Virtual reality: Will it ever catch on?
“Actual reality hasn’t been especially kind to virtual reality so far,” said Chris Morris in CNBC.com. Last year, VR seemed like the only thing people were talking about at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, with gamers waiting in line for hours to immerse themselves in alternate worlds. This year, however, things felt “more subdued.” Facebook-owned Oculus skipped the show altogether, as did HTC, which makes the Vive VR headset. Maybe that’s because sales of VR gear have largely disappointed, despite all the buzz they’ve received. Oculus and HTC sold a combined 1.2 million headsets last year, while Sony sold 1 million units of its PlayStation VR. Not bad, but considering there are some 2.6 billion gamers worldwide, it’s “not exactly jaw-dropping.”
There are several factors behind the slow adoption, said Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post. For one thing, VR is expensive. Not only does an Oculus headset with a controller cost $598—it also requires a high-end gaming computer to use. The technology has also been known to cause motion sickness for some users. There’s also a marketing problem. It’s hard to advertise an immersive experience on a flat-screen TV. In the words of one gaming developer: “How do you advertise a color TV on black-and-white televisions?”
Virtual reality is still waiting for its Pokémon Go moment, said Dan Gallagher in The Wall Street Journal. The hit mobile game, which layers computer-generated images on top of the real world, demonstrated the promise of augmented reality. Despite looking like a fad, Pokémon Go, which celebrates its first anniversary in July, has generated $1.3 billion to date and remains one of the highest-grossing apps in both the iOS and Android stores. VR needs to have a breakout hit to persuade companies to pour major resources into making immersive games. “If VR is to ever level up in a big way, it needs to find something gamers simply can’t live without.”
That could be closer than many people think, said Laura Parker in The New York Times. A “flood” of high-profile video game franchises is coming to virtual reality before the end of this year. That includes the open-world action game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the first-person shooter Doom, and the post-apocalyptic role-playing game Fallout, all titles that lend themselves to an immersive experience. By one estimate, global revenue from augmented reality and VR is projected to grow to more than $162 billion in 2020, from $5.2 billion in 2016. As one VR studio chief executive recently put it, “We are at the very beginning of creating this industry.”
Newscom, University of California San Diego ■