Dan Ackerman of C|Net has — at least for now — thrown in the towel on VR. This in spite of accelerating sales in VR system sales last year, which may not have pleased analysts who heralded VR as the Next Big Thing, but are certainly an exciting development. His biggest complaint is the lack of major, AAA-level games for VR. With the exception of a few ports (particularly from Bethesda) and some lower-budget support from major publishers, most of the games for VR are indie.
And yeah, indie, like everything else, follows Sturgeon’s Law. I have a tough time getting excited about Yet Another Wave Shooter, myself. But then, I’m currently having a ball playing Skyrim VR, so I don’t (personally) care.
I have a different perspective, probably due to my age. Sure, if you consider the Vive and Oculus and PSVR to be products equivalent to modern console launches, they haven’t set the world on fire. But if you consider them technology launches and a fundamentally different platform to what came before them… yeah, we’ve seen cycle many times before. Game consoles didn’t start with the Nintendo Entertainment System. They didn’t even start with the Atari 2600 (AKA Atari VCS). When I was a little kid, the game consoles of the 1970s being things like the Coleco Telstar, and the Magnavox Odyssey and Odyssey 2.
They weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as the Atari and (later) the Nintendo came to be, and while the technology and potential were exciting, the games were… Pong. And variants. There were a few interesting ideas, but the whole idea of playing games on your television was pretty cool.
Likewise — mobile gaming. It didn’t start with the iPhone, it only caught fire with the iPhone. I know people who were creating games for phones for years, knowing that one day it would ‘catch on.’ It took a little while.
I believe we’re in the same place with VR. As a consumer technology, it’s still in early adopter stage. We’re still experimenting and learning what we can do with the technology. It’s not exactly what we imagined. We’re discovering some incredible possibilities, especially outside of gaming. In training (my day job), the potential is astronomical, and the reality *right now* is pretty awesome. Studies in areas like architecture and design, medicine, and even law have demonstrated capabilities in Virtual Reality that are potential game-changers.
In the world of entertainment — where VR was most expected to set the world on fire — things have been a little slow for obvious reasons. The install base isn’t to the level necessary to support AAA game development exclusively on the VR platform. 4 million installed systems are great, but a AAA game with a $30+ million budget is probably going to need about 5 million sales to break even. And you cannot expect a 100% penetration. So yeah, we’re going to be a while before the major game studios feel safe making VR-exclusive AAA titles. Even one of the original “killer app” VR titles IMO, Star Trek Bridge Crew, added a non-VR mode to expand the user base.
None of this concerns me much. The prices have to come down, and the tech has to mature a bit before I’d expect to see big VR-only investments from major game publishers. I certainly hope to see more (and better) VR versions of AAA games. I hope to see more (and better) high-end indie titles for VR. The tech is still growing. And I think mainstream adoption might not be too far away. A year or so ago, I was constantly explaining to people what VR was, and giving them their first taste of it. Today, it’s a lot harder to find someone who hasn’t tried it. To me, that says something.