VR vs. An Asterisk

Kevin E thought there was nothing that could derail VR, that thought now comes with a multi-billion dollar caveat.

I’m in a bit of a quandary this week as the topic I want to discuss would probably have been best to cover a fortnight ago. Since that time pretty much everything that was going to be said about the Magic Leap One has been said at this point; in terms of those who like it and those that don’t at any rate.

Just over a week ago, Palmer Luckey strode back into the spotlight to give his two penn’orth about the much waited for hardware by declaring that “Magic Leap is a Tragic Heap” – a headline was not chosen for glibness. Something Luckey himself addressed immediately at the start of the piece, saying it was deliberately chosen as “a tragedy in the classical sense”.  Of course, glib or not, the headline was immediately pounced on. You don’t get the former head of Oculus tearing a strip off the new kid on the immersive technology block and get crickets.

They’re far too busy being consciences to wooden boys and providing luck to young women in China, anyway.

Magic Leap One RevealThe truth of the matter is I couldn’t tell you whether I agree nor disagree with Luckey’s opinion of the Magic Leap as I honestly haven’t tried it – and unless someone magically leaps to sending me one, or pays me lots of money to be able to afford one I’m not going to either, but whether I think it’s good isn’t actually the topic of today.  It’s more whether you think it is; because even though the headset is augmented/mixed reality, if you’re someone who is very much pro-virtual reality (VR) over everything else you might want to hope it does okay.

For a while now, and I’ve mentioned it here often enough, I’ve been very much of the opinion that VR has reached a point where it can’t fail. There’s too much money wrapped up in it for starters, that and the technology has already proven itself in areas like education, research, science and medical care. That path has been started and I honestly don’t see it being reversed now. Videogames are another matter, but then again just how many titles are there now for each of the main three headsets now? How many for them combined? We’re close to two years of PlayStation VR. That’s pretty awesome.

But while I still believe that, Magic Leap has got me putting something of a mental asterisk by that statement.

Why? Well, let’s say you’re in a car and there’s an accident. Or you have something to eat out and you feel sick and get food poisoning. Or, you put your heart into something and it all falls apart in front of you. Some people would say they’d get right back on that horse – but the truth is the vast majority would hesitate to be a part of that experience again. A bad experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth is scarcely rectified quickly. It’s a truth that has dogged VR via simulation sickness and it is also a financial truth.

Magic Leap has had a frankly disgusting amount of money ploughed into it.  There’s investment and then there’s this level of investment. Heck, they’re still trying to gain investment even now for some reason. There are countries less cash rich than Magic Leap, yet still they seek more and here’s the crux of my concern. A Magic Leap that falls flat on its face hurts everyone in immersive technology. It hurts investments, it damages confidence in the technology as a whole and it taints the industry with the spectre of something that’s a cross between a cheap conjurer and a snake oil salesman.

Whether or not you think the Magic Leap One does what it promised is your take. Magic Leap as a company needs to work. It doesn’t need to be a spectacular success even. Just. Work. Because if there’s one thing that could, potentially, damage VR’s future it’s not Magic Leap’s success. It’s their failure.

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