Virtual reality isn't the next big step for video games. Why is that?
A look at the title would be to deny a surging field such as virtual reality (VR) a place in the gaming industry. However, VR is still (relatively) new and expensive. My experience with VR goes all the way back to the Virtual Boy, one of the most expensive flops in video game history (and one of the few times Nintendo failed). It is said that we learn history to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, so here are some of the earlier attempts at VR that had varying levels of success.
A History of VR
There were multiple attempts to make a VR accessory dating all the way back to the Atari 2600. Atari founded a research lab in hopes of creating a VR accessory for the Atari consoles, but that failed because of the North American video game crash of 1983. By the mid-1980s, Nintendo's Power Glove (made popular by 1989 movie The Wizard) was intended to be a gateway into gesture recognition (and later on, virtual reality itself), but the device also was considered a flop. Sega was in the process of making a VR headset in the early 1990s along with a company called Virtuality, which sold its system for a whopping $73,000 in 1991 ($127,035.54 in 2015 dollars). These systems were large, bulky, expensive, and caused problems such as dizziness and eye strain.
Nintendo tried their hand at VR with the Virtual Boy. I remember seeing the Virtual Boy as a kid in stores back in 1995. Many people were talking about the Nintendo 64, the successor to the Super Nintendo, and how great it would be. I was really fascinated with the Virtual Boy. Having read various gaming media at that age, it only seemed logical to expect better than what we had at the moment. Future technology's purpose is to render current technology obsolete and to make life more convenient for the end user, much like how we send emails instead of faxes and do our banking online instead of in person.
Was the Virtual Boy better than its predecessors? If you count red and black graphics that looked like an unfinished game as “better,” then we can agree to disagree. Many Virtual Boy games looked like they were in the prototype stage. Guess what problems came up again? That's right, dizziness and eye strain. Those two issues alone would have caused huge issues to VR headset manufacturers in the long run, and we haven't even addressed the quality of the games yet.
While VR growth stagnated in the 2000s, it quickly picked up again in the 2010s. HTC, Facebook, Google, Sony, Samsung and more started riding the latest wave of VR technology. It has had some success in gaming, with many graphics cards calling themselves “VR-ready” as a marketing tool to encourage consumers to buy these headsets. But why isn't the future of gaming in VR? Here are a few reasons why.
In a very cost-conscious market, these accessories are averaging around $600, which is nearly double the price of the consoles they are supposed to be used for. In other countries, you have to take into account the factor of tariffs (taxes or duties to be paid on a particular class of imports and exports). In the country I worked in several years ago, the prices of technology goods were more than the same thing if it were sold in the United States. I wrote a piece on the race to the bottom for smartphone prices in 2015. This is an example of price sensitivity not only for American consumers, but for the markets that are increasingly consuming technology.
This is going to be a huge challenge for VR headset manufacturers not only in the United States, but in far larger markets such as India and China. There are many young people in those countries grasping at the chance to try the latest technologies and have a reasonable amount of disposable income to try them. The issue with the cost of VR headsets is that those are the prices for consoles alone. Imagine the cost of the PC you will have to build to support VR technology. While you can build a good PC for less than $1,000, you might have to shell out a lot more to build one truly capable of handling VR technology. This is one of the more fixable issues. Over time, technology tends to become more affordable as manufacturers find ways and means to not pass the cost onto the consumer.
Some Games Don't Need To Be in VR
There are many games that can harness the power of VR, especially first-person shooters (FPS). But why would games such as Mario even need to be in VR? This was an issue with the Virtual Boy when it came out 20 years ago: puzzle games, sidescrollers, and more were in VR when they didn't need to be. The only games that would benefit are games where you can play from a first-person perspective.
Long-Term VR Use Is Unhealthy
There have been several reports of negative health effects on those who use VR for extensive periods of time. The early VR headsets had users reporting eye strain, dizziness, headaches, and other health-related issues. VR headsets have also been linked to epileptic seizures. So if you're playing games that require large time investments (think Skyrim or Fallout), you might end up experiencing some health issues, which might be exacerbated if you have certain conditions.
Where Is The Future of VR?
There are numerous applications for VR. It has been reported that it can be used in architecture, construction, movies, amusement parks, and more. While VR does have some use in gaming, it seems to be limited because of cost, its negative effects on your health, and the fact that some games just don't need to be in VR. However, this could all change, especially if the health barriers are removed. While the future of VR won't be in gaming (for the most part), it will certainly be here to stay in the tech world.
- Jose Alvarez
- December 17, 2016
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