Is VR Nothing More Than An Overpriced Gimmick?

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Is VR Nothing More Than An Overpriced Gimmick?
October 16, 2016

Erik Kain, contributor to Forbes, clearly doesn't believe in Virtual Reality. Below is his take on the matter:
 
"Virtual Reality Is Just An Over-Priced Gimmick, Nothing More"
 
Virtual Reality has been touted as the next big thing by tech bloggers and industry leaders. The tech industry is making big bets on its future, including Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, the makers of the Oculus Rift headset, the device which basically sparked this latest VR craze.
 
Now everyone wants a piece of the pie, from mobile efforts like Google’s new Daydream technology, to Sony’s just-released PlayStation VR.
There’s just one problem: VR is a gimmick, and not even a very good gimmick. It’s also prohibitively expensive, even at the lower end.
 
PlayStation VR is the cheapest of the bunch, costing just $399—though it’s more like $499 if you need the Move controllers and the PlayStation camera. Then, too, you’ll need a PS4, which is another $299 minimum. In other words, PlayStation VR is $400 at a minimum, but will likely set you back even more.
 

Still, that’s cheaper than the Oculus Rift which costs $599 for the headset and has to be paired with a powerful PC. You may already have a powerful PC, but you may also need to upgrade. That might include a new graphics card, which will set you back anywhere from $300 to $800.
 
Meanwhile, the HTC Vive is a whopping $799, partly due to its elaborate setup, which involves wall-mountable sensors, motion controllers, and more.
 
Trick or Treat?
Virtual Reality has plenty of problems, beyond expense, of course. Here are a few:
 
VR headsets are really uncomfortable.
This is a big deal, actually. Virtual Reality is not something you can do for very long in large part because the headsets you have to strap onto your head are really uncomfortable. They’re bulky and hot. You can’t see the real world around you, to do little but important tasks like pick up a beer can, or handful of chips.
 
VR can cause nausea and headaches.
On top of being uncomfortable to wear, VR can also induce nausea in gamers. Reports indicate that this is a bigger problem with PlayStation VR than other headsets, though Sony’s headset is more comfortable to wear. I personally don’t get sick to my stomach in any VR games, but I do get headaches. After 20 or 30 minutes my head is pounding and I have to stop. Regular video games don’t do this to me (at least not that fast.)
 
VR is a cable management nightmare.
The future of VR, such as that future might exist, is one untethered from boxes. One VR headset is a cable management nightmare; add a second headset and you’re in big trouble. The HTC Vive is the worst, simply because on top of the myriad cables (audio, HDMI, USB) you’ve also got wall censors, and two different controllers to charge and pair with your PC. In VR, moving around can lead to tripping over cables. Even sitting in a chair it can be tricky. Until VR is untethered this will be a huge barrier to entry, along with all the rest.
 
VR games haven’t justified their existence yet.
I’ve had some fun with VR games, but there’s really not a single one that I can say is more fun than a regular video game, or that simply wouldn’t work as a regular video game. Perhaps the most striking moments in VR aren’t really games at all, but just scenes you experience—great heights you teeter dizzyingly on, or massive dinosaurs towering above you. Some of my favorite VR experiences would work just as well on a screen.
 
VR is obsessed with motion controls.
When it comes to VR, motion controls are the Next Big Thing. Of course, motion controls are also the Last Big Thing, and that didn’t go so well. Kinect was a disaster. PlayStation Move didn’t take off. The Wii was a hit, but it was an exception to the rule. Yet here we are with motion controls once again, only this time with the added benefit of hot, uncomfortable headsets strapped to our faces. The fact of the matter is, motion controls are rarely as fun or as effective as a regular, old-fashioned gamepad. There are a few neat things you can do in HTC Vive games with motion that a regular controller couldn’t do, but they’re far outweighed by clunky, inaccurate garbage.
 
VR is far from immersive still.
Even these high-end headsets look pretty bad compared to what we see in traditional games. Images look way too pixelated, and graphics often look like something from last generation. Indeed, what you see when you strap on a headset is rarely as pretty as what you see in the trailers and promotional material for these VR games.
 
VR is fueled by novelty.
Almost every VR game out right now is fueled not by creative game design, but rather by novelty. And the novelty is grand! It’s fun to watch someone step into VR for the first time. It’s funny to watch a friend get dizzy when they stand on some high ledge looking down into the virtual void; it’s funny when they get freaked out by an onrush of zombies. All of this is fun and novel. You’ll do it once or twice and never again. Most VR is just novelty masquerading as interesting game design. Meanwhile, the best VR games would probably be just as fun on a TV or computer monitor, and would sell more copies that way.
 
There’s not much content on VR.
This ties in with the last one, but the fact is there’s just not much content, and even less good content, on any VR device. Partly this is due to the stupid, self-defeating platform wars we’ve seen between Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (PSVR is another story since it’s a console-based system.) Part of this is because not a ton of people own VR headsets, so it’s a bigger risk for developers to make games, and especially expensive games, for VR. But it may also be because VR simply can’t do games the way traditional consoles or PC can, for reasons like devotion to gimmicky controls, or the fact that many players can’t do more than a 20 minute stretch before getting sick or getting a headache.
 
Verdict
When you take all of this into account, it’s hard to justify a VR purchase. The combination of expense and the lack of compelling content, paired with the uncomfortable nature of the headsets themselves and various side effects, all makes VR a promise without a delivery.
Sure, VR can be fun. It can be amusing. It can even, at times, be awe-inspiring. Those feelings just don’t last, and what we’re left with is a headache and an empty bank account.
 
This is why I’ve argued that the future of VR is mobile, and that Google’s Daydream platform is much more likely to spark any kind of mainstream virtual reality adoption than high-end goggles, or even PlayStation VR.

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