VR - Is it really going to be a success? Or, thanks Time for starting a discussion!

Time’s cover shot of Palmer Luckey floating over a bad Photoshop is the stuff of legends. There the inventor and co-founder of Oculus flies shoeless over a beach with a black toaster glued to his face. It’s a meme sensation. Industry followers have wondered how Time could make VR look so bad. With billions of dollars being invested on this tech, Time should’ve done more than slap together such an awful image, right? They could’ve had Luckey sitting in his chair holding the headset, or maybe just show the headset on a desk. Something - anything - but what they went with.

Here’s the thing though… Wearing a VR headset makes anyone look stupid. It’s unwieldy. It’s uncomfortable for long periods. It’s tethered with cables and weird Borg protrusions. It’s a mess. It’s nerd gear that only nominally looks better than the Nintendo Power Glove.

Someday it will look better. I have no doubt about this. The tech will get better and the gear will get smaller, more fashionable, and less like wearing something from 1985 RadioShack on your face. Obviously, there are all sorts of great, even important, uses of VR. It’s already being used by doctors to look at tumor growth and track vascular issues, but that’s a far cry from everyday public use. Even setting aside the expense, the tech just doesn’t seem ready for prime time. It needs a lot of work.

Despite all the money being dumped into it, I don’t see goggle VR catching on in a big general audience way. Not for years.

Virtual Reality has an image problem, and the Time cover lays it bare. I’m sat here in front of my computer looking at it and it’s like looking in the mirror. That’s what I look like playing Virtual Reality. That’s what we all look like when playing Virtual Reality.

I’m sat in my pants playing internet spaceships with a mobile phone strapped to my face and my younger brother walks in the room and slaps me in the head. “What the f**k are you doing?” he laughs. “I’m flying in space, you prick,” I retort while scrambling to press pause on a controller I can’t see. This is the reality of my Virtual Reality.


The stats don’t lie: VR is a turn off. You, the typical reader, would rather hear about the latest games, new smartphones, or even miniature spaceship combat than another piece about head-mounted virtual reality, and how it will change the world. There’s one big exception, of course: everyone wants to read about how VR will change the world of porn. Sex sells.

But how can the industry and the public disagree so much? The problem is VR’s not-so-secret weakness: the dork factor.

Well, VR gaming has been around for some time and it still hasn’t caught on. The point about it not looking cool isn’t about the tech so much as it’s about how humans work. Closing off everyone and everything around you so that you can operate within a pretend world is inherently antisocial (not that there’s anything wrong with that - there are several times in any given day that I’d like to shut out the world and transport myself someplace else). On the other hand, being “cool” generally means making what you’re doing attractive to others for whatever reasons. If we get to the point that being antisocial is widely considered cool, then the world has some deeper issues to deal with than bad photoshop jobs.

Computers were for dorks for a long time too. I’m totally okay with VR headsets being for dorks, just as video games as a whole were until very recently.

I hope when I’m too old and crusty to play the competitive click fests I do now that VR is finally prime time. I just want simple stuff like exploration games that can really put you there, and weirdly convincing vr theater where I can watch a new release in my own private theater without the cost of actually building one.

My tastes are pretty straightforward though, so I’m sure someone will come up with way cooler stuff than that. But those two things seem very much in reach, so I am finally somewhat interested.

VR will not be a huge success, but it is a very important stepping stone towards the real success: augmented reality.

Well, I have very little enthusiasm for the tech, but I assume it’s because I’m a crabby old bastid who doesn’t particularly want immersion past the point of a nice 2-D movie with good surround sound. While I’m anti-social (a possible indicator of VR acceptance) I also have a “thing” about stuff stuck to my face.

The problem is that people can’t get any indication of how immersive and amazing and blah blah blah VR is until they actually put it on. No one would care how it looks if they could somehow tell what the experience is like from a picture or video.

People looked dorky as hell playing the Wii, but that thing sold by the boatload.

I dont give a flying frak about the dork factor. I do not retreat into my den to look cool. I go there to get gone. I could do so with a bong and a bottle of jack, or with a computer. It has always been about the VR for me, with goggles on its just better VR.

I have some opinions to share, too.

At first, I was excited for VR too. Like, finally, it’s here!! The Metaverse! a new medium for gaming! But as time has passed, my opinion has tempered.

I saw this renaissance coming from a while, I read some articles (a bit before Carmack and Luckey times) that predicted the same, the convergence of technologies cheap enough to make mass market VR a reality. It makes sense, we have way lighter screens and with way higher resolution than 10 years ago thanks to the mobile industry, the same industry also provided of accurate motion sensors, etc etc. It was coming.

But there is a need to come back to the earthly reality. We are going to have VR, but it isn’t going to be the VR we know from scifi books, or tv series or films. We aren’t going to able the step in virtual world. It isn’t going to be the Metaverse, nor the Holodeck. Not even 0.1 version.

