2016 was the year in which the virtual reality revolution finally reached gamers. After years of watching tech demos and being wowed by the premise, virtual reality was here to make its mark. With some of the industry’s biggest names backing this new wave; it seemed as though the sky was the limit and after an E3 of huge promises, the hype was real. Yet as we press into 2017, it’s hard to not feel that the momentum that carried VR this far has subsided quite alarmingly. What’s gone wrong and what can VR do to get back on track?
Perhaps the biggest sign that momentum has escaped virtual reality comes from CES, where VR played little more than a peripheral player to overall proceedings. Lots of new headsets were announced by the likes of Lenovo – but these did little to push the quality of the industry up. Instead of exciting and getting consumers talking; it’ more a case of pushing the price down and trying to reduce the entry fee – arguably the biggest barrier preventing VR from entering the mainstream.
Because all these months later, the biggest issue facing the industry remains the price of entry. Not only for the technology underpinning it (Which I still say was overpriced) but for the games themselves. I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the cost and length of certain VR games; with many feeling that the current tactic of pricing games at full whack but delivering minuscule offerings is bleeding the life out of the entire movement. The likes of Batman VR and EVE: Valkyrie are great spectacles but leave gamers feeling cheated when the experience ends abruptly. It’s one thing to wow people with flashy games, it’s another to actually deliver the kind of immersive experience that VR has built its promise upon – and these games are not doing that.
It creates a negative conversation and puts off gamers who might otherwise be tempted into the fledgling industry. Yes there are some great indie titles, but it’s the AAA-space that will ultimately come to be the poster child for VR. Without that killer experience, VR is struggling to justify the lofty entry fee; and until that killer app makes its appearance there’s little for gamers to get excited about. Put simply, why should gamers be excited?
This hasn’t been helped by the existing company’s being fairly muted on their successes. The on-off scuffling of Oculus and HTC, who have been quietly moving to undermine each other and stagnate the market, hasn’t created a great PR image around the PC side of things. Competition should breed competence but in the initial months, the two companies have been awkwardly working to put themselves ahead of the industry. Signing up exclusives and locking out those who didn’t buy their expensive headset is a poor way to cultivate excitement and in a period where games haven’t been delivering the high quality – it’s a sign that the ongoing scuffles haven’t yielded positive results.
It’s the PlayStation VR headset that’s turned the most heads – yet even there the successes since launch have been kept quiet. Ditching the requirement for an expensive PC and offering the VR experience in console form has given the platform an ease of access that its competitors can only dream of. Yet Sony won’t talk about numbers, nor will they gloat about how well the device is doing. There’s promise of more to come and the potential is certainly there, but in interviews – even Sony’s executives don’t gush about the device as much as you’d expect. Given that in 2016 gamers couldn’t stop hearing about how great VR was set to be, when none of the major players are willing to talk up their devices or the initial successes – it creates the image that things aren’t going as well as planned.
What can be done to fix all this? Put simply, the quality needs to rise to match the investment from gamers. Resident Evil 7 could change all this when it releases later this month. It’s the first major franchise to throw its hat into the VR arena and do so in a way that commits it to. Sure you can play it without VR – but the game looks incredible for those who’ll be playing on PSVR. It’s a hugely exciting leap and could spur creators of video games to finally take the step up and create the immersive content that we all want. Not only this but it’s the first game that people seem to genuinely be excited to see in the VR headset. While other titles have elicited a mild response of excitement; Capcom might be onto a winner and that winner could be exactly what VR needs.
Ultimately no one wants to see VR fail – but right now it’s hard to escape the feeling that the lofty potential is being squandered. I hope that the industry can focus its efforts and eventually make the entire thing work for gamers across the board. To achieve this costs have to come down, but creatively things need to get better. The cash-in novelty games need to become a thing of the past quicker – or the damage could be more long-term than anyone wants.