I very much want Virtual Reality to take a big foothold in our technological evolution. I love the potential for the technology but there are still several hurdles we can’t seem to get over.
I was initially sold on the technology after experiencing a few early tech demos. This is amazing I thought. (see every picture of VR with users mouth agape on the internet).
It’s been a few years since the re-emergence of VR and I’ve been following along closely in the code, design, as well as dreaming up experiences.
Virtual Reality Challenges
The first challenge is price point. This was a challenge even back in the early days of virtual reality. The technology was crazy hard to use and work with. A lot of custom systems had to be built, and if you were like me you would see these VR kiosks hanging out in the local mall.
Soon after the demise in the early 90s you would start see these kiosks empty as the fad of VR had worn off. The biggest problem was the technology and displays were not anywhere near what we have today. This diminishes the immersion over time.
It was great to hear and see first-hand the many improvements VR has had since the 90’s but it may not be enough.
When the news broke about a hike in the initial Oculus Rift units I became extremely concerned that this would yet again set the medium back. I had this discussion with many of my colleagues and here we are about a year later and I’m seeing articles where various kiosk displays are being taken down.
This is not a good sign because without the ability for average technological customers to see these devices and get hands on time it will be a very, very tough sell. Virtual Reality is one of those things you need to experience yourself to fully grasp the potential capabilities of the medium.
Another major factor contributing to waning interest is the price. How much does it cost to own one of these systems?
Well if you factor in the cost of an Xbox One and the premium Rift set you are looking at about $1,300. If you are looking to build a brand new Vive system from ground-up, you are going to spend about $2,000+.
This doesn’t even account for the cost of the new device controllers coming out. If there is one thing VR has taught us the price point for the future is paved in spending lots of money up front.
This brings me to another challenge immersion & experiences. The history of VR is littered with were brief momentary bursts of familiar scenarios that are only designed for very short moments of engagement.
- I’m riding a roller coaster
- I’m escaping a monster
- I’m fighting a wave of monsters, demons, zombies,
- I’m in an interactive story
- I’m in a data demo
- I’m in a product demo.
- I’m a simulator
- I’m a tech demo
The experiences are very much one trick ponies. As to be expected this is much of what we are seeing today. If you look at the online gaming service STEAM, you will get a quick feeling of nostalgia. Most this software is nothing more than a tech demo.
I don’t fault the developers at all on this (especially being one), It’s tough to build a complex Virtual Reality engagement (see my other articles to learn about all the skills you need). Most of the development dollars in the VR space (oculus, and vive)
have been directed towards games. In the time that has passed since these systems started rolling out I was hoping to see more practical application experiences. I attended a few VR summits with developers in VR and 99% of the conversation was around games. This was disappointing. What we need is to push this technology beyond the world of pure gaming and those with extra spending money.
On the gaming front, we still are not seeing the triple A title support. Hopefully we will see some near the end of the year, but that just goes to show you how much time it takes to build and in many cases shift gameplay mechanics for this medium. Beyond games I want there to be more applications
It’s not all doom and gloom on the application side. There is one app that has pushed the boundaries a bit and that is of course TiltBrush. It’s amazing to work and build life-like creations and walk around and through them. Beyond this a lot of people have been using the tool to create and prototype VR experiences.
As amazing as this application is would you want to spend $2000 for the luxury to have it? I would venture a guess and say no. I wish that was the only problem, but if you are like me you can only spend a limited time within in Tiltbrush.
Sadly, that is not the only challenge that this medium encounters. It’s hard to adopt a technology that wants to make a large majority of the population vomit after a few hours or less of use. Our bodies respond in kind to the crazy mind manipulation and forces our body to think we are being tricked. (newsflash we are!). I suffer from normal motion sickness and after spending quite a while in VR I can tell you the symptoms are pretty much the same. You can learn more about VR sickness here.
As a side note I selfishly was hoping that increased VR spending in the billions could solve this nasty problem since not a lot of money has been dumped into motion sickness in the last decade. (VR Bucket Challenge?)
So, in summary here are the three main things going against the VR grain. They are price, experience engagement, and sickness. That’s a lot of cards stacked in the deck.
Sure, there are cheaper experiences like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear, and a myriad of other clones. I want VR to work, but to do that we need to get the price down without sacrificing experience.
We need to solve the issue with sickness, and we need to make the technology more accessible. For some of the higher end systems it’s like strapping yourself into a crazy contraption so we need to make it smaller and continue to improve the refresh rate.
We need to build tools that allow average people to craft and build complex VR systems (yeah that one is trickier, but it’s a dream of mine).