An attendee operates the Oculus VR Inc. Rift virtual reality (VR) headset during the company's Connect 4 product launch event in San Jose, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Facebook Inc. unveiled a cheaper virtual-reality headset that works without being tethered to a computer, rounding out its plan for pushing the emerging technology to the masses. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Reports of VR’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
True, those early, sometimes astronomical predictions of seemingly a virtual reality headset in every home, a VR enthusiast found in every gamer, were greatly exaggerated too, but there’s plenty of middle ground between such high and low points.
And that’s where Oculus Rift vice president of content Jason Rubin sees virtual reality right now.
Specifically, Rubin believes that VR is in what people at Oculus Rift call the desert and what some researchers call the “trough of disillusionment.” It is, specifically, that moment after inflated expectations and hype aren’t realized and there is a plummet in interest.
The good news is that it brings people back down to the reality of that technological innovation and allows for a steady, predictable increase in more sensible expectations.
“People understand what to expect and the software starts to catch up with the hardware and things take off,” Rubin tells Glixel. “I think we’re in that trough.”
But, importantly, that plummet didn’t and won’t, Rubin believes, dash the potential of virtual reality as it has with so many other bits of innovation over the years.
Rubin points to 3D televisions as an example of how consumer VR won’t behave.
With 3D televisions, there was that same level of hype and exaggerated interest, but then when those expectations weren’t meant the interest in the technology plummeted to its death.
That’s because, Rubin says, people knew immediately what the ultimate potential of that tech was. Kinect is another example of failed tech that Rubin believes is proof of VR’s rising success. With the Xbox 360’s launch of the motion-sensing Kinect, it took people a couple of years to completely figure out the accessories potential, but once they did, they gave up on it.
“The more we looked into it the more we realized it was your body on the screen,” he says. “So at that point, maybe two years in, you could judge what it was and wasn’t going to do.
“With virtual reality, theoretically there is nothing after it, you can simulate anything.”
There are software and hardware issues to solve still – things like motion sickness and screen resolution, weight of the device and the wires connecting it to the computer – but all of that will one day be solved, he says.
“Theoretically, there is no limit to VR. “Naysayers won’t win. Things will keep improving.”
Jason Rubin is strapped into a virtual reality creation of Pixar’s upcoming Day of the Dead movie Coco, a Oculus Rift headset wrapped around his head, when I first seem him. He’s playing around in the colorful world, poking at a life-sized skeleton and looking around at the world he is virtually inhabiting. We’re on the third floor of Bathhouse Studios in New York City’s East Village. Beneath us are floors of people strapped into countless headsets, exploring worlds, swinging through trees, becoming the Hulk or Deadpool, all inhabiting virtual worlds powered by Oculus Rift.
The games that people came to play at the low-key holiday event were all perfect examples of what Rubin likes to call second generation games. (A similar phrase is used by some of the developers of the PlayStation VR’s latest titles.)
While many of the first Oculus games either released as or started as sorts of experiences or experimentation, these new titles are meant to be fully realized major game releases comparable to the sort of fare one might find on the PlayStiation 4.
“We got through our experimentation phase quite early,” Rubin says. “These are second generation games: incredibly high production value, scoring high on metacritic. For us it’s about more of that software not and taking it to the next level.”
Those titles including things like the yet-to-be-detailed major game from Respawn, creators of the Titanfall titles. Rubin says that isn’t a small title and that it’s coming out in 2019.
“It’s big and it’s going to be amazing,” he says.
Other games on Oculus continue to evolve like shooter Raw Data and Robo Recall from Epic Games. And then you also have non-virtual reality games, often big hits, that are now making the leap to VR. Games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Doom.
Rubin also points out that the consumer Oculus Rift headset has only been around for 18 months and that the add-on Touch controller for less than a year.
“And we keep working on everything,” he says. “The studios and IP owners are incredibly excited because it’s giving new life to some of their properties. It’s wish fulfillment for players.
“It’s a great time to be alive.”
While Oculus first, second and third party developers continue to work on making better virtual reality experiences and creating full-blown games, the company is also hard at work on improving the hardware.
The holy grail of virtual reality is a headset that can deliver high-end graphics, a wide field of view, weighs less and doesn’t need any cables or cameras to work. That may be a bit off, but Oculus and other companies continue to take baby steps in that direction.
Just last month, Oculus announced the Oculus Go, a self-contained VR headset that in many ways mimics the features of Samsung’s Gear VR, but without the need to snap a phone into the headset.
That all-in-one headset doesn’t offer the same fidelity of the cabled ones, nor the same level of tracking, but Rubin believes it's an important way to lower the point of entry for the tech.
Another major step in lowering that entry point is the company’s work on Project Santa Cruz, a headset that delivers the same level of tracking as the cabled Oculus Rift and better fidelity than the Go, in a self-contained unit.
“A combination of those [products] is the second phase of VR hardware,” Rubin says. “VR one is too attached to those computers. Santa Cruz is, in essence, an all-in-one mobile Rift.”
Between the more expansive games and the improving hardware, Rubin says he believes that virtual reality is getting closer to mass-market appeal, but that it’s still going to take some time.
“It’s a big challenge to launch a new computer platform and do things people have never done before.”