VR has yet to break through

CEO of Unity Technologies John Riccitiello has a grasp on reality concerning both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality kits. He was speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt held in San Fransisco this month and argued that there has yet to be a true launch of consumer grade VR and AR devices out there.

Price of course is his first point of contention, which is true. Looking at standard local prices, HTC Vive VR system costs 700€, with Oculus Rift being around 550€. That is extremely larger sum of money, especially when you remember that you need to have a computer to run it, adding to the cost if there’s a necessity to upgrade. You’re easily looking at a package worth a grand, which is far too much for just to set up a platform for extremely limited offering of software. VR will stay as an expensive piece of technology until computing technology, and technology in general, undergoes a massive advancement beyond headsets and screens. Computer Gaming Monthly’s prediction from 1991 that VR would be affordable in 1994 has been overshot by two and a half decades now and counting.

Second point is control and function. Riccitiello argues that the user does not have enough control over the systems. The way the input has been designed limits the content it can have. Most VR titles follow the same by-the-rules input and control method with the wands or controller. The best way to enjoy VR at this point is to get a full racing setup with wheel, pedals and a good seat to get the best experience out of it. As it stands now, both Oculus and Vive are using what essentially amounts to newer versions of Wiimotes.

Riccitiello is right that the current level of VR and AR technology is launched for developers. Game developers love to play with the latest technology and dabble with it to see what’s possible and what’s not. Nintendo is a good example of this in general, considering they’ve tried new things with their controllers throughout the years and included a 3D screen for the 3DS. All the tech stuff like this in Nintendo’s products are mainly intended for them to to explore, and the whole VR and AR boom follows the steps. Consumer end is not considered, only what they are interested in.

In Riccitiello’s mind, there has yet to be a commercial launch. The software that’s out there does not meet the expectations or the standards for consumer use. Better technology is worth jack shit if the games for the end-consumer are the exact same we had twenty years ago.


Ride the Comix was a VR game in Disney Quest attractions

The VR industry has grown for sure, but it has not expanded. It would appear that VR has a better market in commercial applications in general than consumer end. The Virtual Reality dream, a headset that could launch you into other worlds, does seem to be more a pipe dream than anything else. As I’ve mentioned previously, it is the 2010’s 3D television boom. However, unlike 3D TVs, this one will survive in some form due to the overall saturation of the market and the sheer force of the pipe dream. Ever since the Sensorama was out in the 1950’s, companies and developers have been aiming to realise something that would be “true” Virtual Reality.

If you take anything from this, VR and AR are nothing new and have half a century’s worth of development and commercial ventures behind it. This is the crux of it; all of it is technological research and development, and even then it’s all extremely limited in the end. Oculus’ latest tech shows what each new VR device has done; expanded on the technology rather than trying to find better ways to do VR.

What does this technological progress give to VR sets it already doesn’t have? To beat the dead horse; there needs to be progress in the software side more than in the hardware.

Is Riccitiello right in that consumer launch for VR has not been made yet? Perhaps not in the current generation, but VR history is full of consumer grade releases. VFX1 Headgear, Victormaxx Stuntmaster VR headset, Virtual Boy and Glasstron all were released for the consumer end, though they were not fully dedicated VR products on themselves. However, that’s where the whole evolution of software would come in, as showcased by Ride the Comix above.

Perhaps the largest crux on VR and AR is that there is no public discourse of them. When Oculus and Vive were new, they were the hottest shit around to talk about, and PSVR soon followed. Hell, some PSVR titles have been patched to work outside the VR goggles to increase sales.

Riccitiello’s positive view on that VR will keep rising is probably right, but the rise will be slow if things won’t change for the cheaper and more efficient. The expectations of the general consumer from what Virtual Reality should do not meet with what the developers’. That is not a blueprint for success, but for stagnation and at worst, failure.

Hard mode is now DLC

So I was intending to leave this Friday’s post on a somewhat positive note on Switch’s possible future after reading Shigsy’s interview with Time. The largest positive thing here is that Miyamoto slightly hints that the Switch in few ways seems to be Iwata’s final piece, giving feedback on portability and ideas in networking and communicating. How much of the current networking elements are from Iwata and how much is made disregarding his feedback is an open question. Iwata spearheaded the Wii and the DS, and if the Switch is anywhere near them in terms of idea and approach, then the Switch will definitely do better than the Wii U. Not that doing that should be all that challenging.

