It’s time for VR to grow up.
After more than two years of heavy public hyping since Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion, virtual reality is reaching an important turning point. VR has been promoted up and down the street and consumers seem to have grown oversaturated with all the media coverage of expensive tech that’s inaccessible to them, but the platform is preparing for a mini-renaissance.
The next couple weeks will be the biggest moments for VR in its consumer history. A lot of crazy hardware will be coming out, new platforms will be further defined and everyone will hopefully get a better picture of where this runaway futurism train is heading.
There’s a lot happening.
Sony will be the first console maker to release a virtual reality headset that tightly integrates with a gaming system (Oct. 13), Oculus will announce details regarding the launch of its motion-tracked Touch controllers and lay out other future plans (Oct. 6), and, perhaps most importantly, Google will show off some more details related to their Daydream platform and (likely) their own unique headset (Oct 4.).
All of these events will continue in the broader goal of making VR a bit more accessible while also expanding the level of quality content to regular consumers beyond that available on Google Cardboard.
Killing the PC as VR’s central platform
I’d imagine it’s pretty damn annoying for consumers to buy what is probably their first desktop PC in like 10 or 15 years just to experience what’s being billed to them as the next shift in computing. Desktop VR has honestly been a necessary evil, but moving forward it’s really just a manufactured niche that won’t be able to hug the exponential curves analysts are expecting from the platform in terms of headset adoption.
In order to truly bring VR mainstream, developers and hardware manufacturers need to build systems that approach consumers where they already are. For the intrigued masses, that’s on mobile. For the casual-ish gamers, that’s on consoles.
Sony has shipped over 43 million PS4s to retailers since the system launched in late 2013. When PSVR launches on October 13, users of any of the iterations of the console will be able to get in on the VR action.
Setting up this thang :grin: pic.twitter.com/F12jaFRPih
— lucas matney (@Lucas_Matney) September 28, 2016
I’ve spent most of today playing with my PS VR review unit and while I can’t give away any impressions of my experiences with the headset until my full review is out, I will say that based on how Sony has sought to market and frame this device it’s clear that they’re playing a different game than Oculus and HTC.
PlayStation is in the business of making expensive toys that you play with, and it’s clear that Sony is marketing PS VR as less of a visionary metaverse access point than as a new, cool way to experience gaming. Much in the way that Snapchat is selling Spectacles as a “toy,” Sony is selling PS VR as a gaming-first device that with all of its glowing LEDs looks a little bit like a Star Wars helmet and seems to take itself less seriously.
For the time being, virtual reality needs to move away from being billed as some sort of transcendent awakening wrapped in an ethical enigma, instead of what it is right now, just some really cool shit. In other words stfu if your job title has the word futurist, evangelist, visionary or wizard in it.
Consoles do really represent a big opportunity for VR in general. Things will stay pretty focused on gaming initially, but if and when Playstation and Xbox begin to see consistent high-quality non-gaming VR content I have no doubts that they’ll go out of their way to build a home for it on their platforms.
The demand certainly appears to be there for PS VR in terms of pre-orders but moving forward it will be interesting to see what consumer interest ends up actually looking like for VR on gaming consoles.
Proliferating smartphone VR
The key to ushering in a new platform shift is often getting cozy with the one that came before it. There are about 2.5 billion smartphones situated about the globe right now and though many are lacking in power and mind, these devices and the billions of smarter smartphones that come after them are the key for virtual reality moving forward.
Google and Apple seem particularly well-situated to win early mobile VR (assuming there is indeed something to win), but with Apple concurrently buried in R&D efforts on multiple prototypes of AR and VR headsets, it does not appear that smartphone VR (as we perceive it now) is in its immediate product roadmap.
Google is taking more of an Android approach to VR and it’s doing so… with Android.