Virtually reality, or VR, has seen an immense surge in both technology and popularity lately. Almost every game console, PC, and even smartphones are capable of using some sort of VR. In fact, many consider it to be the future of gaming. But what they either don’t remember or understand is that VR is nothing new. It has come and gone throughout the years, becoming more advanced with each iteration. We are now facing a pivotal moment that will decide VR’s impact in the future of video games. VR is in limbo and it needs your help, but can we really afford too?
Cost vs. value
Simply put, VR is an expensive hobby to get into. The costs can be staggering depending on which unit you decide to purchase. On the low-end PlayStation VR has a starting cost of $399.99. However, this does not factor in the required camera, optional “wand” controllers, a game, or the PS4 system. More realistically the price tag is around $800+. A PC model like the HTC Vive retails at $799.99. This model currently comes with games, but requires a high-end computer to run. To buy a VR capable PC will cost at least $800, while upgrading will of course be cheaper.
But let’s say you do have a few extra bucks to spend. If that’s the case then you need to assess the “personal value” as well. What do I mean by personal value? It’s the worth you attach to an object. Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you should buy it. How long will you use your VR gear before it gets covered with dust? Will new games feature VR support or will your options be limited? This is the main reason I have yet to buy a VR system. I know that if I buy one I’d only use it for a few games. After a week I’d forget about it, reducing it to a $400 paper weight. If you think something similar would happen to you then I would hold off on VR.
Even game developers are concerned with the costs involved. After all it’s an industry so why make a game that isn’t profitable. From the research I’ve done it seems that the risk isn’t worth it. In his article The Costs of Making a VR Game, Joe Radak breaks down the cost of making the game LRT4. He reveals that making the game resulted in a net loss of $36,000.00+. This is enough to scare away most indie developers from even trying. Even big developers think the risk is just too great. So few people can afford VR systems that it becomes a niche market. Why spend millions on a game only a small percentage will play. Because of this the VR game library will be extremely limited. Honestly, the value VR presents is not worth the cost or risk. Why should you invest in it if many big name companies won’t?
But what if it’s successful?
We can’t let the price alone deter us from investing in virtual reality. After all, don’t we all dream of wearing light weight goggles and being completely immersed in the gaming experience? Maybe the risk will pay off, not immediately but in the future. However, we can’t afford to be narrow-minded either. We have to understand that if virtual reality succeeds the gaming industry will be forever changed. Not all changes will be positive, so it is best to explore these consequences in full before we embrace such a future.
Obviously, the more we support virtual reality the faster the technology will advance. A world where affordable lightweight VR glasses is not far off. Video games would undoubtedly be more immersive. We could explore game worlds through our own eyes, seamlessly blending reality and fantasy. Imagine playing an FPS or RPG as you run through a battlefield and observe it as if you were there. Who knows what other developments may branch from it as well. Maybe once VR is mastered they will work to incorporate our other senses. Imagine smelling the sulfur of the fire or feeling the sword in your hands. Sounds amazing right? But it doesn’t stop there. With the increased immersion VR can become more than entertainment, it can be a tool for artists. The canvas as we know it will change. Instead of 2D art, we can express ourselves with more depth and realism within the digital world. Of course this is all speculative but it only seems like a natural development path.
Virtual reality can undoubtedly become an industry boom in the future, but it can also ruin it. As virtual reality becomes more advanced indie studios may suffer. Players will expect more from their games if it becomes standard. Game developers will have to spend more resources, learn new skills, and hire experts just to stay competitive. Most indie studios already have limited funds and may find adaptation impossible, causing many to die off. If this occurs we will face a decline in new and unique games. The market would be decided by major game developers who hate taking risks, paradoxically minimizing innovation in the industry. I love indie developers, without them the industry wouldn’t be what it is today, or even exist without the risks they have taken.
Gaming could also become more impersonal. VR is an isolating experience, and I have little belief it will change. Encasing your eyes in goggles and covering your ears makes you oblivious to the outside world. It may also lead to the demise of local multiplayer games. This genre of gaming has seen a rapid decrease in recent years due to the expansion of online gaming, but still remains prevalent especially with Nintendo based games. However, if VR becomes standard it would almost be impossible to play with friends locally. Which means no more Guitar hero, Mario Party, or Tekken parties (Tekken Tag bowling mode is just fing great). Honestly I can’t tell you if the trade-off is worth it or if it will ever be an actual issue, but we can’t ignore the possibility that we may lose something special.
While the prospect of virtual reality is enticing, it isn’t absolute. There are literally a myriad of paths the gaming culture can embrace, some more practical than others. Mobility has often been ignored, regarded as something to pass time. Then the Nintendo Switch came out and consumed the lives of millions. The switch has the power of a gaming console, and yet is surprisingly portable. Imagine if more companies researched mobility. We could have a PS4 or an Xbox in the palm of our hands. Great graphics, great controls, all able to hook up the our tv’s for a better experience. Who knows, maybe they will eventually have built-in mobile data. We would no longer be limited by where we game. Of course you can argue that most mobile platforms failed, PS Vita *cough cough*, but that is comparing apples to oranges. What I am talking about is a synthesis of mobile systems and home consoles. Nintendo is leading the way, and I hope others will follow.
Maybe you think games should take more risks or want greater choices when it comes to gaming. Then you need to start supporting indie game developers. These companies will typically take risks that major AAA studios will not. Indie games are amongst my favorite games and honestly need more attention. Indies are often community driven and tend to be more innovative than others. If you never tried one I encourage you to explore them. In fact, my wedding song is from Transistor, that is how inspiring these games have been to me. If we support these games we will see more creative games and mechanics to keep us entertained for decades. But don’t stop here either. Many other options also exist that we can find as a community.
I could go in more in-depth about our options, but it would be redundant. What should be made clear is the fact that we need to come together as a community and decide which direction we want our culture to advance towards. We should be the ones to influence the industry, instead of blindly following their choices. As it stands, VR seems too impractical for most gamer’s either due to its cost, library, or the alternatives available. Personally I would rather have a switch than a VR system hands down, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. So what do we do then, let VR die off? Well it won’t be gone long if it does. The virtual boy was a complete disaster but that didn’t stop the industry for long.
Besides, even if this current generation of VR isn’t successful that doesn’t mean it won’t be around. Virtual reality is still widely used with phones, movies, and other mediums to provide great experiences. Advances are constantly made in these areas so it doesn’t need our support in the gaming industry yet. Perhaps it is best to let VR develop outside of gaming first, then integrate it when it’s cheaper and more impactful. Virtual reality is awesome, but the gaming community is probably not ready to embraced it. For now VR will remain in limbo.