We've seen a lot of fads come and go in the gaming industry. In fact, we're only a few years removed from the most recent attempt to electrify the masses with a long-running, multimedia gimmick: 3D.
The fact that things like this have come in and out of focus again and again over the last several decades has some consumers posturing that VR gaming is of the same gimmicky ilk. We disagree.
E3 is when everything hangs out. It's when companies parade around their best and brightest in an attempt to gain a successful stance over the next year's worth of video game releases. 3D was a bungle, which we'll talk about shortly, but virtual reality? Virtual reality is looking mighty sharp.
Eric, I know that we run with a slightly different amount of visits when it comes to E3. We both went to our first around the same time, but then you took a few years off before returning. Did you manage to make it to the show for one of the two years where 3D gaming was everywhere you looked?
Sadly, or not so sadly, I did not attend the 3D-heavy years of E3. I think I just missed them, in fact. Instead, I probably live-tweeted them, but even from that far, 3D was still everywhere. I can't imagine what it was like being on the show floor, but maybe you can paint me a hyper realistic image that just pops out of the screen like I'm really there.
Ha. I can try?
3D pervaded almost every conference and presentation I attended. Sony handed out glasses before their show. I went to one presentation for that really awful Star Trek third person game that included 3D.
Then there's the 3DS, a device which based its initial existence on 3D. In fact, while we're here, I do want to get the 3DS out of the way. I own one. In fact, I've owned all iterations of the device. I love it. It's probably my favorite handheld of all time, and I think it, aside from the PC, has the most hours of game time logged.
That said… I didn't buy it for the 3D. In fact, the 3D remains off about 98 percent of the time I use the system, unless a game I'm reviewing explicitly calls for me to switch it on. 3D was a gimmick here, and I'd say that while some enjoy the gimmick, it isn't the sole reason they purchased the system.
I digress. 3D was a constant presence at E3 going back several years. As someone who's studied media consumption, the entire time had me thinking back on all the things I'd read about the first time 3D was introduced to the public. It was an attempt to get viewers back into movie theaters as the home television was storming the nation. It, alongside the likes of Smell-O-Vision, was by its very nature a sales gimmick.
I genuinely feel that was the same case for games.
It's funny how history repeats itself. It happened in the 1950s, and happened in the 2010s. It wasn't just a way to get viewers back inside theaters – which it did, when a movie was made FOR It (the one time that happened). In the 2010s, It was also an attempt to boost the rapidly falling price of LCD TVs, to give manufacturers an excuse to sell more expensive hardware.
The 3D thing was never much more than a gimmick – doubly so for me. You see, I have special eyes. Not like in that commercial, though. Basically, I can keep my eyes focused on something most of the time, but anything that separates my eyes gives the opportunity for them to split up and do their own thing. 3D anything required intense concentration from me to retain focus. Avatar was literally tiring to watch.
I'm hoping that this won't be a problem with virtual reality, though. I haven't had the chance to pop on one of the many headsets currently racing to market, but there's a distinctly different tone to the responses from users. It's less "well, that was neat," and more like that old commercial for Maxell cassette tapes:
Have you had the chance to check out VR?
Briefly, yes. I've had one demo with the Rift, though my fun sort of stops there.
I easily stepped into the illusion, I had no issue with motion sickness and I quite liked the feeling.
For me, VR seems like less of a gimmick than 3D. 3D was a way to augment the displays we've been using for decades now. It's a way to alter the image, not drastically change the medium.
VR? VR changes the game. It brings new life to genres like horror and simulation, and it makes every game world that much more immersive. 3D is an illusion quickly broken. VR is present as long as you're wearing the goggles.
With that said, there are a lot of technical hurdles to VR that I think are going to be difficult to overcome. While Oculus has the most mind-share, and I think HTC and Valve might have the most innovative take on it, Sony has the best chance of overcoming the hurdles.
Virtual reality is expensive. It's not cheap to pack all those super high density LCD screens, motion trackers, and other hardware into a tiny unit and make it look good. The hardware is going to be more expensive than people expect right out of the gate. We're not looking at $200 or $300, but probably double that as a starting point.
It's also not easy on the processor. We've had to watch console developers struggle to get games to stick steadily to 30 frames per second at 1080p resolution. Virtual reality requires 60 frames per second and requires that it be rock solid. To be able to power that is going to require that developers back off a bit on visual fidelity.
Where Sony's advantage comes in is that, while PlayStation 4 isn't as powerful as some gaming PCs, it is more powerful than others, and every PS4 is the same. It's going to be much easier for Sony to create and market a universal experience compared to PCs where you have users trying to squeeze every last effect out of their rig, which is different from everyone else's rig.
Right. I think the biggest point here is that the greatest barrier for entry right now is cost. The current development kit for the Oculus Rift is moving for $350, and that ain't cheap enough for consumers to come flocking.
However, if Facebook/Oculus, HTC and Sony can find a way to sell their Virtual Reality peripherals at a decent entry price, I think they might be on to something. I'd wager that everyone thinks about different prices when they consider what they'd be willing to pay to get into VR.
Me? $200 is my limit. I know that's low, too, so it might be a few years before I get into the game. All it takes, though, is a large enough pack of early adopters.
Maybe it's just a gut feeling, but I don't think of a flatlining gimmick when I think of VR. 3D always had me shaking my head while thinking it was only a matter of time until companies abandon the tech. VR, on the other hand, is something I think consumers will rally behind.
The difference between 3D and VR is that VR, as you said, offers something new. 3D was, ironically, a pretty one-dimensional offering. It was visually amusing, but did little to change the gaming experience. It works better for movies, and that's why we still see movies appearing in both 2D and 3D even now, years after anyone bothered to so much as bring up 3D TV.
There's a lot of new gaming avenues to explore with virtual reality. Racing and space sims are the tip of the iceberg. Horror and roleplaying could see drastic changes. Even something as simple as Minecraft or even poker could be a whole new experience.
I see VR going one of two directions. It's not going to peter out and disappear like 3D did. Either it'll take off like a rocket when people see the magic of it, or there will be no interest at all in the expensive tech and in wearing a big headset over your face and it'll implode before it even gets off the launch pad.
I hope for the former, because I love new games, and I think the twenty billion dollars, a Dr. Evil amount of money that Facebook dumped into Oculus, gives it a better chance of making it than it might otherwise. Facebook has the kind of consumer penetration to make something happen just because they want it to, the same way Apple does. I think Sony has the best chance to give a consistent consumer solution that doesn't break the illusion, but I think Facebook has the money and time to force VR to happen.
Largely, I tend to agree. And now I find myself thinking Sony might use a game like No Man's Sky to sell the Morpheus, and that has me stupid excited.
VR is some crazy stuff, and I think we're very close to achieving it in a mass market way.
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