Why? Well, there is a big, obvious problem. You can’t replicate movement in that virtual world.

There are two ways to do movement in VR right now, at consumer level.

  1. You move in real life, like in the Vive demos in empty rooms of E3/Gamescon.
  2. You use the traditional controller while seated.

With 1.
I don’t know about you guys, but from the center of the free space in the room I’m right now, I can walk two steps in any of the four directions (ok, three steps in one of the four).
The two things that occupy more space is the bed and the desk, and I can’t get out any of the two.
I don’t have a free room to use for VR, I’m not rich.
I don’t see myself buying in the future a big omni-directional treadmill.

With 2.
With option number 2 there are two problems. One, from all the impressions that I’ve read, the “presence” feeling of the VR experience is greatly diminished. Like, it can’t be considered true VR, in comparison. And two, it’s too jarring for the brain to feel not moving thanks to the inner ear in reality (apart of the feeling of your own limbs that stay still!) and have your other sensory inputs to detect movement. This is why the demos they usually use to show off their devices are usually little demos where you can move around with a 1:1 correspondence (option 1).

The funny thing is, people didn’t even knew the VR sickness was so big of a problem until they started doing the DK1. People imagined it would be like playing a normal first person game where you also can look around (or at least that was my case). But even for people who doesn’t get sick in a FPS, which at this point most gamers, there is a super high chance of getting sick doing the same experience in VR, even one properly tailored (less speed, no head bob, etc). People talk of need several months of “vr training” to get immune, and even the it isn’t perfect, and once you get sick you can feel bad for several hours.

It’s for all this that several VR games in development are based in the concept of not moving from your place, but being closed in a 1-2 m2 area, with a concept of vignettes of small VR scenes, each one in a different place, but where you can’t explore at your own. Time Machine VR, Robinson The Journey, Sony London’s Heist, The Gallery, to mention a few examples. They will use hotspots or any other system to “move” from one scene to the other.

This is where I want to point out the great contradiction between the promise of VR (explore virtual worlds!!! total inmersion!!) and reality (more limited than normal video games like Skyrim).

Cockpit games seems to be safe from this problem. And even forgetting sim games, I’m sure there will be super cool games, that people didn’t think of doing before, even with the limitation of movement. So I’m not saying that VR is going to bomb.
But the inner ear is a “hard problem”, and one it isn’t going to be solved in a few years. So for now we will have to forget of exploring the next Fallout or the next Arma like if we were there in person.

Here’s the thing though… Wearing a VR headset makes anyone look stupid. It’s unwieldy. It’s uncomfortable for long periods. It’s tethered with cables and weird Borg protrusions. It’s a mess. It’s nerd gear that only nominally looks better than the Nintendo Power Glove.
Someday it will look better. I have no doubt about this. The tech will get better and the gear will get smaller, more fashionable…

I don’t think the aspect is a big problem. This isn’t a device intended for use in public! I’m not going to use it on the street! This isn’t Google Glass in that respect. It has cables yeah, like the headphones I use, which also goes into my head. Unwieldy? uncomfortable? Not the consumer version, from what I’ve heard.
Well, you can use GearVR outside, but it isn’t something I’m interested into.

But still, I see it as an obstacle that will slow down adoption. Not the aspect, but the fact that it cuts your vision, isolating you from the rest of the house, of your family. It’s going to be a bother getting the device in and out of your face every time you need to interact with someone or do something else.

Between these two big problems, movement that limit the actual experiences you can play, and isolation that is inconvenient for casual use, I don’t see VR going as big as to replace the traditional gaming medium, but coexisting.

Imagine getting home after work, you are going to start a game, but you are tired, and you only have 40 minutes before having to go prepare dinner. Are you going to bother with VR for daily gaming? I don’t think so.

But sometimes there are some games that are especially immersive, what I will play when I have more free time. I will close the door to have less outside noise, close the window blinds and drapes to be in the dark, and play. Games like Thief, like System Shock, like Amnesia. I can imagine doing the same with VR for special, designed from zero for VR, experiences.

It isn’t so different than cinema, in a way. You have the casual experience of watching whatever B-level movie they are putting on antenna in a boring evening, maybe while you are having lunch in the kitchen, and there is the premium experience of buying a great movie you were expecting, and planning the night for it, waiting until the right hour, closing down the drapes, tuning off the lights, and watching it in silence.

I think an important distinction: you looked like a dork playing the Wii, but you looked like a dork that was having fun, and was doing it with other people. It was build as an inherently social activity where everybody looks like a dork together, which makes it socially acceptable.

Looking stupid in the corner by yourself is another matter. Instead of engaging with you which breaks down barriers, everybody else is silently judging you.

