#VirtualWednesday: Why I think Virtual Reality has some way to go yet

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A few months ago, I made a video about why I don’t think Virtual Reality headsets will take off to the extent that many others seem to think. Today I want to follow that up with further evidence of the hurdles the industry has put in the way.

First off, let’s answer a question that may look simple on the outside: Do we have the technology for Virtual Reality today?

The reason the question isn’t as simple as it looks is because the definition of Virtual Reality is very loose. To some extent we do have VR right now, accessible for most people. We have worlds like InWorldz and Second Life, where you can create things and then interact with these creations in a life-like manner. It is a tangible world, but it only exists as information. It’s ones and zeroes flashing through a processor, that then presents this tangible thing on your screen.

What most people think of when you say Virtual Reality is a matrix-esque world, where you plug yourself into the computer and really feel what is going on in the world you see. Many people seem to have this idea about the new virtual gear that is being developed, such as the Occulus Rift. I am sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not going to happen any time soon, probably not even during our life times. These gears merely gives us the next stage in viewing and interacting with these virtual worlds. It’s an instrument for our eyes to see the world and a controller for our heads to control the camera. We turn our heads and the camera turns with it.

Here lies several of the biggest hurdles that the industry itself imposes on the success of the VR gears.

Firstly, since the control of the camera has been moved from a keyboard, mouse or other controller, developers must completely redo all code for camera controls. This means they have to chose to either do keyboard and mouse very well, the VR gear very well, or both to varying degrees of mediocre.

Since controls are very important for interacting with the world, be it a game, a guided tour or a virtual world, most developers want to have very good controllers. This means they will favour one over the other when it comes to coding it.

The availability of the VR gears are very limited, even more so when the most promising of them, the Rift, was announced at almost twice the promised price and with system requirements outclassing most modern computers.

Few developers are willing to jump into a limited market, and when given the choice of developing good controls for VR or excellent controls for conventional input methods, the latter will almost always win. With a good conventional controller, you can still use the VR gear, but not at its full potential. The gear would become nothing but a different kind of screen and will lose a lot of its immersion.

On the other hand, very few users want to pay upwards to $1800 to play with something that they can’t get the full use out of. This limits the potential user base even further, which causes even less developers to develop for the VR gears. Without those games that take full advantage of the technology, the user base will simply not build up, and without the user base, the developers will be too afraid to go all-in.

We have already seen this happen. When Occulus Rift was first announced in 2012, the projected release was in 2014, or 2015 at the latest. This caused an upswing in developers trying their damnedest to create the first real VR game. When the release didn’t happen, many of these developers went out of business. Without the gear, there were no customers. This created a cautionous culture among developers, who would rather focus on conventional controllers for a safer bet.

To limit the user base even further, each of the VR gear manufacturers have their own programming code to interact with their devices, which means the developers must chose between the different available gears. Should they go with the more hyped and expensive Rift, or the less hyped but cheaper Gear VR?

On top of this, companies like Facebook promised that VR would be for so much more than games, yet we have seen no sign of these companies developing anything outside of the gaming sphere. There is no “web interface” for the Rift and only very specific and very limited support for video.

In the video I did a few months ago, I talked about previous attempts at VR gears, all of them are now less than a memory. Will the new generation step up to the plate and prove me wrong? I really hope so! I am extremely excited about the prospect of Virtual Reality, and I do hope they learned from almost three decades of failures.

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