Monday, April 10, 2017

Why I think VR will fail

I have been writing quite a lot about my disappointment in VR, and how it seems to be failing badly, and much of this is repeating the same points, but anyways...

Recently Microsoft announced that their next console, "Project Scorpio", will have no Kinect port. In fact, they did the same with the Xbox One S. Moreover, they have also stopped giving Kinect owners USB adapters for the Kinect for free. Most commentators agree that the Kinect is dead for good. Neither Microsoft nor anybody else is making games for it anymore, nor have been for years, and it's quite clear that Microsoft has zero intention of supporting it anymore, except for legacy reasons. It's a dead piece of technology that was very niche in the first place. (Perhaps the only reason why there are so many units out there is because for about a year it was a mandatory peripheral for the original Xbox One. You couldn't buy one without the other.)

This reminded me of how similar VR is to the Kinect, in more than one aspect.

For one, the Kinect tracks the user's hands, head and body to some extent, and games are mostly controlled by moving these body parts. Does this remind you of anything? It's eerily similar to "room-scale VR". (Granted, the latter is approximately a million times more accurate and immersive than the former, but in terms of gameplay and game mechanics it's very similar.)

Secondly, the Kinect requires a hefty amount of room space to work properly. Many Kinect games have to be played by standing up, at quite a distance from the device. Some kinect games could be played while sitting down, but rarely. Again, any similarities to something else?

Thirdly, and more importantly in terms of why the Kinect turned out to be a failure, there is little cross-over between Kinect games and regular games. Meaning that most Kinect games are Kinect-only, and can't be played without it. And the vast majority of regular games do not have (and cannot reasonably have) optional Kinect support. The two groups of games are pretty much separate, with extremely little overlap. The Kinect pretty much requires specialized exclusive games designed explicitly for it.

Again, does this remind you of anything?

At first, when the Oculus Rift was at its development stage, and there existed only development kits for it, it was envisioned that a VR headset would be, effectively, just an alternative display. A much more immersive one. Maybe games would need to be patched for explicit support, maybe support could be automated via in-between drivers, but overall it could potentially work with almost any 3D game.

However, both the VR manufacturing industry and the gaming industry at large have decided that VR and regular old games don't mix very well, and there's very little overlap possible. Most game developers are not bothering, and some are even outright refusing, to add VR support to existing games, or even new games of traditional genres (with a few exceptions with some driving simulation games.)

The divide between Kinect games and regular games exists because of technical and practical reasons. The same divide between VR games and regular games is mostly self-imposed. But it is what it is. VR games pretty much exist on their own separate category, and there is very little overlap.

Which is one of the reasons why it's possible that VR will fail. VR is a gimmick, very niche, and it requires its own specialized exclusive games designed explicitly for it. Just like the Kinect.

Then there is, of course, the lack of games. The library of triple-A games for the Kinect is abysmal. The library of triple-A games for VR is abysmal. Lack of games has killed numerous gaming platforms in the past.

In some aspects, however, VR is is even worse then the Kinect.

For one, it's very expensive. After all, you can grab a Kinect for something like 100€, while the price for the PC VR headsets range from 700€ to 900€. Prices that are too high have killed the adoption rates of devices (especially niche ones) countless times in the past.

Secondly, if you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One, you don't need anything else to use the Kinect. However, just because you own a PC doesn't necessarily mean that you can use a VR headset and have it work properly. VR headsets have very specific, and steep, hardware requirements, and most PCs even today don't meet them. VR would require a hardware upgrade, which would increase the price of VR even further.

I'm not saying VR will definitely fail. I just can't help but notice the numerous similarities with the Kinect, which is pretty much a failed product.

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