Will virtual reality ever take off?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty /David Ramos
Virtual reality is big news in technology circles, but it’s been big news for many decades. Will virtual reality ever actually take off, or are we going to spend even more decades living with the promise of VR? We examine three reasons why VR will take off, and three reasons why it won’t.


Three Reasons why Virtual Reality will Never Actually Take Off


There isn’t a big enough user base

It’s a vicious circle; without a large enough user base it won’t be worthwhile for developers to create specifically for VR. And without compelling software or apps driving VR headset sales, the user base will never grow larger. After the flurry of early adopter excitement dried up, sales have slumped. In practice there aren’t good reasons for people to invest in the headsets. SuperData, a games-market research firm, predicted $5.1bn total revenue from VR software and hardware in 2016. In the end, total revenue worldwide only amounted to $1.8bn. Even gamers have shown that they are not interested. VR headsets are too uncomfortable to play long-running games impossible, and they are also not suitable for many popular game genres or for the adaptation of existing popular games.


Too much fragmentation in the market

With each VR company releasing its own headset model there is a lack of market leadership. Fragmentation of the marketplace is putting off games developers and programmers from designing for VR technology because of difficulties in compatibility. The gap between software used by the top and bottom ends of the market is too great to be easily bridged by developers. Without enough programs and games to give consumers a reason to buy VR headsets, sales will dip (as they already have).


The user experience is disappointing

Although VR is compelling initially, after the novelty wears off users have found that the experience is disappointing. VR still often makes people feel sick. Users have been educated to expect super-sharp images, but VR headsets tend to deliver a pixelated viewing experience. Experienced gamers who are accustomed to using WASD controls are disoriented to discover that they don’t work effectively on VR games, nor do they expect to have to physically move in order to see behind them. Finally, few users have enough space at home to use a VR headset without tripping over the couch or walking into a wall.


Three Reasons why Virtual Reality will Take Off


It’s so compelling

Although there are a lot of obstacles to the success of VR, the immersive presence of the VR experience is so compelling that it will get there eventually. VR is a totally different type of experience to any other viewing activity. It’s difficult for companies to sell it to consumers without helping them experience it first. In 2016, thousands of headsets were launched and sold with VR games for the first time, bringing the experience to millions of new users, helping to spread the word.


Competition will bring down the price

Up until now, the high cost of VR headsets and powerful computers to use with them has been one of the biggest disincentives to consumers. But as more companies enter the VR market headset prices have already got lower, with Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard leading the way. Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift brought a heavyweight player into the market and led many companies to take a second look at VR. Alternative support systems like Samsung’s S7 for their Gear VR are cheaper than the heavyweight computers needed for headsets like Oculus or Vive. With more competition will come lower prices, higher adoption rates and more programming.


It’s part of our lives

Small things like Pokemon Go and virtual shopping experiences have shown that VR, and its lighter cousin augmented reality (AR) are permeating our daily lives. As we become accustomed to interacting with virtual or augmented reality, we’ll expect to see it in more aspects of our lives. TIME magazine recently began publishing 360 degree videos that are viewable on the Samsung Vive headset as a supplement to their journalism, and other news companies like VICE are experimenting with integrating VR into their reporting. Virtual dressing rooms, augmented reality directions, virtual coupons and other small details edge us closer to the expectation that virtual reality will always be there. The slow seepage of VR into many aspects of our daily life will bring gamers to demand it as part of their gaming experiences too. Once VR penetrates the gaming market, it will really take off. Sony’s PS4 comes with VR and is enjoying better sales than other VR headsets, hopefully pointing towards VR adoption by gamers.


Bottom line: VR is not just a Ready Player One type of immersive universe. It can include augmented reality, and 360-degree videos, both of which are present and successful. But as far as the full VR promise, can you imagine a future where VR doesn’t become a meaningful part of the culture? And if VR is the future, how far would you say that future is?


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