Virtual reality is in an uncertain place. Vanity Fair’s “ Why Facebook’s $2 Billion Bet on Oculus Rift might One Day Connect Everyone on Earth ” is proof of people’s attitude and skepticism. “It’s hard to take the piece on virtual reality and Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus rift seriously when the writer seems to believe Augmented Reality is more impressive a technology than VR. However, my skepticism concerning the VR craze understands this subtle lowering of expectations now that Microsoft, Apple and PlayStation have all entered the race for my cornea.
Amidst the clichéd profiles of Zuckerberg and Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey as quirky Sandal-wearing Silicon Valley bros talking technology over Pizza and noodles, writer Max Chafkin managed to sneak in the pertinent doubts that everyone is thinking. Will VR devices be merely a gimmick or a novelty accessory like racing wheels or will it develop into the revolutionary experience techno-evangelists are predicting? I believe the only trick here is Zuckerberg’s obvious deception of Palmer to turn Oculus Rift into yet another Cash Cow.
I loved the way the article’s contrasted the closed-door meeting leading to Facebook $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, with the Zuckerberg Glass rectangular office. The story of 17 year old Palmer galvanizing Kickstarter with his VR prototype only to cash-out to the morally-dubious Facebook is still fresh in the minds of those who supported the campaign. “Facebook creeps me out” tweeted Minecraft creator Markus Persson after the announcement was made, cancelling a deal to bring the game to Oculus Rift. The grinning capitalist in me can’t help feeling giddy with excitement for all the potential monetizing venues that will be explored once the VR competition officially starts.
The hype is not real folks. Not to me at least. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft’s HoloLens, Sony’s PlayStation VR (Project Morpheus), Google’s Magical Leap, Oculus Rift and Apple’s rumored forays into VR are all projects bound to bring us some “cool” titles. But I’m afraid that’s all what VR headsets will be, a cool device under your living room’s couch that will likely see less sunlight than your Guitar Hero gear.
Zuckerberg regrets missing the smartphone bandwagon and so does Sony, whose smartphone market-share definitely has some shareholders pissed. With Apple’s disastrous Apple Pippin adventure, the incoming competition at least guarantees that each device will bolster one defining feature, possibly giving it an edge over other devices in certain areas. For example, I can’t see Apple designing a VR headset that targets gamer demographics. Still, will all of this help?
There’s another kind of support to consider. As a PC gamer, I can’t imagine developers affording the resources to offer Oculus Rift support when even major studios still can’t develop decent ports. My biggest worry is that in absent-mindedly following the craze, budgets will risk overstretching at the cost of quality and additional In-game features. To put it another way, framing VR as a “new way for storytelling” and “experiencing the game” will mean nothing if budgetary overheads left the game with nothing to experience.
My opinion that VR will likely fail to mature past the gimmicky device phase, is subtly emphasized in the article by Palmer’s juvenile obsession with The Matrix and Zuckerberg’s futuristic evangelisms. More importantly, VR’s non-gaming applications such as education and sports entertainment seem to be given more weight given their practicality, PR points and monetizing possibilities. Hence why Augmented Reality seems to elicit a warmer reception despite the fact that it is less impressive an achievement.
In my belief, it will be the ensuing diversity of specification and features that will eventually repurpose VR and unlock its full potential. After all, if the money isn’t there for developers to create for such tech and the only games coming to VR are ones explicitly centered around the feature, there won’t be a future. In the meantime, we’ll see more articles where people wonder if AR could have more potential than VR and see some “cool” titles that might not be exactly great.