Virtual Reality: Fad or Future?

Is virtual reality here to stay, or is it just another passing fad?

Virtual reality is currently experiencing a revival thanks to the Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus, and Valve's VR tests, and there are hints that Microsoft isn't far behind, either. The prospect of actual, fully realized VR is certainly enticing, but the question on everyone's mind is whether VR is here to stay or if it will fade into obscurity yet again.

At this point, it's too early to tell where VR is headed, but in the interest of exploring both sides of the debate, here's why Peter Brown thinks VR is the future, and why Mark Walton thinks it may just be another techno-fad in the making.

Peter Brown: Virtual Reality is the Future

As an admirer of new and interesting hardware, I was immediately drawn to the Oculus Rift when it was announced in 2012. However, after a few tests with the first developer kit, I was surprisingly dejected. Early VR experiences, such as Dactyl Nightmare, failed to deliver on the promise of tricking our brains into believing a false reality, and I hoped that Oculus would be different. I was entertained by a port of Doom 3, and walked around a frozen castle in Epic Games' Elemental demo, but there was no suspension of disbelief to be had. It wasn't Dactyl Nightmare all over again, but there wasn't any evidence that it was worth getting excited about the future VR. Apart from motion-blur-related queasiness, nothing inside of me felt connected to the experience before my eyes.

Fast-forward to August 2013. I'm at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, for an appointment with CCP Games to try out its new space-combat game EVE Valkyrie. It had been exactly a year since my first Rift experience, and with memories of motion sickness still fresh in my mind, I was more than a little nervous. If walking down a hallway in Doom 3 made me dizzy, how could I possibly handle spaceflight? Little did I know that I was walking into a demo that would forever alter my opinion of VR and its potential to change not only gaming, but our relationship with technology at large. A minute into the demo, my reluctance transformed into excitement, and I was instantly converted into a VR believer.

Little did I know that I was walking into a demo that would forever alter my opinion of VR...

Unlike the other experiences I mentioned, EVE Valkyrie was built around the limitations and aims of VR. First, the notion of sitting in the cockpit of a spacecraft translates perfectly to sitting in a chair. Flying a jet doesn't require you to turn your shoulders or walk; your torso and arms remain stationary whether you're diving, climbing, or turning. Most impressively, apart from controlling your perspective within the cockpit, you can lock on to enemy spacecraft by following them with your gaze. I can't fully explain how great it was to crane my neck backward to lock on to a passing enemy ship, but it was an empowering feeling, and I was immersed in my role as a pilot. Not only are your physical movements accounted for in the virtual world, but the gameplay is enhanced as well. After a few minutes of dogfighting in space, I began to anticipate the effects of centripetal force; my brain had been tricked, and my fate as a VR evangelist took off.

Having witnessed firsthand the sorts of experiences that only VR can offer, I've seen that there's more to the medium than I once thought. Now, not everyone who has played EVE Valkyrie shares my excitement, but I haven't met a single person who didn't thoroughly enjoy it. The experience allowed me to extrapolate the potential that lies down the road if VR hardware and software are continually developed hand in hand. In some ways, the industry is starting over from scratch with VR, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned.

As Oculus' VP of product, Nate Mitchell, likes to put it, VR is like a house of cards. If you take one card out--such as the relationship between physical and virtual movements--the illusion crumbles. The fact is, the house of cards at present is just a foundation, but it's already attracting lots of money and attention. The industry is in a much better position to facilitate the dreams of artists and designers than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and with institutions like USC successfully adopting VR for mental health treatment, the implications of the tech outside of gaming will bolster its legitimacy in the short term and spur further funding and research in the long term. It's still the early days, but with the right experience under your belt, I think you'll agree that VR is the future.

This time, it's here to stay.

Mark Walton: Is There an Audience for Virtual Reality?

