By Pavo Jurkic
May 16, 2019
Virtual reality, in all of its glory, is an amazing piece of tech that could reinvent many standardized procedures across a wide variety of industries. It brings forth a fresh approach on how we interact with digital matter, how we perceive it, and how we use our know-how to transform it into something more valuable.
Even though virtual reality is being used in a plethora of fields, today we’ll be concentrating on the one that we find most interesting. Of course, I’m referring to gaming. The viability of VR gaming in 2019, to be more precise. In fact, as the title suggests, that’s going to be our main topic for today!
The first steps of VR gaming were accompanied by claims of revolutionizing the gaming industry as we know it. It was followed by an immense sense of anticipation for a superb new form of gaming, something gamers from all around the world eagerly looked forward to.
Needless to say, the first generation of VR devices haven’t lived up to the hype. Sure, they did lay the cornerstone for the VR industry, but the promised gaming revolution was far from reality. Still is, come to think of it.
However, with the second generation of VR devices finally hitting the shelves, we’re experiencing roughly the same hype as before. Numerous valued sources are portraying these new devices as the bread and butter of VR gaming for years to come. Once again, they’re promising a revolution in the gaming industry and driven by defeats of the last generation, it’s understandable that the gaming community as a whole is a bit skeptical.
With that in mind, allow me to guide you through the history of VR, bring you closer to the devices that kickstarted the craze, help you understand what’s needed for the next big leap, and discuss whether the new generation of VR devices is able to accomplish it.
So, let’s get straight to the action and check out the viability of VR gaming in 2019!
If we are to understand the viability of VR gaming, first we must familiarize ourselves with its beginnings. Virtual reality dates farther back than most people think. The VR principle has been there for almost 200 years with the first stereoscopic photos demonstrated all the way back in 1838.
If we’re talking about actual VR headsets, the first specimen dates back to the 1960s. The Telesphere Mask was the name, and it was the first example of a head-mounted display (AKA HMD) that incorporated stereoscopic vision with stereo sound.
Fast forward to 1987, and the name “virtual reality” was finally born. The pivotal devices that helped shape virtual reality into a gaming phenomenon were first announced in the early ’90s. Some of them eventually saw the light of day, but others remained in the prototype stage due to technical and software difficulties. And the tales of VR tech going back and forth through development stages went on ever since.
The term “virtual reality” was brought to the mainstream media in 2014. Yep, just five years ago. Google Cardboard was the culprit, an innovative, crazy-looking, smartphone-powered VR headset mount made out of cardboard.
While it didn’t possess advanced tracking mechanisms, room-scale capabilities, and all that advanced VR trickery, it served as a great jumping board for the entire industry. Singlehandedly, Google Cardboard opened the majestic world of virtual reality to the masses and paved the way for future devices such as the original Oculus Rift.
Without a doubt, Oculus Rift was the device that shaped virtual reality into a potentially groundbreaking behemoth. Palmer Luckey’s brainchild kicked off its story of success through the world’s most popular crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, and was soon sold to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. The $2 billion investment pushed Facebook into the world of VR and helped Palmer take his dream from an innovative idea to millions of homes worldwide.
But what made Oculus Rift so special?
Well, for starters, it opened the door to VR gaming. While Google Cardboard and other “knockoff” devices were merely touching the surface level of what the VR technology could provide, Oculus Rift went all in with head and hand tracking, sophisticated technologies that ended up being used across a plethora of industries.
Most importantly, the viability of VR gaming was finally coming into the spotlight. With the introduction of Oculus motion controllers, fully immersive VR gaming experiences started hitting the shelves and conquering the VR market.
Yes, the Oculus Rift was a huge success — a success that resulted in other companies entering the VR market. Valve, HTC, Microsoft, and many companies made use of their mixed reality platform. They all wanted their share of the cake in a market that’s bound to grow.
However, the biggest problem for the VR industry, and for the viability of VR gaming as a whole, was the size of its market. The lack thereof, to be more precise. While Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were accompanied by successful campaigns, the biggest issue preventing them from revolutionizing the gaming industry (which was one of their main goals) was the price. And I’m not just talking about the prices of the headsets, but the price of equipment required for them to run properly. To run proper VR games without making their users sick…
Even today, the cost of VR devices is pretty high. Sure, you can find used Oculus Rifts and HTC Vives dirt cheap these days, but they still require hefty machines to run games. Other VR devices, such as PlayStation VR, do have a slightly lower initial cost but can’t provide that extra bit of graphical fidelity and immersion like their PC-powered counterparts.
If you want to run VR games at 90FPS (Oculus Rift has a 90hz panel), you’ll need at least a 4th gen i5 or i7 Intel processor supported by a hefty GPU. Realistically speaking, anything below GTX980 just won’t suffice. As time goes on and next-gen VR games hit the shelves, these specs will only go up, creating a never-ending cycle of expensive supporting equipment for the ultimate VR experience.
So, to sum this section up, one of the biggest problems in the VR industry is the transition from an expensive, luxurious technology to an everyday commodity finding its place in millions of homes worldwide. Once those high initial costs are cut down, virtual reality for the masses will finally become a thing!
