Why Palmer is wrong about VR gaming

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey recently told Re/code that virtual reality will initially be mostly for hard-core gamers.

The headset is expensive, and the computer hardware needed to run virtual reality applications is even more so — the total price is expected to come in at around $1,500.

But you’ll be able to play games such as EVE: Valkyrie. This is the trailer:

However, Luckey is making some pretty big assumptions there.

He’s equating virtual reality with the Oculus, and he’s equating virtual reality with gaming.

Once you do that, then yes, given the price tag, Oculus Rift games will probably be first played by people who have the latest hardware, and who have the extra money to spend on the headset and any other necessary peripherals.

But virtual reality is about more than just gaming, and is more than just the Oculus Rift.

And from that perspective, the use cases of virtual reality become very dramatically different.

For example, more than a million people already have a virtual reality headset, in the form of the Google Cardboard or one of the many compatible devices.

One of the nicer Google Cardboard-compatible headsets -- the smartphone slides right in.

One of the nicer Google Cardboard-compatible headsets — the smartphone slides right in.

Obviously, they’re not using the headsets for hard-core gaming, because these headsets can’t support hardcore gaming. Instead, they allow people to see 3D photographs, watch immersive, 3D videos, and play simple, single-person games and simulations.

Some examples of these include:

  • virtual concert footage, such as the Paul McCartney concert last fall
  • virtual test drives, such as that for the Volvo XC90
  • virtual real estate tours, such as that of the Panoptic Group, among many others
  • roller coaster simulations and similar ride-based experiences
  • simple shooter games

Check out 29 fun virtual reality apps for the iPhone here. There are also a few hundred Google Cardboard-compatible apps available for Android devices.

The Cmoar Roller Coaster VR offers a fun, action-packed ride.

The Cmoar Roller Coaster VR offers a fun, action-packed ride.

These virtual reality experiences are lacking in many respects compared to the full-scale ones that will eventually be available for the Oculus Rift. Since smartphones have less computing power — for now, at least — the experiences aren’t as good when it comes to graphics or interactivity. And because lag is a very big issue with mobile devices, multi-player experiences are almost completely out of the picture.

But they also offer some very significant advantages.

Low cost. Many companies are offering the cardboard headsets for free. Prices on Amazon start at around $4, and nicer headsets made from more durable materials are available for $20 and up.

Quick to play. Most of the virtual reality apps for smartphones are short games, rides, or simulations. Since it takes time for people to get used to virtual reality, this is actually a significant advantage. People get to try out virtual reality in short doses.

Everyone has a smartphone. Or almost everyone. Even in emerging economies, there are some very, very inexpensive smartphones available.

Smartphones get replaced frequently. People try to get as much use as the can out of their desktops or consoles, and typically wait a few years to upgrade or replace them. But people upgrade their phones every other year, or more often. That means that the technology develops a lot faster than desktops or consoles do.

Great for marketing. Since everyone has a smartphone already, and the Cardboard holders are so cheap, marketers can get their experiences out to a lot of people. They can give away Cardboards in stores and showrooms for example, or on their websites. Volvo gave away Cardboard headsets, for example, to generate interest for its Volvo XC90 demo. And next month, smartphone maker OnePlus is giving away headsets so that people can virtually attend the release of their next phone.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

9 Responses

  1. skydeas@yahoo.com' Jacki Morie says:

    And even beyond the Mobile VR (using a smart phone) VR will have many more applications than hardcore gaming. Yep the Oculus has firmly staked its ground. Let’s hear from people doing VR their own unique ways!

  2. rt66@wanadoo.fr' Yichard says:

    I am in multi-users virtual reality since about 15 years (Blaxxun, There.com, Second Life, and now Inworldz). I can testify that gaming is by far not the main use of virtual reality. Even recently Inworldz invested time and effort to promoting roleplay, but this did not resulted in a large base of players.

