2016 is shaping up to be a very unique year in the gaming industry. The 8th generation launched back in 2013 (2012 if you still count the Wii U), but already we’re having another year that is hardware centric. For one, Nintendo is expected to launch what is referred to as “NX” sometime this fall with details to be revealed at E3. More on that at another time.
The big headline maker, however, is the introduction of virtual reality, or “VR,” to the consumer market. Luckily, Polygon has a breakdown of everything that’s out there about VR to date.
The fact that such a breakdown even needs to exist is a sign of just how cluttered the market is. I consider myself a well-informed player, and even I need to do my research to understand all that’s happening this year.
For one, I’m less than thrilled by Google’s and Samsung’s presences in the market. I feel as though VR is still a strange, borderline fictional technology to a lot of people. It seems like it’s better in theory than in practice, at least until we each experience something that tells us otherwise. My issue is that I doubt Google and Samsung can provide that “something” at the price they’re offering it at – especially Google.
I understand that optimists out there will say that two leading tech companies providing VR to be used with the devices their customers already carry with them at an affordable price can only be good. But do you really believe that a $200 headset you can attach your phone to, or even worse, a flimsy piece of cardboard can convince the entire world that VR is the way of the future and not just a fad?
Then there’s the HTC Vive. News just came out that you can pre-order the Vive starting February 29th at $799. That’s a hefty price tag, but it’s not unsurprising with just how ambitious the Vive is. Perhaps too ambitious. I’m talking about a device that is supposed to have a fully immersive 3D world that makes use of your entire room by way of multiple motion sensors and a camera. This thing is absolutely nuts and it sounds like something a Fortune 500 CEO would have in the secret room behind his top floor office. Not only is its base price lavish and setup ridiculous, there’s still no telling how powerful of a PC you’re going to need to run Vive’s games.
Speaking of powerful PC setups, there’s also the Oculus Rift. It seems like forever since the Rift first began making news back in 2012 with its Kickstarter campaign. Since then, it’s grown into a monster and became an acquisition of Facebook. Launching in late March, the Oculus Rift will run you $599 for the unit, but you’re going to need a PC setup estimated at about $1500 to run it properly. While that likely isn’t a drawback for the top-end PC gaming segment, it’s definitely going to keep away the average consumer and I can only imagine the same will be true for the Vive. However, unlike the Vive, the Oculus Rift offers a more traditional experience, albeit through a new medium. It essentially seeks to merge modern PC gaming with VR, which is why titles such as Minecraft have already been announced for it. The Oculus Rift is pricy, for the moment, but not impractical for what it’s trying to accomplish.
Finally, we also have PlayStation VR to look forward to. This one, admittedly, excites me. PlayStation VR is meant to integrate with the PlayStation 4, meaning you don’t have to go out and buy or upgrade to a $1500+ PC setup to experience quality VR. As a PS4 owner, even if this ultimately comes with a $300-$500 price tag, it isn’t completely unfeasible. The drawback of course is that it runs on a home console released in 2013 – one that, while the most powerful in its market, can’t match the graphical fidelity of a high-end PC. But my true worry about PlayStation VR isn’t whether it can provide a quality experience; the PS4 already does that. My worry is whether it will be successful enough for Sony and third-party developers to continue supporting after its initial launch. Because Sony would never, ever suddenly drop support for one of its pieces of hardware. Never.
VR is exciting, but scary. We have this new, thrilling piece of technology that may signal the way of the future, but on the other hand, there’s a lot that can go wrong. At one end of the spectrum, we have a couple of budget options that may only be able to provide an imitation of what the medium is truly capable of and at the other end, there are two options offering a potentially revolutionary experience for the price of a cheap used car. In the middle is an electronics manufacturer that really has the PS4 as its only success in the last five years.
If VR succeeds, I can only imagine what the industry will look like by the end of the decade. On the other hand, if it goes the way of the 3DHD television, we’re going to be having a laugh about all this. It would be a shame to see this medium die all because the corporations were too quick on the trigger. One thing is for sure. The industry is more ready to deliver VR today than Nintendo was 20 years ago.