Can Rock Band VR Win Over The Virtual Crowd?

Can Rock Band VR Win Over The Virtual Crowd?
February 10, 2017

Will the dream of belting out your favourite songs in front of a packed house inspire budding rock stars to invest in a virtual reality headset?


We might have dubbed 2016 The Year of Virtual Reality, but getting VR headsets onto the Australian shelves was only the first step. The bigger challenge is convincing your average punter that they need to own one, and that the novelty won't wear off as quickly as it did with other entertainment fads like 3D television.


As with 3D viewing, I'd say games probably have the best chance of winning people over to VR because you need the content to be engaging enough to outweigh the limitations of the technology and help people forget that they're wearing a cumbersome headset. From my experience with 3D, it's games that keep you coming back for more rather than movies or live sport.


This should work to Sony's advantage, which pushing the PlayStation VR for the PS4 alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which require a high-powered PC – although Microsoft is adding the ability to stream Xbox One games to the Oculus Rift via Windows 10.


So which VR games will win people over? Hardcore first-person shooters will appeal to serious gamers but it's titles like Rock Band VR – scheduled to take the stage in March – which are more likely to appeal to the broader community of social/casual gamers. Rock Band VR will only be available for the Oculus Rift and is one of the first games to take advantage of the new Oculus Touch controllers.


By social/casual gamers I mean people who might regularly play games but don't necessarily identify as "gamers". The Rock Band/ Guitar Hero genre is a great example of that and seems perfect for a VR makeover, but early reports indicate that Rock Band VR might not have the staying power you'd expect – depending what you want from a rhythm game.


For me the appeal of these rhythm games is getting the band back together and playing as a group, slinging on the lead guitar while one friend grabs the mic and others bash away at the rhythm guitar, bass or drums. You need to be tight, if someone hits a bum note then everyone else has to lift their game so the crowd doesn't turn on you.


That camaraderie is lost with Rock Band VR, which is a single player game – understandable considering the expense and complications of linking headsets. You can look around to see your legion of adoring virtual fans and even your virtual bandmates, but it's really just you up there on the stage. The game makers have ramped up the effects, such as sparks flying from your guitar when you're doing well, but that's more about novelty value than gameplay.


You still hold a real physical guitar linked to the Oculus Touch, which you can see in the virtual world, but of course you can't see your real fingers working the frets. As a result you're just expected to strum chords along with the beat, rather than nail the guitar solos, which might not keep seasoned players entertained in the long-term.


On the upside, the Oculus Rift's tracking camera lets you score points for jumping around and even lets you interact with your virtual band onstage. This way, Rock Band VR is less about musicianship and more about stage presence – so perhaps it should come with skintight spandex and the entire David Lee Roth back catalogue.


After all the hype, virtual reality needs a few killer applications to ensure it doesn't sink in the trough of disillusionment. What will it take to get a VR headset into your home?

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