However, that’s not the only issue plaguing the viability of VR devices.
One of the problems with VR gaming is that many people experience motion sickness during prolonged gaming sessions. Needless to say, this prevents some people from fully immersing themselves into the world of VR and enjoying all of its astounding features. A Reddit poll measured 40% of people get some sort of motion sickness in VR, although its severity isn’t known.
There are ways to alleviate motion sickness in VR, so you might want to check them out if you’re suffering from virtual reality motion sickness.
Additionally, there’s also a technical problem dubbed as the screen-door effect. It’s basically a visual artifact of displays having visible pixels due to users’ eyes being at close range to the display. The lower the resolution is, the worse the screen-door effect.
The newer generation of devices will hopefully fix this issue with higher resolutions and other technical trickeries.
The first consumer-grade VR devices require a whole ton of cables to work properly. Let’s take the original Oculus Rift as the perfect example. The headset has two cables, HDMI and USB 3.0. Additionally, it requires at least two base stations (each is tethered via a USB cable) for standing/sitting VR. Add another one for room-scale capabilities.
That’s three to four USB and one HDMI cable, two of which are strapped to the headset and will greatly limit your movement, even in a room-scale environment. While this isn’t a huge problem for most VR titles out there, I bear good faith that the next generation of VR devices could completely eliminate the need for tethering. Let’s talk about that!
With everything stated above, you’d come to think the future of VR gaming is far from bright. With the initial costs still being pretty high, with motion sickness plaguing almost half the potential buyers, and with technical and tethering issues still causing headaches for the developers, it’s difficult to think otherwise.
Luckily, these last few months have been great for the VR industry — for the viability of VR gaming, to be more precise.
With the recent announcements of Valve Index VR Kit and two new devices by Oculus, things are starting to look a lot brighter. It seems as though the VR industry and the organizations involved with it finally got new winds in their sails — winds that could potentially bring VR gaming to a much wider audience and spark new hope for the industry.
If these new VR devices are any indicator of how things are going to develop in the foreseeable future, I’d say the VR industry giants have nothing to be afraid of. Technological advancements and improvements in VR infrastructure are the most important factors right now.
However, I rest my hope with a newly announced device that’ll start shipping out to early buyers in just a couple of days. It’s a device that could change the way we perceive VR — a device that will further boost the viability of VR gaming and potentially revolutionize the industry in ways we can’t even comprehend right now.
With the majority of community entangled in the Oculus Rift S and Valve Index VR Kit hype, I’m much more intrigued by the announcement of Oculus Quest.
Even though Index VR Kit and Rift S are the true next-gen PC-powered virtual reality devices, they’ll share many of the downsides explained above. Sure, Rift S doesn’t have that many cables and does a better job eliminating that nasty screen-door effect, and it sports a lower refresh rate display and internal tracking (which is a double-edged sword in my book).
Valve Index VR Kit’s announcement revealed it will still require lots of cables, but it sports a much beefier display that can handle up to 144hz refresh rate. Highly anticipated Valve Knuckle controllers are also here, alongside new and improved base stations that ought to provide the best room-scale tracking experience out there. However, don’t even get me started on the pricing, not just for the Index VR Kit itself but for the PC needed to run all this with solid graphics fidelity and full 144 FPS.
Oculus Quest, on the other hand, features internal tracking (once again, could prove to be a double-edged sword), slightly worse display, but does a great job with everything else.
There are a few reasons why I think Oculus Quest could be the holy grail of VR, so please allow me to guide you through them.
First of all, the reason why Oculus Quest could prove to be of crucial importance for the wellbeing of the VR industry is the fact that its initial costs are actually affordable. It costs just $399 ($499 for the 128GB version) and doesn’t require anything else. No need for an expensive PC, no need for additional base stations or anything like that.
The only money you’ll have to spend after purchasing the device itself is on games. And they’re pretty cheap too, come to think of it.
That’s right — Oculus Quest is an all-in-one device. The computing power is inside the headset. The hardware might not be as good as a proper PC, but that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to take for an untethered, budget-friendly VR experience.
We’re talking about a device that can be used virtually anywhere you go. At home, at the office, at your uncle Greg’s place. Heck, you can even go camping and bring it along for a ride. Imagine playing a scary horror game in the middle of a forest… Well, you could theoretically do that with an Oculus Quest.
That extra bit of mobility combined with an affordable price tag will surely be enough to make a proper name for itself. I’m sure of it!
If anything can save the VR industry and further increase its player base, then it’s Oculus Quest. There’s no question about it!
At the end of it all, I guess the viability of VR gaming rests on a single device. Or at least that’s how I perceive it. Oculus Quest has everything it needs to make it big. It has the potential to beat Oculus Rift S, Valve Index Kit VR, and anything HTC, Microsoft, or even Nintendo (Labo) throw at it.
If it succeeds, the VR industry will experience exponential growth and potentially pave the way to a whole new era of gaming. While it’s still early to talk about whether or not the Oculus Quest can revolutionize gaming as we know it, one thing is for sure — the viability of VR gaming in 2019 is going to skyrocket. Mark my words!