I have a hard time believing that the Virtual Reality market will grow as quickly in the next year as a lot of people hope. We live in exciting times, there's absolutely no doubt about it. Interest and investment in Head Mounted Display (HMD) technology is greater than it's ever been and we finally have hardware capable of creating compelling VR experiences. Unfortunately there are still a lot of roadblocks that need to be overcome before this market really takes off.
Who will buy the first generation of VR?
When I think about what the VR landscape will be like, I try to set the frame based on who I expect to buy it. The first generation is expensive. It'll cost somewhere between $800 and $2000 for most people to get the HMD and the PC/console to attach it to. Given cost alone, who is actually going to shell out the money for a first generation VR headset?
- Developers (myself included)
- Some subset of console/PC gamers
- Geeks with expendable income that like buying gadgets
Realistically, most gamers won't buy for a while. Your parents are not going to buy. Your bartender, your doctor, your high school science teacher, your Uber driver… They're not buying. Sure, they'll try it if you ask them to, but they will not buy it. What?! Am I crazy? VR is the future, it's amazing! Yes, it's amazing, important, and has incredible potential, but there are a lot of hurdles we won't be jumping over in the next year. Here are just a few of the biggest obstacles that will have to be overcome before we can expect any kind of mainstream adoption.
People aren't going to sit in VR if it makes them sick. Most people I know that get sick from a VR demo feel it for the rest of the day. The fact is that many first generation games are going to make people nauseous and that's going to be a big turnoff for the majority of people. When I buy a new Xbox game, I don't have to worry that it might make me break into a cold sweat and give me a splitting headache for the next six hours. When I try a new game on my Oculus, I do.
Let's face it. Cables have no business on wearable tech. With the current generation (low powered mobile excluded), you're tethered to your PC, you can't turn in a full circle, if you trip over the cable, bad things are gonna happen. Until we can ditch these cables, Head Mounted Displays like the Oculus and the Vive are going to feel like prototypes. Mobile VR devices are neat, but they're not on par with the quality level I expect out of a modern game. Even if we do ditch the cables, the whole new digital world you're in won't be very compelling if you can only move about two feet before the tracking gets weird. I'll admit that I've not yet tried the Vive nor the latest Oculus tracking tech, but the reality is that external trackers have their limits. Until we have flawless tracking built into the device, we're going to feel pretty confined. I think HoloLens is the closest to achieving this at the moment. I haven't seen any VR headsets with built in spatial tracking (correct me if I'm ignorant).
Not easily sharable
You can really only experience VR from within VR, by yourself. That means that if I want to share a great experience, I have to invite people over to my house, put my headset on their head, adjust the fit/calibration, and watch what they see from my monitor. "Isn't this cool?" Then the person will take off the headset and we talk about it in the real world. We cannot enjoy it together unless I have two VR headsets and the experience supports multiple players. Most people will not have two headsets and I bet most first gen games won't support two players simultaneously. Flat videos of two warped eye displays are garbage for conveying what a VR experience is like and right now that's all we have most of the time. I don't know about you, but I don't want check a bag with my desktop PC when I fly home to see my family.
No haptic feedback
This one is really tough. You're in a 3D world that blows your eyes out of their sockets, but don't touch anything! Because it isn't really there. Hell, we don't even have a decent omnidirectional treadmill yet. How are we going to simulate hills, walls, and stairs? Maybe we'll end up with haptic feedback suits from Ready Player One someday, but what about textures? Sand? Water?
We can overcome these in time
Despite all of these present blockers, I have high hopes for the Virtual Reality medium. I think we'll be completely untethered and have fantastic tracking five years from now. Once more people buy devices, sharing will get easier. Developers will get smarter and motion sickness can be avoided. My haptic feedback suit is probably another 20 years out, and I'll probably never feel the virtual sand between my toes, but I think I can live with that. So when will VR become mainstream? I give it five years before most gamers have it, 10 years before some of my non-gamer family members get it, and 15+ years before my bartender, doctor, and high school science teacher have it. My Uber driver will hopefully be a robot by then.
These are my personal opinions and don't necessarily reflect those of my employer or any special industry knowledge.