Ever since the days of Tron, gamers have been pining for an immersive, all-encompassing gaming experience. A chance to feel as though they were IN the game. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that a few confident tech companies have actually been trying to accomplish this feat – notably, HTC (Vive), Facebook (Oculus) and Sony (PlayStation VR).

Each of these products has a place in the virtual reality (VR) market, but all of them leave a question unanswered – is VR genuinely a desired method of gaming, or is it merely a gimmick? 

In it’s time on the market, virtual reality has seen steady growth, with an estimated 3.7 million devices sold in 2017, 6 million devices in 2019 and 6.4 million in 2020. 

To give you a broader view of the industry, recent statistics have seen as many as 3.1 billion people identified as ‘gamers’, with 1.48 billion of those being PC gamers. So as far as virtual reality is concerned, there’s still some ways to go…

TYPES OF VR

There are a few ‘levels’ of virtual reality that you can experience in 2021. The first and most common being wired and console/pc driven. Devices such as the Vive and PlayStation VR rely on your pre-existing gaming machine to do the heavy lifting. All graphic processing power, game storage, etc is handled by the console and fed through to the VR headset, which comes with challenges. This system works well if your computer has the power to handle it, but quite poorly if it doesn’t. 

A significantly more approachable platform for VR is the ‘standalone’ experience provided by devices like the Oculus Quest.

The Quest is as independent as VR gets – it has no cables and doesn’t require you to do much else but pair it with your phone for setup and streaming. While it may not be as powerful (from a graphical standpoint) as the wired solutions, it’s absolutely the most carefree way to have a decent VR experience. 

WHY HASN’T IT TAKEN OFF?

There are a few primary factors in the lack of VR uptake, with the foremost being price. At the top end of the market you’ve got the HTC Vive Cosmos at roughly ~$1000 AUD. In the middle you’ll find the Oculus at ~$500 AUD and then there’s the PlayStation VR, which is naturally PlayStation exclusive, for ~$400 AUD. For the record there are plenty of other headsets, but these are by far and away the most popular.

In the case of PlayStation VR, it’s the same cost as the actual PlayStation… which has a whole lot to offer with a significantly wider range of games to choose from, and players on those games. 

VR headsets for the most part also aren’t incredibly comfortable for long periods of time. A good deal of that discomfort being added weight to your neck and pressure on all sides. Users also report eye fatigue and occasional headaches after prolonged virtual reality use. An issue that MOST ‘regular’ gaming doesn’t provoke.

Anyone looking to purchase a VR headset also has to be mindful of the space they have to use that headset in. Most devices recommend two square metres of movement space to avoid potentially bumping obstacles or otherwise harming yourself – which is actually quite a lot for most Aussie homes. I personally had to trick my headset into believing my bed was usable space before being allowed to play.

Outside of the above, the technology as a whole still has some ways to go toward building a fully immersive gaming experience. The ‘full body’ motion capture style that we’ve dreamed of is still at this point exactly that… a dream. However having said that, games that are designed for VR such as Beatsaber and Half-Life: Alyx do an absolutely phenomenal job at keeping one entertained.

THE POTENTIAL

A severely underrated aspect of VR Gaming is that of virtual reality arcades. Now unless you live near one you may not know they exist, but rest assured, they’re all over the place. From virtualized escape rooms to virtualized laser tag and a wonderful host of games in between, VR arcades are making the platform accessible and incredibly social. 

If this sounds all too foregin for you, try this promo video on for size;

I’m not here to pigeon hole virtual reality as some sort of eye-catching novelty – but there’s something to be said for its use as a casual way to enjoy fun with friends. Especially given the price, space and hardware requirements for purchasing your own device.

There will come a time, arguably within the next decade, that a Ready Player One style VR experience will be available (reference video for those of you that hate pop culture);

But in the meantime, sit back and enjoy watching the unbelievable technical advancements of this decade… Keep your eyes on virtual reality and know that while it may not have reached its potential yet – there’s a whole lot of room to grow.