What’s Holding Back VR Gaming?

19th July, 2019 by

Virtual reality gaming has appeared to be on the cusp of becoming an overnight sensation for decades, yet it remains frustratingly elusive. A number of factors are holding VR gaming back, despite the best efforts of hardware manufacturers and software developers to engineer solutions…

Problem: Tethering. 

To be truly effective, VR demands free movement, from crouching and jumping to turning around in a 360-degree open environment. This becomes impractical (and potentially dangerous) if your vision is consumed by a virtual world, or if the equipment is connected by a lead to a computer or power supply.

Solution: iQiyi’s Qiyu 2S headset is completely wireless, while also offering 4K resolution and weighing less than ten ounces. Lenovo’s ThinkReality headset is also wire-free, delivering four hours of untethered use per charge. However, room furniture still represents a (literal and metaphorical) obstacle.

Problem: Motion sickness. 

In an immersive environment, our brains struggle to interpret visual movement without corresponding physical stimulus. Latency exacerbates this hugely.

Solution: Modern VR gaming devices minimize latency, reducing motion sickness, and disorientation. These are eliminated entirely when synchronized VR experiences are developed for arcade machinery like dodgems. Real-world movement can thus be mirrored in CGI animations among up to 20 participants simultaneously. A rollercoaster might become a spaceship, dodging asteroids and enemy missiles prior to ‘docking’ at the entry/exit point.

Problem: Lack of affordable hardware. 

VR gaming has historically been restricted to the Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive. Each platform involved significant compromises due to cost, resulting in combined global sales of less than four million headsets last year.

Solution: New manufacturers are entering the market, including Valve – the company behind the popular Steam online games platform. Their Vive-based Index headset pushes its twin screens closer together to ensure a more immersive UX. Oculus is about to release the identically-priced Quest and Rift S, while iQiyi and Lenovo have launched new headsets within the last couple of months. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Gear VR remains a leftfield option.

Does VR gaming have a future?

Earlier this decade, analysts predicted that products like the Oculus Rift would finally revolutionize VR gaming. Yet despite extensive industry hype, technological shortcomings and a lack of compelling games killed the buzz. VR applications are becoming increasing niche – allowing real estate clients to ‘walk’ around a property to get a sense of space, or underpinning on-the-job training for engineers and mechanics. Here, issues like tethering and low-res graphics pose less of an issue. 

When a Sony PS4 Pro outputs eye-popping 4K graphics, it eclipses even Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 with its 47 pixels per degree of field of view. Plus, the second-generation HoloLens costs over $3,000. That’s a lot for a standalone gaming experience, which can’t be shared on social media or experienced by anyone else. The difference between this solitary experience and the interactive, affordable nature of AR titles like Pokémon Go is stark. Consequently, experts now predict AR will represent the future of immersive gameplay, rather than its virtual cousin.

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