The future of virtual reality Part1
Regardless of the progress in the previous half-a-decade, VR as a feasible way to reach the masses still appears pretty distant. What will cause the paradigm shift?
In the dystopian universe of Cyberpunk 2077, (one of the leading releases, developed for the latest generation of consoles and the PC) citizens of Night City resort to “braindancing” to shift the attention away from their dystopian reality. Just like SQUID recordings from Strange Days, braindances enable users to traverse the experiences and sensations of others by putting on virtual reality headsets and re-experiencing memories maintained and communicated to all the five senses.
Within Cyberpunk mythology, the tech that lies at the heart of braindancing was made in the late 2000s and nearly immediately appropriated for entertainment purposes. We are well behind this progress in reality. Not only do we not have the technological advancements to support or enable an activity like braindancing, but just the created version of braindancing gave epileptic gamers seizures until the game was fixed.
Cyberpunk 2077 came with no native VR compatibility, preventing VR-gamers from pretending they were experiencing an authentic braindancing trip. The latest vision of a future in which VR-based entertainment is widespread came at the beginning of a new hardware generation that so far looks like an obstacle for VR gaming.
The last generation enabled widespread reach for VR, and near-mainstream acceptance. As of January, Sony had made sales in excess of 5 million units for the PSVR headset, compatible with the PS4, which was first solid in October, 5 years ago.
That figure didn’t reach the expectations of the more positive estimates, one market analyst enthusiastically predicted 6 million VR headsets solid in 2016 alone, and it’s a very minor fraction of the PS4s sold so far, (115 million), but PSVR gives a critical proof of concept, providing quality, living room VR experiences in accessible accessory for a popular and mainstream gaming platform.
That tangible evolution towards an idealistic vision for VR renders the present state of the market more confusing. For many years, VR was the brainchild of writer’s imaginations, and either impractical or too expensive for the common man. Over the previous half-a-decade, this has changed, the headsets are improving and at least a little awe-inspiring, if not completely refined. The future prospects for VR however, with regards to gaining mass and mainstream acceptance seem blurrier than ever before.
The issue with VR is that nearly half-a-decade ago, it was subjected to too much hype. This is the opinion of Dave Cole, founder and Chief Executive Officer of electronic entertainment research organization DFC Intelligence. It was set to underperform. But the devices and the content have been evolving to make it being to look moderately interesting to a mainstream consumer install base.
Three prominent pieces of VR hardware dominate the gaming market, The Occulus Rift, the HTV Vive, and the PSVR. They all came to the VR space within six months in 2016. When it was first released, PSVR cost as much as the PS4 itself when it first came out. (399US$). In the beginning, quality software was limited. The headset had a drawback in that it wasn’t wireless, holding back player’s freedom of movement by forcing them to stay physically connected to their consoles, and its screen resolution and basic handheld gamepads – repackage PSMove wands, were soon outdone by the cutting edge PC-based or standalone VR rigs.
Over the course of time, however, the PSVR accumulated a big and healthy library of games that significantly demonstrated the prospects of VR with regards to the experiences it could create. Many a gamer has their most memorable gaming moment in a VR gaming session, and the killer app that seems to be compelling users towards picking up VR headsets is Half Life: Alyx, a spin-off the Half-Life universe. Fans eager for Half Life 3 lapped it up, driving sales on Steam and wider adoption of VR headsets.
VR ports of popular mainstream games, like Resident Evil 7, Skyrim, Superhot, and No Man’s Sky, and other VR-only titles like Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Moss, Beat Saber, and Blood and Truth, demonstrated what game creators could do when they developed games with attached VR capabilities.
However, the apparently bright future of VR didn’t come closer to fruition with the mid-November debut of the Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5. The Xbox One didn’t have VR capabilities to start with, and even though the organization, Microsoft, has played around with Mixed Reality on Windows, promised players that its beefed-up Xbox One X would provide VR functionalities, it later decided against those plans. During November 2019, Xbox brand leader Phil Spencer spoke against the probability that Microsoft’s next console would be compatible with VR, stating that they were merely producing in response to client interests, and presently, there was no excitement around VR.”
Spencer, however, did acknowledge the value addition that VR brought to the table, hoping that sometime in the near future, “it’s a feature so vital that it’d be a no-brainer to support it.”
In more depressing news, Sony’s fans were met with the consumer electronic giant’s seeming apathy in a successor the successful PSVR on PS4. It should be noted that the PS5 is backwards-compatible with PSVR, although it does need a free camera adapter for connecting to the console. PS5 games that have been put out until now haven’t really bothered with VR capabilities, instead focusing on rich, single player experiences that really demonstrates the capabilities of the haptics feedback on the Sony PlayStation 5 controller. It can be argued that Sony’s shift away from, or apparent disinterest in VR, can be attributed to the innovation of the haptic controller. Creating richer experiences from the ground-up, the controller has been a vital part of the PS5’s arsenal is most marketing communications dealing with the PS5.