One question:
Who the fuck cares? I don’t get why people make such a big deal about how you look with VR as if people are constantly watching and judging you while being at the computer. Seriously, what is wrong with you people that you worry that much about this really unimportant aspect?
We enjoy a lot of other activities which are anti-social by nature and/or look goofy and noone really cares. Besides that the “anti social” thing is more or less just true as long as the tech doesn’t evolve to a point where that becomes moot too.
So overall when reading such comments I feel like I’m back in the 90’s and having people say “haha, you do that weird computer stuff, what a dork”.
All of that simply won’t be relevant once the tech is evolved enough. When that time might be is certainly a topic of discussion but VR won’t be a failure or success depending on how “cool” people look with it. In the end people will get used to it if VR is actually something they can enjoy or find usefull.

People care. Really, they do. It’s tough to understand if you don’t care, but a lot of normal, healthy, reasonable folks will not buy things that make them look or feel dorky, even in the privacy of their own homes. It doesn’t help that the VR image most people have is of some anti-social weirdo tuning out the rest of the world to be a wizard in the matrix.

You posted that rad phone picture, but that’s not really helping your case. Those original untethered phones weren’t considered dorky at all. In fact, they were kind of a status symbol. One of the first big yuppie must-haves was a giant mobile phone so you could look important and busy.

For me, there are 3 big problems with VR:

  1. Long term health effects. There is no doubt in my mind, that this will destroy your eyes. Having any kind of electronics, strapped inches from your eyes, for hours at a time, is right up there with some of the dumbest ideas in history.

  2. Trying to shoehorn ‘everything’ into a medium that’s really only good for a small segment of games. I can really see this working in a flight or driving sim, as the environment and how it’s used is perfect, but it has nothing to do with say…a puzzle game. It’s the constant selling of this tech, as all encompassing that’s not realistic.

  3. Inconvenience factor vs benefits. Lying on my bed, in front of a 52’ TV, playing Skyrim is just fine and dandy, and at any point I can do something else instantly. I can also keep an eye on my surroundings if the situation calls for it. I get enough ‘tunnel vision’ when I play games, that the immersion factor is a non issue.

This will tank, just like it has 10 times before. No matter how good the tech ever gets, there are inherent stumbling blocks that just can’t be solved, at least for me. I would probably get this at some point just for driving/flying sims if it wasn’t for the health concerns. Given my personal concerns about eye health, and the effects this would have, that reason alone makes this a never buy for me, and I’m a super geek that’s been playing PC games since pre BBS doom.

I remember that period well, and Telefrog is 100% right. People carrying them about ostentatiously were sometimes mocked for being pretentious, but they were never labeled as dorks.

While I agree with that, I think the current tech is probably better enough than previous editions that it will find a market, just probably not a home market. Seeing how much people seem to enjoy managed play experiences (things like room escape games), and other applications people have presented for things like virtual roller coasters, I think there is room for a small industry of theater / arcade like experiences. I just don’t know if there’s enough market to sustain the overhead costs of production, etc.

Can I use VR with glasses?

Yep, that works. I’ve used both the Vive and the Rift just fine with and without glasses.

Exactly. With the Wii, people could understand the experience instantly–having a specific kind of fun with your friends–just by watching a commercial. Yes, it wasn’t the most sophisticated activity in the world, but you could clearly see how it worked (“I move this stick and it moves something on the screen”) and how it was supposed to be entertaining (“Golf looks neat!”). Same thing with the music games, even Guitar Hero, which was a solo act when it first hit.

My point with VR is that it doesn’t have any of these cues. All you see is some dude occasionally moving his head around, maybe going “Wow!” every now and then. It looks like a trip to the opthamologist. In the absence of the experience, all that’s left to judge is the appearance.

In my mind, what’s going to make or break VR is demo stations at game retailers. Once people, including myself, can get a sense of what VR is actually like, they’re going to be much more inclined to consider a purchase. Especially since, as others have pointed out, it’s likely going to be enjoyed in the privacy of their own homes with no prying eyes.

I was going to come here just to post a big mobile phone image, but it seems someone has that covered.

VR will be big, and amazing. If you asked me two years ago, I’d have laughed at the idea. I thought the whole concept was a joke, silly, pointless, useless, and inherently unsellable.
Then I tried the vive.
Holy fuck.
I don’t have shares in HTC or work for Valve, but fuck guys, this is the real deal. And this is version 1. Windows 1.0, the first mobile phone, a pong console. Its the first movie projector and the current demos are ‘train pulls into station’.

When I tried the precursor to the vive, I said to the guy demo-ing it, that they could take that very hardware, and that very (not even interactive) demo, stick it in a mall and charge an endless queue of people $10 a time to give it a go, it would go nuts through word of mouth.

I love dismissing stuff and being the cranky grump British curmudgeon that says its all crap and going to fail. I REALLY do not think VR is going to fail.

I haven’t tried Vive, but I have tried Oculus. It was neat. Not $600 neat. And not change-the-world neat.

I don’t think VR will “fail” but I don’t think it’s going to be some big consumer thing. I don’t think the typical household will have it. Ever.