However, Miyamoto also speaks of virtual reality again. In essence, Nintendo is looking into VR at the moment, which ties itself to the obsession of 3D Nintendo still has. If you look how long Nintendo has been pushing the idea 3D with games, you can trace it back at least to Rad Racer if not further. You could almost make an argument that the more Nintendo tries to push 3D and VR as the main element of their machine, the worse it does.

VR currently has gone nowhere. After the initial boom of Virtual Reality, nothing has come out of it. No software has changed the industry or has set new standards. We’ve been told that VR will be at its peak in few years for few years now, and this repeats every time a VR product comes out. It’s not about lack of marketing or failing to market the product right. It’s about the common consumer not really giving a damn about t he VR in actuality, and most VR headsets we currently have are far too expensive for their own good. None of them work independently, which only adds to the costs. They’re a high-end luxury product at best with no content to back them up.

That said, Miyamoto cites Iwata talking about blue ocean and red ocean marketing, two points that his own actions seem to dismiss most of the time, but does commend Iwata for bringing this ideology to the front within the company. To quote what Shigsy said;

This is something that Mr. Iwata did, to really link the philosophy of Nintendo to some of the business and corporate jargon, while also being able to convey that to all of the employees at Nintendo.

Iwata had a presence both with the company and consumers. While Nintendo had few faces after Yamauchi, Iwata stood out. He was the company’s corporate face that managed to juggle between worlds. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll probably find elements in the Switch that underline Iwata’s approach as the head of the company.

Nintendo has many faces now that Iwata has passed. It’s not just not Miyamoto and Iwata any longer, but numerous of their developers have come to front even further. It’s like almost each game or franchise is now attached to a face. Like you have The Legend of Zelda tied to Aonuma.

The recent BotW announcement video killed pretty much all my personal hopes for the game being something special, mainly because it confirms that even when Aonuma is wearing something that resembles a suit, he still comes off sloppy. Still, the video does right by having subtitles instead of him trying to speak English.

The fact that Hard Mode is now DLC signifies that Breath of the Wild won’t be Zelda returning to its glory days as an action title that requires skill, but it’ll continue being a dungeon puzzler. Whether or not these DLC packs are an afterthought or not, it strikes very worrying. The Legend of Zelda had a completely new quest after the first round. Aonuma saying that they’d like to give seasoned veterans something new and fun is outright bullshit. New Items and skins don’t add to the game but in miniscule ways. A Challenge Mode was in previous Zeldas from the get-go. Additional map features do jack shit, unless the base map is terrible in the game. New original story and a dungeon with further challenges are nothing new or exciting. These are basic run-of-the-mill post-game stuff Zelda used to have. Modern Zelda tends to have a terrible replay value, but this DLC announcement hints BotW has worse replay value than normal.

I guess this shows how Nintendo is going to deal with the Switch overall, at least after the launch. The Switch requires extra purchases to be complete, like to purchase the Charging Power Grip because the bundled ones don’t charge. The game industry has been blamed for cutting their games into pieces to sell as DLC, and it really does feel like that at times. DLC is often developed with the main game and nowadays DLC is planned from the very beginning. Taken this into account, with the announcement video with Aonuma Nintendo effectively showed that they took parts that used to be standard parts of modern Zelda to some extent and made them DLC. The veterans they refer to are core Zelda modern fans.

Nintendo can’t have two dud of a console in their hands now. Twenty years ago they could have N64 under-perform when it came out much later than it was supposed to, and GameCube couldn’t stand against the rampaging truck that the PlayStation 2 was. The economy was completely different now than what it was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Wii U was pretty much a disaster, but perhaps even more so that the Virtual Boy as it was Nintendo’s main home console with full backing of the company in the vain of two of the most successful consoles in game history. Granted, not all machines can see the success of Game Boy. They could, if developed properly and the software library would see proper maintenance from the first and second party developers.

I’m still going to stick with Switch being more a success than the Wii U. However, if Zelda BotW is any indication for the future, there is a fly in the ointment.

