Is 2017 make or break year for virtual reality?

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Games blogger Joshua Mason reckons that virtual reality needs a breakout game to be truly successful

Virtual Reality has always been the holy grail of gaming. Audiences have been teased with it for decades. Whether it’s in the news or films and TV, gamers had hoped that the technology would be here for everyone by now.

Well, 2016 saw a significant shift towards VR, but it hasn’t been the giant success everyone had hoped. With many issues still facing the technology, 2017 will likely be a make or break year for VR.

There is still much optimism for VR and two main units have the backing of tech giants. The HTC Vive is a collaboration with Valve and phone company HTC. Rival headset Oculus Rift is owned and controlled by Facebook. Both are utilised for VR gaming through a PC and while they haven’t flopped, sales are not where they are expected to be.

Valve CEO Gabe Newell has admitted as such and has even claimed he is OK if the technology fails. Valve is the major software partner for the HTC Vive and currently has 1300 apps on the game distribution system Steam.

“If you don’t try things that don’t fail you probably aren’t trying to do anything very interesting,” says Newell. “So we hope that we’ll find stuff that gamers will say is awesome and is a huge leap forward.”

Technical limitations

Newell’s rival in VR Mark Zuckerberg has made claims it will take between 50 and 100 million sales of headsets before you can safely say VR is a new form of computing. This seems incredibly unlikely in the current climate and especially when you consider that the price of one of these headsets is between $700 and $800. Not exactly mass market price.

There are also other issues to contend with. The technology itself is by no means ‘there yet’. The technical limitations means the visuals and resolutions are currently lagging way behind that of standard computer games.

The bulkiness and style of the headsets, which is necessary because of the amount of computing power required for the headset to work, may also be holding back sales.

In terms of major gaming names it’s a mixed bag too. Playstation is the first big console makers to get on the VR bandwagon with the PS VR. It comes at a much lower price, but due to this has less power and less developed games than the more mature Vive and Rift platforms.

NintendoSwitch
The Nintendo Switch is being billed as a handheld system, a gaming tablet and dockable console all in one

Nintendo has a new console out, the Nintendo Switch, and has ignored any compatibility all together with VR, choosing instead to invent its own new tech with the HD Rumble. This will create new sensations for the user and the controllers. Nintendo say, as an example, that you will be able to tell how many ice cubes are in an imaginary glass represented by a controller.

Out of Ammo

The lack of quality content and games is also a problem for any new gaming tech and there have been issues with the financial profitability of developing games for VR. Famed developer Dean Hall , who was the man behind DayZ, made a game called Out of Ammo for the HTC Vive and despite it finding success he still took a hit on the game.

Says Hall: “From our standpoint, Out of Ammo exceeded our sales predictions and achieved our internal objectives. However, it has been very unprofitable. It is extremely unlikely that it will ever be profitable. We are comfortable with this, and approached it as such. We expected to lose money and we had the funding internally to handle this.” Yet Out of Ammo has sold unusually well compared to many other VR games.

Like most new gaming technology, VR will live and die by the content that is made for it. There is an argument that due to the high price, lack of visual resolution and game developers it might have been too early to release a VR system. But what is done is done and fans have been promised a gaming revolution.

To truly be successful  I  think VR will need a breakout game. Something that will not only match up against current games of the day but can also only be experienced by those with VR headsets.

Of course price will still be an issue but this will always fall over time. Another aspect of measuring VR success will be with Playstation. The gaming giants have put their money where their mouth is and with their muscle they have the necessary fire power to create industry leading games too.

PS VR will be a good barometer of whether VR will work on a global scale. If it fails then no doubt the gaming device will die out quickly. But that shouldn’t stop us dreaming as the possibility of economical and immersive gaming with VR still captures the imagination.

Chris Price

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