To listen to the pundits, by Christmas 2017 we’ll all be diving under the tree for Virtual Reality goggles, from junior to senior, maybe even grandma too. Except, we won’t be. Microsoft just launched it’s tongue-twister flagship gaming console the Xbox One X (don’t say it too fast.) And it has no real support for VR. Nor does Sony’s PlayStation or Nintendo’s latest Switch.
Virtual Reality Has A Social Problem
For the most part, in the few games I’ve tried, VR is a rather solitary experience. Most VR games and approaches in development have been single-person focused. This largely makes sense since it is easier to develop technologies like this in the single person.
But console video games over the past decade have evolved very differently. Franchises like Call of Duty, Halo and Medal of Honour and sports games, thrived by being multiplayer in their very nature. The initial instalments of games like Halo and even sports games were 1-2 players and some online multiplayer. As broadband became less costly and more ubiquitous the game companies invested less and less in the story line, going for MRR (monthly recurring revenue) business models. Good for the gaming companies, but bad for the solitary nature of VR right now.
Augmented Reality is the Transitional Technology
Pokemon. Enough said. Even Apple realizes the mid-term strategy is Augmented Reality (AR.) Consumers are far more comfortable to adapting to AR right now because they already have a smartphone that they’ve adapted into their way of living. Are you really going to slap on a pair of VR goggles in Walmart to go shopping? Exactly. But you’ll hold up your phone to see layered information on a product.
The Problem is the Hardware and the Socialization
VR goggles, even the simpler version you can slide a Samsung Galaxy into, are still a difficult technology for most people. You have to stop and put them on. And be vulnerable. Not something most people want to do in public. People aren’t comfortable blocking their senses in public. This is easier with AR, since you don’t block out your situational awareness. The lizard brain is still a strong factor.
The secondary issue is the social factor of VR. It just isn’t very social. There just aren’t that many other people connected at the same time and few tools encourage or have socialization features. This is a problem in a world still trying to figure out social media a decade later. Are all your friends rushing out to by VR goggles?
The Short Term Prognosis for VR
For at least the next decade, VR will be a very specialized area. There is tons of economic opportunity for VR, don’t get me wrong. It’s a brilliant tool for trade skills, military, medical and technical training. The VR companies that understand this and focus in this way, will make money. They will also be ready for when mass consumer adoption is ready. But as a mass consumer technology? Not for a decade at least, if not longer.
In the meantime, look for advances in AR tools and those ever awkward eyeglasses.
What do you think?