How To Sell Me On VR

Not to be left out, Valve manages to find a way to make VR look almost as dorky as Time Magazine.

Not to be left out, Valve manages to find a way to make VR look almost as dorky as Time Magazine.

Call me a VR skeptic. Granted, I’ve never personally played with one (the free Galaxy Gear that came with my wife’s Galaxy S7 is supposed to be on its way, so I guess that will change soon), but I see it ending up like 3D movies, games, and TV; something people with a little extra cash might get and use every once in a while, but not something that becomes a household necessity and revolutionizes the way we view entertainment the way its proponents seem to think. It just has too many barriers. Too many people report motion sickness, even with proper calibration. Most average gaming PCs like mine that run high-end games just fine aren’t up to spec for rendering those games in stereo vision at 90 fps. Also, a substantial sector of the population that won’t be able to use the headset due to vision problems. And then there’s the fact that you’re completely cutting yourself off from the real world, which many people already feel they are doing too much of already when playing with headphones. And let’s be honest, the fact that they’re making an actual Sword Art Online game for VR probably doesn’t help anyone feel more comfortable.
As for me, there are a few things that would have to happen before I would seriously consider giving VR a shot.

Make It Cheaper
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually think the Rift and the Vive are too expensive for what they are. There’s an impressive amount of technology in those goggles, and R&D on a completely new technology like this isn’t cheap either. They’re just too expensive for me. Like any technology, it’ll come down in price eventually, when the inevitable next model comes out, if not before. But until that day comes, there’s no way I’m going to pay $600-$800 for a VR headset that I’m not actually convinced I will use.

Augmented Reality
I’m much more interested in the Microsoft Holo Lens than the Oculus Rift, because it means I don’t have to cut myself off from those around me to play interactively with things in virtual space. I’ll be really excited when they can package it into something you can wear all of the time–like Google Glass, for instance–but we’re still a ways off from that being possible, let alone commercially viable. The Vive’s room scaling feature is intriguing–at least you can see your friends making fun of how dumb you look with a box on your face waving your wiimotes wildly around in the air–but I’m skeptical as to how well it works (even the SteamVR page demo videos show some flickering and artifacts).

Fewer “Experiences,” More Games
Elite Dangerous was the first, and, as far as I can remember, the only, game that has ever made me say “Ok, this would be amazing in VR.” There have been a few immersive games–Portal 2 and Skyrim spring to mind–that I’ve wondered what they’d feel like in VR, but not enough to empty my wallet to find out. I’m not interested in sitting in a virtual theater to watch YouTube (with or without Snoop Dogg) or riding a virtual rollercoaster, and I’m certainly not interested in gore and jump scare horror experiences. If you can convince me that there are a number of games that I’m interested in playing that would be really improved by VR, I would be a lot more interested.

Convince Me It Works
The gaming industry loves its gimmicks, and none of them have ended up improving much on the standard keyboard-and-mouse or gamepads that we’ve been using without much change since the 80s. We’ve seen a lot of motion control gimmicks lately–the Wii Remote, the PlayStation Move, and the Kinect–and none of them have been useful for much beyond party games. No one plays Call of Duty with finger guns on their Kinect because it simply wouldn’t be accurate enough to be competitive with people playing with controllers. VR evangelists keep telling me this time is different, but I’m simply not convinced yet. And it’s even more essential that the head tracking on a VR headset works than the motion tracking on, say, hand tracking in a Kinect game, because now we’re talking about messing with my brain and not just frustrating me into ragequitting a dance game.

Realistically, even if all of these things happened, I probably don’t have enough interest in VR to spend money on it. I’d rather spend the money on a really nice monitor or set of speakers. I’d get a satisfactory amount of immersion from either, and I could use it for non-gaming tasks (like working or listening to music, respectively). But hey, I’m getting a Galaxy Gear soon, and I do know one or two people planning on getting the Rift, so maybe some day I’ll try it and be floored by the experience. If that happens, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Oculus Rift: Why Facebook?

I try to avoid bandwagon jumping as much as possible, but this I have to write about. Why Facebook? Why not, I don’t know, a hardware company? Or really… anyone else?

For those of you who don’t know, the Oculus Rift is a new immersive Virtual Reality gaming headset that’s in development, funded by Kickstarter. A friend of mine is a huge fanboy of the thing, so I’ve heard a lot about it despite not really being that excited about it. Sure, I’d love to try one, and may even buy one (or Sony’s shameless ripoff, the Morpheus) when it comes out (or maybe wait for version 2 when they have all of the bugs worked out), but I’ve never been ravenously excited about it like some people. I’m definitely in the “wait and see” crowd, but I am hopeful.

So a few days ago news surfaced that Oculus VR is being bought by Facebook for two billion USD. That’s twice what they paid for Instagram at the height of its popularity, quite impressive for a company who, developer previews aside, doesn’t actually have a consumer-ready product yet. And yes, I agree with the point that they needed the backing of a big-name company; VR has been done so badly in the past, and a lot of people aren’t so sure Kickstarter projects will ever be successful. So here’s the part where you came in: why Facebook? They’ve never really done anything like this. They’re a SaaS company, interested only in collecting as much data about you as possible and selling ads to demographics. And they’re darn good at it too. The closest thing they’ve done was the Facebook smartphone, whose failure was both predictable and complete. Yes, this is a completely different situation, but my point is Facebook doesn’t have a good track record Continue reading