VR vs. the Mass Market
The Oculus Rift works. As insane as it may sound, it’s possible to slip on the much anticipated virtual reality (VR) headset and feel like you’ve stepped into another world. The problem? Right now you can only take our word for it. This isn’t a matter of powerhouse visuals that can be showcased with a simple trailer or motion controllers that can be demonstrated live, this is a technology that truly needs to be seen to be believed. Unless you’re lucky enough to own a developer kit or you’ve sampled the Oculus Rift at an event, it’s hard to imagine it really working. That perception is something that Oculus Rift creators Oculus VR and all other VR outlets are going to struggle with throughout the next few years.
Case in point; take a look at the video of CCP Games’ EVE: Valkyrie being shown off on Sky News last week. Getting a spot on one of the UK’s most-watched news channels is certainly a big win for the Oculus Rift, but the short demo struggles to translate what using the device really feels like. There’s a presenter telling us that ‘it’s amazing’ and a huge screen showing off gameplay, which isn’t even taken from the presenter’s camera. It’s impossible to translate the 3D effect to our television sets; we simply have to go on what the people onscreen are describing.
VRFocus has played EVE: Valkyrie, so we know what the experience is like. As you can read in our preview, it stands as one of the best VR space combat videogames on the horizon. But to everyone else watching that demo, perhaps hearing about the Oculus Rift for the very first time, it’s just a box that people say will blow you away. At best, this type of marketing can simply raise awareness of the device.
The team at Oculus have clearly flagged this is an issue already. In fact, they rarely miss out on a chance to show the Oculus Rift off to both the press and public. The device made the rounds at most of the major trade shows last year and is currently prepping to do so again in 2014 with the Crystal Cove prototype. It’s a method that gets results; the Oculus Rift won multiple awards at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and word of mouth quickly spreads around any show floor with a headset nearby. The internet is abuzz with good will for the device, no doubt helped by big names like Valve publically pledging support.
This strategy will undoubtedly have to follow through come time for consumer release if Oculus VR wants to grab the attention of the wider market. If the Oculus Rift – or any other VR headset – is to move beyond the more devoted videogame audience then we’re talking about the kind of campaign that puts kiosks in stores and gets people trying before they buy.
It certainly won’t help that, in recent years, a lukewarm reception to 3D technology has left some consumers sceptical about when companies try and push new initiatives. Sony practically rammed its 3D TVs down consumers throats for two years before seemingly giving up. True, the technology was overly expensive and its effects were debateable but now that consumers are burned, virtual reality is left with the lofty task of restoring faith. Thankfully, the quality of the Oculus Rift and encouragingly low $300 USD price point for a current dev kit will work in its favour.
In fact, Sony’s track record of videogame accessories in recent years suggests that its rumoured VR headset will have a lot of work to do to win our hearts and minds. While the company pushed 3D technology for the PlayStation 3, it’s barely been mentioned on the PlayStation 4, and other initiatives like the PlayStation Move motion controller and even the PlayStation Vita, have undoubtedly underperformed for the technology giant. Will a PlayStation 4 VR headset fair any better?
There’s little doubt that companies are already planning just how they’ll get the message of VR across to as many people as possible. It seems ironic that now that we’ve realised a technology previously only dreamed of in science-fiction, the real challenge will be convincing consumers that it’s the real deal. But the Oculus Rift works, and if the company can get that simple statement into the minds of as many people as possible, then VR should have a very bright future indeed.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.