Will virtual reality ever take off?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty /David Ramos
*Updated 2018
While virtual reality continues to make headlines with promises of new innovations in both mainstream and technology circles, it’s long been big news for many decades. But some say that all the promises have not lived up to the hype, and that passion for virtual reality technology and investment has cooled. Will virtual reality ever actually take off, or are we going to spend even more decades living with the promise of VR?
Here are 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

Virtual reality (VR) suffers from 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 for VR headsets have slumped. In practice, consumers are questioning whether the timing is right to invest in the headsets, as the market is still small and there aren’t yet a lot of games being made for them. The numbers don’t lie: 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, 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 game 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 continue to dip.


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. They also don’t expect to have to physically move in order to see and play effectively. 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 succeed 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. Today’s VR Awards keep consumers abreast of the latest and the greatest innovations in VR, and not just for gamers.


Competition will bring down the price

Up until now, the high costs of VR headsets and powerful computers to use with them has been one of the biggest drawbacks for consumers. But as more companies enter the VR market, headset prices have gotten lower, with Samsung’s Odyssey 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. Plus, 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. 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 VR will surround us everywhere. The slow seepage of VR into many aspects of our daily lives 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 doubling down on a future of VR headsets, pointing towards VR adoption by gamers.


The 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 increasingly present and successful. When you envision the future, do you see VR becoming a meaningful part of our culture, fulfilling all of its promises?


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