How many people really want virtual reality? That's the question I was left asking myself after Sony revealed Project Morpheus, its sleek, futuristic-looking foray into the fledgling medium. It arrives after a flurry of hype and media fervor over the Kickstarter-backed Oculus Rift, as well as the likes of Valve's in-house VR headset. Having been fortunate enough to try the Oculus Rift, there's no denying it's an impressive, potentially game-changing piece of technology. Project Morpheus is no less impressive, at least on paper: a 1080p display, 90-degree field of view, 3D audio, motion tracking... you know, all the things us tech-heads like to geek out over.

The trouble is, despite its "3+ years" development time, it's hard to see Project Morpheus as anything but a case of Sony hopping on the VR bandwagon, trying to chase down a new and potentially lucrative audience. And if that all sounds a little familiar, you only need look back at the last console generation to see how such a strategy played out. Sony's PlayStation Move and Microsoft's Kinect were both responses to Nintendo's hugely popular Wii. Neither was anywhere near as successful.

And with Microsoft rumoured to be developing its own VR tech, VR is very much becoming the hot new tech item that everyone is scrambling to get a piece of, but--unlike with motion gaming--without any evidence that the public at large is willing to buy one.

For all its success with the developer community and games media, there's still no hard evidence that the Oculus Rift has wide appeal.

Today's VR is very impressive. Developers love it too. But how do we know the public at large will? The majority of interest in VR has come from the industry, not from consumers. It's impossible to really know the demand for such a device before it goes on sale; even the hugely successful Oculus Rift Kickstarter was backed only by a few thousand people. But until it does, I'm erring on the side of caution. After all, there are plenty of great ideas--in gaming and consumer technology alike--that haven't caught on in the way their creators had hoped.

There are so many variables at play: will people feel comfortable sitting at home with a screen slapped to their face? Will they be willing to pay for it? They certainly weren't too happy with 3D glasses, and those were nowhere near as cumbersome, even if the actual experience wasn't as impressive. Plus, with 1080p displays, motion tracking and the like inside VR headsets, it's doubtful they'll be cheap. The consumer version of the Oculus Rift is targeting a $300 price point, which is hardly an impulse buy. Plus, much like 3D, or indeed motion-controls, it's hard to demonstrate the pros of VR to consumers without them actually getting their hands on a unit. Getting demo units into stores is going to be just as important as getting developers on board to make games.

This raises the classic games peripheral problem too: developers want a large install base to sell to, but consumers are reluctant to buy into a new piece of tech in large numbers without the games to back it up. Big graphics engine companies like Epic Games, Crytek, and Unity have all pledged support for Project Morpheus, but as Nintendo found out with the Wii U, third-parties are just as quick to abandon a new platform as they are to support it if it doesn’t live up to sales expectations. Even making sure a peripheral is bundled with the hardware isn't any guarantee of success: just look at how many games are specifically designed for Kinect on Xbox One (spoiler: not many).

Sony's move into VR may represent the most high-profile support of the technology yet. And, with rumours that Microsoft is also working on its own VR device (codenamed Fortaleza), both of the big home console makers are hoping to capitalise on VR's recent rebirth. But it is a hope, and right now there's little evidence that VR is going to reach the kind of critical mass that'll entice developers to create games for it in the long term. I'm just hoping history isn't repeating itself, and we end up with a bunch of impressive but forgotten peripherals that chased an audience that simply wasn't there.

See more coverage of GDC 2014.

Written By

Want the latest news about EVE: Valkyrie?

EVE: Valkyrie

EVE: Valkyrie

Discussion

308 comments
DeadrisingX1
DeadrisingX1

I don't think that I would be part of that audience, but I do like the concept. I can almost imagine myself playing Outlast...

Evamorgana
Evamorgana

Fad or future? An awesome, awesome future. I like the idea of getting exercise by actually fighting in game and out of game. As my character gets stronger, so do I. Oh the possibilities! It may take time but VR is the next step in gaming and I can't wait.   

