Recently, I was watching this video on teleportation as a mechanic in Virtual Reality. I’m very much a fan of stereoscopy, and new applications of video game technology. VR wraps all of these into one, and should be something that I’d love. And yet, when I see videos from early adopters describing VR in terms like that of how to get around its limitations, it’s kind of easy to see why sales appear to be plateauing for VR devices. VR is being marketed as a way to immerse yourself into an entirely different world, with a level of realism unheard of in other video game applications. And yet, early adopter apologetics make it sound like it further increases the abstraction of video games, the exact opposite of what they’re promising, and there appears to be too many physical limitations to VR to make it possible to use technology to get out of this problem.
To dissect that a little further, let’s look at the limitations of VR from a qualitative standpoint. The big things keeping VR from growing are the cost (the price of VR equipment, a computer that can run it, and the space to set up as a VR room), and the limitations on movement (the fact that you can’t move through actual walls, so you can’t move beyond actual boundaries in VR, and also the fact that moving asynchronously in VR to your real life movement will cause motion sickness). With those limitations on movement, you’re limiting yourself to game genres that forbid exploration, such as arcade shooters or vehicle games, which make up a small portion of popular gaming today.
Now, cost is mostly an issue of computer cost, which will go down as long as Moore’s Law stays in effect (though we’re starting to run into the physical limits of transistor sizes, so that’s a big if). The cost of space to actually set up the thing is pretty much a constant, aside from natural fluctuations in real-estate prices (you need to be able to afford an additional room for VR, as opposed to even a studio apartment being able to support traditional computer graphical increases). All in all, that one static cost isn’t going to be a big issue for a middle income family, however (most people can probably just set it up in an existing entertainment room), so we’ll just assume cost will be solved with time. But the problem of movement is a more difficult one.
Possible solutions are, like the video involved up above, limiting movement to the use of vehicles or teleporting. But those don’t really solve the root of the problem that limited motion causes, which is that it prevents the types of games that can be made. Sure, using vehicles or teleportation allows exploration, but it still limits your game genres to mechanical or defense games. Another option that people have been attempting is the VR treadmill. This is a device such as the Virtuix Omni VR treadmill that use a slippery flat surface to track feet movement, and use a bar around your waist line to keep you from actually moving. While devices like that could theoretically solve the problem (though most reports say its a poor simulation of walking), you’re increasing the cost of VR exponentially with an object like this, since the metal / plastic necessary to make this is going to be static, you can’t reduce the price over time the way you can with computer parts, so this causes the price to become a factor even with the target demographic.
I honestly hope that I’m wrong regarding this; I want VR to succeed. Also, I could see a lot of these issues being solved by VR reviving the near dead arcade business. There’s one in my home town, so I’ll have to give that a try and report back. However, the 90s proved that people want video games in the home, even when arcade games are better, so its unlikely that arcade success would make VR anything more than a gimmick. VR is too limiting to be the source of long-term success and improvement for video games as a whole, unless something unseen happens that changes the state of the market drastically.