VR rhymes with itself, like history

The question who asked for virtual reality headsets is interesting. I’ve yet to find any solid documentation on market demand for VR in itself, but yet the game industry periodically gives it a go and it has always failed in the exact same way; the headsets are cumbersome and the games aren’t that hot. The most likely reason why companies still dabble with VR is because of pop-culture.

Remember this? This was what future Internet was supposed to be

Technology doesn’t really carry in how good VR is. You can have the most cartoony VR as possible, but as long as there’s nothing taking the best use of it, i.e. the design is awful, worthless. Gaming as a whole seems to aim to deliver experiences, not games.

VR comes and goes because we seem to regard it as something that is part of the future. SF predicted we’d live on the Moon by the year 2000 but our souls are still weighted down by the gravity. Rather than being out there in space, we’re just sending drones. Fiction can make predictions and sometimes those come true, albeit nobody wanted to see 1984’s thought crime to become a thing.

With the PS VR Youtube is now filled with content creators putting up vids asking whether or not you should get one and comparing it to other VR items. While the word of the consumer might say We want VR, the head of the consumer rarely knows what it wants. Even Iwata knew this. That’s why we need observation first and foremost, and the actions of the consumers really doesn’t admire the VR. VR headsets themselves are part of pop-culture worldwide, especially in sci-fi, but none of the real world sets have left an impact. Well, outside Virtual Boy and that was because it sucked.

As said, no level of technological advancement will make VR as it is currently showcased a genuine hit. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how VR is perceived and marketed to the low-end market, not with six hundred-dollar sets that require a large room to work in. The core design needs come from inside the device, not set it outside of them. To add to that, modern high-end game market is extremely easy to get hyped up, as evident with No Man’s Sky, and easily jumps into whatever bandwagon the industry wants to push. That’s the key too in this whole thing; the industry wants to push something that the consumer actions have shown is not wanted. Steve Jobbs did say that Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them only works if you have a cult of stupid behind you. Apple managed to make big bucks with solid white rechargeable batteries that their core fans hailed as the epitome of new design flavour.

3D failed and the only place where you can see 3D still being hyped is in the movie theatres, because they invested stupidly high amounts of money into getting 3D projectors. Home consumers didn’t care about 3D and the fad died. It will resurface again in the future, just like how VR is cyclical in that way.

Outside the whole technological and marketing standpoint, the human nature abhors VR to an extent. We’re social beings by nature, and VR is essentially secluding one from the world. One of the big reasons why the Wii was such a success is that it gathered people together to play.

Wii would like to play is the core concept of playing together. The Wii was the center of house parties

VR fights against the inclusion of others. But Aalt, don’t you always argue that games are about escapism? Yes, I do, and VR as it is now doesn’t seem to contain many games to emulate fantastic worlds like Ultima. WiiSports is an escape from reality, and you can do it with friends. Tabletop games and RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons are about the same exact thing, and you play those with your friends. Nobody plays D&D alone, I hope.

Thirdly, human body really just hates VR. We are too varied in nature to be confined into one type of controller. Most VR sets seem to forget that people tend to have difference in how good their vision is, and how easily our sight can change. Our eyes are much more delicate piece of hardware than our hands, which can take a stupid amount of abuse before they go haywire. Hell, we still have people fighting over what’s the best controller, when in reality there is no such thing. VR sticks to its guns and has not produced anything worthwhile.

Game business needs to remember that unlike most entertainment businesses, their products are consumed actively, not passively. Their aim should be to deliver to the consumer, not to themselves. Their model should surround themselves around consumer driven ideas, not self-centered navel gazing and circlejerking. Just like with food, we pay them to deliver stuff we want to consume, not the stuff they want to create. Let’s kick a dead horse a little bit more and remind ourselves how Other M ended up being when the creative forces were let free to do whatever the hell they wanted.

There is a silver bullet/s to make a successful game on a console platform, yet the companies ignore the history electronic gaming has in favour for their visions nobody asked for or even want outside idol worshippers. There is a reason why the term fandumb exists, and all of us are part of some. I know I keep saying the same thing over and over again in this blog, which is why I at one point slowed down on commenting game news, because the industry keeps repeating the same things without further considerations. VR is just one of the many things.