WolfgarTheQuiet
WolfgarTheQuiet

Not really that excited, kind of like meh. Maybe on next gen... well if there is one haha

AnonymousSquid
AnonymousSquid

The pharmaceutical industry might chip in with anti-nausea gaming medication! I can see it from now, the kind of spam we'll be receiving soon enough:


Enlarge your virtual reality with the one and only Virtual Reality Pill, <something catchy>.

Zloth2
Zloth2

Future - and not just in gaming.  You could use something like this to make virtual monitors.  Look straight ahead and it just simulates your monitor.  Look to the right and it shows a second monitor that Windows thinks is there but doesn't actually exist.  Add another to the left, another above, and another below.  Five monitors for the price of one headset!

Baron_Kreight
Baron_Kreight

I do want this device to succeed but for now I'd prefer to remain cautious about it. You know this device reminds me of a robot cleaners (yeah, those that look like a disc) - they are cool sure, but from what I perceive they are expensive, brake often and do not do their job well enough. Better to use good old vacuum cleaner.

mattcake
mattcake

Some kind of VR is undoubtedly the future, but actual "reality" quality is a long way off and hence so is mainstream appeal. If I wanted to live in a badly lit blocky world I'd set up camp in IKEA.

kujel
kujel

VR is at most a fad at worst a waste of money especially in the case of the sony rig.

Fire_Wa11
Fire_Wa11

Dude, it's bad enough that I am a full-grown man and I actually know what a "rune" is.  No way am I hanging around my computer with some nerd-helmet over my eyes.  That will be the day I don't have a friend left in the world.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

Even the argument for VR concedes that it only lends itself to specific types of games.  It can never replace controllers and will always demand its own set of games, which will limit it to a fad.  I'd rather see a light gun for flat screens and a solid retro library (Time Crisis, Terminator 2, etc.).

Spawnblade
Spawnblade

It's the future.  It failed in the past because we didn't have the technology to render it realistically, or to even create games that really took advantage of it (particularly open world sandboxes like Skyrim/Fallout.)

We now have both those things.  The resolution of the Rift is fast approaching photo-realistic.  If people can successfully merge a motion control controller with one of these headsets and one of the VR treadmills, VR gaming will be in a great place.

UNCStriker88
UNCStriker88

The problem is the headset and that is why it will fail again.  People want VR but in the form of an entire Holodeck, for reference watch the movie Gamer, that is the future!

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

I've tried one in the older VR sets, not sure how these compare? However neat they seem I'm a tad claustrophobic and these devices make you feel blocked in many ways from the outside world. & that's not good for gaming, as many like to be comfortable during the experience.


So I'm going to say "fad". it'll have a niche market regardless at the least. . If they're lucky.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

50" moniter that i can hook up to my face like a normal moniter, is all i really want. Just plug my video card to it :) instead of a moniter would be great. Like it acts like a normal desktop, that i can just do all the things i do on PC. Movies, games tv series etc. Just have a HDMI cable or DVI cable i can just hook to it.

Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

Fad. They've been trying to make virtual reality "a thing" for decades. So far all we got was a bunch of cheesy movies with wishful thinking (Lawnmower man, Tron etc.)

Shiftfallout
Shiftfallout

VR is the future, absolutely. I will merge with AR, which is short for Augmented Reality. Toss in haptic feedback and well its set. The pieces are all there. That said, its important to note you dont need games to be designed for VR. Any game is potentially a VR game in the same way that movies are all potentially VR capable. Why? Because there already exist applications which put you into a virtual environment with a screen in front of you. For example, theres a piece of software in which you walk around a movie theater, sit down at any seat, look around, and the whole time one of your movies is playing on the virtual screen in front of you. This empowers the gamer by creating a more immersive play environment and one thats easily far more achievable than something like microsofts illumiroom... it is also possible to play on much larger displays without actually paying the cost of a larger display.

Example, VR virtual screens can mimick playing on an 80 inch HDTV without spending the $1000s required to buy and install an 80 inch tv.


thatsphresh
thatsphresh

I'm waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more excited for Microsoft's "Illumiroom" which with the correct set up, I think would be way more immersive. As for VR...It's a thing that's around. 

