3 Signs That Virtual Reality Gaming Is Dying Slowly

Years on, virtual reality is yet to have taken off in the way that some were predicting

5Jun

Sometimes the teasing of the fire is followed by the thud. As consumers, we've endured plenty of technological false starts for various reasons. The 2009 release of the pioneering 3D film Avatar promised a revolution in the way we watched movies and television - but with box office revenues falling 18% for 3D films in 2017, it's fair to say the coup has been quashed somewhat following an initial boom.

Pokemon Go also challenged how we indulged in gaming. Its augmented reality framework brought with it virtually endless possibilities in dragging audiences out of the house in the name of entertainment. But with the app's sales falling from $30m per day to $2m within months of its initial release, the early runaway popularity of Pokemon Go, and the technology it boasted, was declared something of a false dawn.

Oculus Rift's 2016 release was declared as a watershed moment for virtual reality gaming that would bring with it immersive titles and an experience that gamers could only dream of before. So why is it that today we're yet to see developers take the plunge on committing themselves to creating big budget VR games? And why are we seeing news stories of both Oculus and HTC slashing the prices of their headsets to encourage sales?

Two years on, virtual reality is yet to have taken off in the way that some were predicting. Are we looking at a slow burner? Or has the bubble burst? Here are three signs that indicate the virtual reality market is already dying.

1. Industry fear

The International Business Times labeled VR gaming as a 'hard sell' to developers, highlighting the fear that the industry has of investing big money into the burgeoning technology.

As the article goes on to mention, the limited VR userbase means that a non-flagship title has such a small chance of returning its investment that many businesses are warned away from building content for headsets.

One such example comes from the modest release of 'Out of Ammo', a military strategy game created by RocketWerkz. The game was well enough received, and has a 9/10 rating on Steam - but the developers confessed last year to only recouping 60% of their $650,000 investment in the title.

Joel Hruska, writing for Extreme Tech, goes one step further to lament the lack of support that VR has received in comparison to the arrival of 3D-accelerated graphics 20 years ago. While 3D acceleration was a huge investment for PC owners, with the card costing approximately the same as a high-end VR headset (when bringing inflation into consideration), Hruska points out that within two years of its release there was a wealth of iconic games that went some way to justifying the price for gamers. The likes of Tomb Raider, Half-Life, Star Wars and Unreal had all jumped on the bandwagon and made the $299 purchase at the time seem like a worthwhile investment.

Two years on from the release of Oculus and Playstation's efforts to bring VR into the homes of customers worldwide, we're yet to see sufficient backing from developers.

2. Issues with practicality

Sometimes new technology can feel seamless, other times it can feel unusable. Encouraging people to embrace headsets is a tall order. We've seen many external pieces of hardware fail in the past with Playstation's Eye Toy being a notable example, while the Nintendo Wii's pro-active approach to gaming won rave reviews before the console fell out of favor amidst more traditional gaming approaches.

A fundamental problem with VR is the hype machine that envelops it. If technology is exciting, sometimes it can mask the fundamental faults at hand. Today we see plenty more reviews in place dismissing the headsets as bulky and disproportionately expensive for sufficiently competent models.

The rise and fall of 3D films help us see the issues with jumping on the virtual reality bandwagon prematurely. The spectacle was excellent and fresh - in 2009 and 2010. So much so that 3D ready televisions were produced equipped with dedicated glasses. If you visited the Sky Sports website around seven years ago, you could find a list of local pubs and bars that were broadcasting sport in 3D. But now to see such a spectacle is a rarity.

The 3D bubble ballooned and burst, and while there are still movies being produced with this undoubtedly impressive visual effect, the novelty has worn off. Now wearing 3D glasses at the cinema feels like something of a burden, let along wearing a pair for a 3D ready television at home. It's this inconvenience that companies dabbling in VR headsets need to counter. Once the novelty wears off, and the excitement has waned, the sensory deprivation of putting this hardware on your head is actually a bit of a chore, that perhaps won't feel as such in a future where the technology could be more streamlined.

3. Stagnant market

When hype dies down, so does demand. When PlayStation announced their headset sales (one of the only companies initially willing to do so), a promising 915,000 units were said to have been sold within six months. However, by June, Tech Crunch reported that the figures had barely surpassed one million. The slowing of sales reportedly hit Oculus and HTC harder, with Statista estimating that the two companies failed to break 1 million sales throughout the whole of 2017.

CNet's Dan Ackerman believes there's a stand-off in the industry that's alienated the market. Low cost, standalone headsets, like Oculus Go are simple and easy to use but offer a very limited user experience. While the high-end hardware is simply too expensive to appeal to customers that may not warm to the idea and are operating within a much clunkier, battery-guzzling framework.

This, of course, isn't to say that there isn't a future for virtual reality gaming. Using 3D as yet another reference point, it died a death in the late 1980s following a peak in popularity when IMAX began broadcasting non-fiction films in the format. Modern visual effects prompted a resurrection, and there will likely be further incarnations of 3D that will amaze cinema goers in years to come.

Mark Zuckerberg had essentially written off VR's immediate chances last year, claiming that it's something that will take another ten years before it's potential is fully realized. And with around 30 to 50 Facebook employees developing their own VR technology as we speak, the medium is clearly something that interests the CEO.

It can't be denied that virtual reality can provide astounding immersive entertainment. Perhaps we just got too carried away with the VR hype machine? If it's indeed dying, as early signs suggest, I for one will look forward to its next resurrection in a decade from now.

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