure out a way that wearing them doesn’t make your face melt off and slide down your neck

I… don’t entirely understand this and it sounds kind of terrifying. I’ve worn the Rift DK2 comfortably for over 8 hours while only getting slightly warm, and the Rift CV1 has considerably better ergonomics than DK2, with materials that facilitate free air flow. Comfort won’t be an issue.

You know the 3D TV in your living room, right? Right? Oh wait, you didn’t buy a 3D TV?

VR brings considerably more value to the table than stereoscopic displays – the immersion provided by a wide field of view and good head tracking allows you to achieve the feeling of occupying a space, and to get a sense of scale far surpassing that of stereoscopic TVs. Head tracking and motion controls enable to use your head and hands in a 1-to-1 intuitive direct manner in the space, and 3D audio responding to head tracking allows more precise audio location. Even people with only one functioning eye have reported first-hand VR experiences as being compelling.

people just want to watch TV. They don’t want to sit at the right angle, wear the special pair of glasses, and then sit transfixed at the screen lest their eyes wander to the clock and the effect be lost.

This is another good example of how VR has surpassed 3DTVs. There is no dependence upon angle of viewing, no need to keep your viewpoint fixed, and no crosstalk between channels. Your eyes are able to move freely to any position and each see an independent view.

Then you stop noticing and get on with playing the game, except now to see what’s happening to the left you have to remember to laboriously swivel your entire head, rather than twitch your mouse a bit.

While efficient controls certainly have their place – particularly in frenetic fast-paced games where they let you operate at superhuman speeds – many worthwhile gaming experiences benefit from a more natural interface. Assigning this function to your head is not only more natural and easier to learn for new gamers, but also frees up your controls for other functionality, as in Elite: Dangerous where the VR support enables you to visually track a target and check your control panels while your flight stick operates your ship.

when I’m playing a game on my screen and I want to see behind me, I turn the view around and look behind me, and it kind of feels like I’m inside it.

I’m not going to say monitor-based experiences can’t be immersive or compelling, but the considerable added value of VR for many experiences justifies the minor inconveniences that it brings. VR is not just about being able to look behind you – it’s about immersion, sense of scale, direct user interfaces, eye contact, and many other advantages.

The clamour for 3D has always been generated by tech companies, then carried by an excited audience right up until the first time they try it.

This is true. The clamor for VR, meanwhile, has come from a vocal group of enthusiasts who have not tired of it even after extensive experience with the Rift DK1 and DK2 kits, which were mainly sold to enthusiasts.

BUT HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHO’S IN THE BACKGROUND AND WHO’S IN THE FOREGROUND?! THEY’RE ALL JUST ONE FLAT IMAGE!

It is true that a screen provides many effective cues for depth, such as parallax during camera motion, relative angular size, position relative to the horizon, and so on. People infer a model of a 3D world in looking at their screens. But the added depth cues provided by VR – both stereoscopic and monoscopic, such as parallax during head rotation – provide many additional cues that convey depth much more effectively. Additionally, a screen occupies only a small part of your field of view, particularly vertically due to their aspect ratio, while VR fills a large portion of your vision with the game, allowing you to take it in more quickly.

VR replaces the role of the imagination

VR does not replace imagination – while the world around you feels more immersive and real and more direct interaction with it is available, there are many unresolved limitations that still separate it from a real place, and many in-game references to places that are *not* in your immediate surroundings – after all, people use their imagination when walking around in real life as well.

once your eyes are stinging from sweat, you’re head’s exhausted from carrying the gear, and your dizzy as fuck from constantly spinning about trying to see everything, the idea of a chair and a monitor suddenly becomes very appealing.

The Rift consumer version is both well-ventilated due to its cloth exterior and is also the lightest HMD ever made – although its weight is not yet announced, it’s known to be less than the DK1, which was 380 g. You can barely feel it on your head. And if you’re spinning around wildly in a VR game, you’re doing it wrong – the motion should be subtle and natural, like in real life.

It’s extraordinarily unlikely that Valve or Oculus are going to release their tech at under $200. It would be a huge surprise is Microsoft or Sony did it even on their production scale. A massively expensive peripheral that the vast, vast majority of potential gaming customers won’t ever buy. And without a considerable customer base, any games created needing goggles to be played is never going to see the sales to justify the development.

While the $300-500 range is certainly where the first generation of HMDs is going to be at launch, it’s not remarkably expensive for a new PC peripheral. Sub-$200 HMDs are inevitable within a couple years, between the used units and the cheap knockoffs. While the market may grow slowly, there will still be enough HMD owners that popular VR exclusives with reasonable budgets will be able to reclaim their investment. These titles will sustain the VR industry as it grows.

The issue’s not even that most people won’t want to stumble around in their extremely confined space filled with sharp-edged furniture wearing a cumbersome blindfold, trying to stave off motion sickness long enough to shoot an alien.

Motion sickness is, on the hardware side, pretty much a solved problem. Between effective 6DOF tracking and natural locomotion with standing and room-scale VR, almost no one has reported any motion sickness with the consumer prototypes, including those who had a lot of issues with earlier dev kits. Running into obstacles is also not a serious risk due to software systems like Valve’s Chaperone that let you designate the safe edges of your play space.

publishers will not want to waste hundreds of millions on further VR-only projects, but will support a VR mode for their larger games

Big game projects are driven not only by market concerns but also by creative vision. Every new successful franchise take risks to explore interesting new ideas. By enabling new experiences and modes of interaction, VR offers big opportunities for large publishers who are looking for differentiation. I believe there will be VR-exclusive AAA titles and that they will not only sell enough units to reclaim their investment, but will powerfully drive sales in VR peripherals. In particular, it’s not hard to imagine Valve with their commitment to VR jumping into this space with a VR-exclusive entry in a popular franchise like Portal or Half-Life.

You are correct though that merely tacking on VR support to monitor-based games is not going to fulfill the true potential of the medium.

Eventually developers will stop wasting time putting the VR mode in (much as the brief dalliance with 3D modes for games quickly went away), and games will go back to how they’ve always been, and how everyone has always wanted them to be.

Again, mere stereoscopy doesn’t bring nearly as much to the table as VR, in either immersion or user interaction. As for “how everyone has always wanted them to be”: one look at how gamers respond to popular sci-fi visions of VR gameplay like Ready Player One and Sword Art Online shows that they are excited to play in VR when the tech is ready to deliver a sufficiently compelling experience.

until it can work without a giant headset, making you look like a lost robot tourist, people will always prefer to sit at their screen

The Rift CV1 is anything but “giant” – it can be held easily in one hand, covers only the area around your eyes, and is only 10 cm or so deep. As for looking like a lost robot tourist, when you put your gameplay up on the screen for spectators, people know what you’re looking at and why, and they focus on the game, not fashion.

In short: monitor-based gaming isn’t going away, but VR provides more than enough added value for a variety of compelling experiences to overcome its minor inconveniences. Many of the most important problems to reach a consumer market, like VR sickness and ergonomics, are essentially solved. Its success is not a certainty, but bolstered by a variety of innovative and compelling titles, the dream of VR becoming a new form of media in its own right is no longer unrealistic.

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One thought on “Response to Editorial: Why VR Is Going To Be An Enormous Flop

  1. “I… don’t entirely understand this and it sounds kind of terrifying.”

    It’s a freakin’ joke, you humorless bore. RPS is a “humorous” site. They like making with the funny. No need responding to your other points if you’re so disingenuous.

    Like

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