Xenrathe
Xenrathe

The rebuttal to Mark Walton comes from within his own argument: Wii's motion controller was hugely successful. It was also considered by many to be a mere 'fad.'

I don't know whether the OR or MS or Sony's versions will be the VR that finally gets it right, but VR is the future, whether it's the near future or the far future. Of that, I think almost everyone agrees.

I actually believe we'll see it first as a medical advancement (e.g. allowing blind people to see) or via things like google glass or smart contact lenses before gaming adopts it.

keeper262
keeper262

The future, but only once it becomes easy, fun or useful. I mean right now people don't even want a camera and ATM making the camera seem useful or needed is a stretch.

charlieholmes
charlieholmes

I can see it's use in specialty jobs, training, and at places of higher education. But, the public wasn't wiling to wear 3D glasses and thus run down to buy a 3D TV so these overly large and confining VR sets arn't going to find popularity either. It's just a fact that we don't generally like wearing anything on our heads much at all that is restrictive, usually painful to a degree, and cumbersome like all the VR devices seen so far.

Not gonna take off this time around I'm betting.

abcdefgabcdefgz
abcdefgabcdefgz

I hope its not the future, but it could be another path if there is enough room for it. There will always be a place for games we have now just like mobile didnt kill off real games.

wristbreaker
wristbreaker

I'm getting it if good games support it... powerglove 2.0 should be developed next so we can pilot a jet or a mech and interact with in-game environments.... this would be awesome if done correctly... VR is absolutely the  future of gaming... again if it is done correctly...

digitaldeaddog
digitaldeaddog

Put out or get out, already. The more I read about "plans" the less I'm interested. OR should have been released 2 years ago. The waiting game is getting boring and I doubt when/if it actually is released, there will be anything to do with it other than a few games that don't really need it. All this time is being wasted on something that might in actuality grow old faster than it took to put on the market. It's time move on to something else. Next please!

roguebot
roguebot

I could see myself buying one of these things eventually, but I won't be an early adopter.


Hopefully they're comfortable enough that using them regularly over the course of a year or more won't leave an impression on your face, like glasses do on your nose, but they look like they might. Even bottled drinks can create scarring on your mouth if you drink from them often enough for long enough.

Stinger78
Stinger78

Every time I hear about VR, I think of those expensive simulators from the 90's, and the movie Lawnmower Man.  However, if support is there, maybe we could have details like the Star Trek Holodeck, or The Matrix.  


At the same time I can't help but be reminded of Virtual Boy, with the way the headsets are designed.

slappy54
slappy54

Motion controls are a gimmick. VR has potential.

Zloth2
Zloth2

@Fire_Wa11 Dude, if your friends leave you because you don't look cool 24/7 then you already don't have a friend left in the world.

IJONOI
IJONOI

@youre_a_sheep  I'mm pretty sure you use the controller as well as. Imagine cod, but you dont need to use the right analogue stick. You just roll your head around... I think. Maybe. Clarify anyone? No? Fine, FU.

solarrainuk
solarrainuk

@Spawnblade  Photo-realistic? We're many years from that, I'd say 5-10 at the very least, it's not even close, and really has nothing to do with the Oculus tech.

Evamorgana
Evamorgana

And they'll keep trying. They've been trying to perfect photo-realism for decades and their nearly there. It's on the horizon. VR may seem like a fad now but it's a work in progress. 

Shiftfallout
Shiftfallout

@Gravity_Slave They have been trying to make electric cars and thin low energy monitors as well. Were those fads?

At one point voice recognition was a fad, now its the norm in both new cars, phones and gaming tech. The key here is that its about technology. VR didnt work in the past because the technology wasnt there. now it is and its affordable.

FLEEBS
FLEEBS

@Gravity_Slave  Tron is awesome and doesn't really have anything to do with virtual reality.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

@Gravity_Slave  Lawnmower man was alright. I was youngish when i saw it though, dont know what its like now.

