Virtual Reality has gone from being science fiction a century ago, to prototypes and flops like the Sega VR glasses and the Nintendo Virtual Boy, to the current era where several manufacturers have moderately successful VR headsets that are becoming more and more common. Will Virtual Reality, and VR headsets, be able to break into the mainstream, or will they remain a niche product for a small segment of the gaming population?
The current wave of Virtual Reality started roughly a decade ago, when the Oculus Rift was shown off at E3 in 2012. HTC, Valve and Sony followed suit with their own headsets later that decade. Virtual Reality has grown considerably since the turn of the century, with most of the advances happening within the last five year. This leads to the debate about whether VR can continue its gains and land a space in a larger number of people’s homes.
There are a number of reasons that Virtual Reality headsets and technology may never reach critical mass and go mainstream. The primary argument against VR being popular and widespread is the cost. While there are budget options available, such as Google Cardboard, the cheapest cost of a ‘true’ VR experience comes from the Oculus Quest 2 (being rebranded as Meta Quest 2). This headset starts at $299 USD, and while that is comparable to current generation gaming consoles, that begs the question of comparing what each device can do. Gaming consoles allow for local multiplayer games using one console and at least allegedly offer a large library of high quality content. Virtual Reality still lacks a comparable suite of well respected games. While there are undoubtedly many gems available, and some higher profile experiences like Half Life: Alyx, VR games don’t appear to offer the same amount of depth and breadth as traditional games. In addition, some people find the experience of VR difficult, due to motion sickness and nausea, which shrinks the audience as well. While gaming seems to have conquered the mainstream, there are still stigmas against the hobby but especially against VR. Such feelings are exemplified by the Volkswagen commercial showing an inept boyfriend playing VR in a near-empty room.
Despite all the above, VR is gaining steam. It does seem possible that Virtual Reality gaming could break into the mainstream. The costs are coming down, and as it proliferates it becomes more and more acceptable and normal. In addition, there are numerous applications for Virtual Reality outside of gaming that allow for people to encounter the technology, such as training and therapy. Virtual Reality gaming has the added benefit of keeping people up on their feet and moving around, making it more of an active type of entertainment and causing some people to consider it as a form of exercise, or at least a less sedentary alternative to other media. In addition, there are a number of games and experiences in VR that are social, such as VRChat. Many of the criticisms of Virtual Reality are the same that get lobbed at any new technology, and as it gains traction those arguments hold less and less weight.
Personally, I think Virtual Reality will continue to grow and become more widespread, however I think it may never have the appeal of mobile gaming, or even console and PC gaming, because of the additional barriers to entry of the headset and the fact that some people get motion sickness. I believe as companies like PlayStation and Valve continue to invest in making high quality games and experiences, consumers will continue to adopt the technology up to a point.
What do you think? Is Virtual Reality a few small steps away from becoming a dominant force in reality? Or is it more of a fad or niche that will fade or occupy a small space? Tell us your thoughts below or chime in on the Boss Rush Discord.