FLEEBS
FLEEBS

@thatsphresh  Illumiroom looks awesome. I really hope they not only actually release it, but do it at an affordable price.

Spartan_418
Spartan_418

@Xenrathe I'm not sure where the connection between curing blindness and VR is; if cameras connected to the brain of a blind person are allowing them to see, then it's not virtual reality, it's just reality.

69
69

@digitaldeaddog  It's barely ready now; It absolutely wasnt ready 2 years ago. You need to remember that "most people" don't even know about the OR/Morpheus etc yet. They need to get it as right as possible when it launches, and 2 years ago that meant a lot more motion-blur & jutter, on a lower res display, without complete motion tracking, etc. All things that many people, likely yourself included, would of bitched about if it had been released earlier.

charlieholmes
charlieholmes

Gotta agree with you. They're throwing bad money, after bad money on these things.

chrisx2k3
chrisx2k3

@digitaldeaddog  LoL. I'm surprised to see so many people in agreement with me on Gamespot. That never happens.

charlieholmes
charlieholmes

Have you ever worn anything with straps that go on your head like a gas mask, NVG's, they're never comfortable and you can't wait to get the thing off. Same is true here with the VR devices. Not to mention anytime you put weight on your head, the weight distribution can never be made comfortable and it ends up literally being a pain in your neck.

chrisx2k3
chrisx2k3

@roguebot  And then there's the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM...SOFTWARE THAT TAKES ADVANTAGE OF VR...LoL. There's alot that can go wrong here.

Shiftfallout
Shiftfallout

@solarrainuk @SpawnbladeWe are not 5-10 years away. Its already doable, all major game engines now even support PBR (physically based rendering). Toss in high poly meshes with either real time sub-d or tesselation and some high resolution texture work and you pretty much already have realism. You are right though, photo realism isnt the point of the VR tech, not in its entirity.

A lot of people forget what VR headsets are, what its capable of and where it leads to.

1. VR allows gamers to be in a more immersive state, not all games need to be based on VR to be played with VR. One could easily sit in a virtual space and play a regular game on a virtual TV. The power of this is something like microsofts illumiroom is entirely possible virtually, as well as the user can any size display they want really and have it be portible. Someone might not have the luxury of playing on an 80 inch hdtv which is not only extremely expensive but very heavy and limited by space, yet they can have that and more in a virtual environment with the Rift. Youtube oculus rift movie theater to see an example of this in action.

2. VR headsets are just dynamic displays with built in areas of input. They offer far more in the way of range and possibility of interaction at a tiny fraction of the price.


3. VR headsets will eventually be tied to AR, which we already see happening. AR is Augmented Reality. Imagine a camera in front of the VR headset that displays whats in front of you in real life onto the VR headset and mixes in both real and virtual information. With tracking technology it becomes a game changer.

Xenrathe
Xenrathe

@Spartan_418 @Xenrathe  Because it's a direct silicon-to-neuron interface. The 'virtual' part has nothing to do with the interface and everything to do with what is transmitted. That is, an interface that is used to transmit 'reality' could just as easily transmit a 'virtual reality.'

Xenrathe
Xenrathe

@Spartan_418 @Xenrathe  Indeed. Suppose there existed a relatively easy and cheap surgery that would allow additional 'processing' of the light that reaches your eyes. You would be able to see in different spectrums (infra-red, ultra-violet, x-ray, etc.). You could zoom in. You could adjust brightness levels. You could capture an image and upload it to your cloud. You could put various overlays on top of what you see to make it more useful. That is, your eyes become digital cameras.


The technology for all of that exists and will eventually be adapted for biological integration. It's not a far cry from that to say: "Well what if we create virtual streams of photons?" I suspect that will be the first truly widespread adoption of virtual reality, a prospect I approach with equal parts fear and excitement.

Spartan_418
Spartan_418

@Xenrathe Ah, that makes sense. So it could apply to non-blind people as well, without the need for a headset