    The main use of virtual reality is socialising. We can meet like-minded people from all over the world, without the expanse of travel, and without the risks and ideological complications of “real” life. We have a lot of activities revolving around this: arts and performances (4 theater teams in Inworldz), landscaping, and now that things are starting to grow again, some learning groups are starting (science, spirituality).

    Of course the medias don’t like this freedom, and they instead promote violent and ugly video games, which have millions of users world wide. But this is a totally different domain, and the creators of immoral video games will not give a single cent to help develop free user-created content worlds. (By the way not all video games ar violent, there are nice ones too, but of course they do not appear in advertising).
    By the way, I looked at a video of GTA to see this fantastic quality they boast. Well, WE COULD DO THIS IN INWORLDZ, if if was on our hard drive instead of the Internet.

    The on-ly common point between video games and virtual communities is the hardware. This is why we are looking at developments here. But my main concern is that developments go in the direction of gaming, against the specific needs of online communities.

    We are still very far of a cheap equipment allowing for full immersion and force feeback. Many researches here too, but here too the risk is that bad standards become norms, at the expense of online communities.

  3. lawrence_pierce@sbcglobal.net' lmpierce says:

    Speaking of assumptions, the prevalence of a million cardboard headsets does not mean a million people now make 3D viewing a daily part of their lives from now until forever. Millions of people bought a Pet Rock and where are those rocks today? Curiosity has always motivated human activities, and with such a low cost for some of these cardboard/aluminum can devices, I think the sounder assumption is that people are curious about the novelty of 3D on their phone at this point, not they are certainly not proven to be ‘sold’ on the paradigm. On the other hand, individuals and companies that are willing to prioritize the higher cost of devices like the Rift are likely doing so because they have imagined longer-term goals and benefits. Just as gamers have driven the development of display card capabilities, so too they may drive the evolution of head mounted displays. All other kinds of users will benefit from the availability of the equipment, but will not necessarily drive the market.

    • rt66@wanadoo.fr' Yichard says:

      Today these cheap products are difficult to wear, fragile, with a narrow field of vision and a low definition. They may deserve the spread of virtual reality instead of fostering it.

      We clearly need to develop better solutions. There are several, just waiting for investors understanding the domain. Today we see frantical efforts to develop a lot of partial solutions, which may lead to a situation where a relatively bad product wins and impose its inconveniences or limitations to all the users.

      And my previous posts were right: when the NASA wants to use virtual reality for their astronauts, they choose the microsoft Hololens, not any other. I know the price is not a factor for them, but with some development it will lower.

  4. draco@spamcop.net' Rene says:

    Virtual Reality Lite, which is what phones and a cardboard/plastic face harness creates, opens up a lot of space for compelling consumption content. I think of it as a great way for people to sample that content and get a sense of what immersive VR can offer.

    The definition of virtual reality is:
    The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors (Oxford).

    For that reason I do not consider the SL-style grids or video games as virtual reality. They are virtual worlds – games tend to be highly structured and goal oriented while SL and OpenSim grids are more self-directed and more socially oriented. But, they are typically watched on a 2D screen. So, I have to disagree with Yichard’s premise that he or anyone in this worlds are experiencing virtual reality.

    Virtual Reality is a means to visualize a 3D space as just that, immersed and reactive to your body movements. We are a long way toward full immersion. Head/eye and position tracking gives compelling experiences but we still need hands and haptic feedback.

    Now, granted that VR gear has been adapted to SL-style grids. The Oculus Rift with a CtrlAltStudio viewer will deliver a 3D VR experience in OpenSim virtual worlds, although you need higher end graphics to stay out of the nausea zone, SL has an Oculus ready viewer too, as does High Fidelity’s interface app.
    Getting to the point of the article, I mostly agree with Maria’s argument that VR is not strictly limited to gaming since VR lite has plenty of headroom for many tasks. We’re talking hundreds of thousands to millions of people who could use VR lite in meaningful ways: realtors giving virtual tours of homes is a great example. Anything that gives a short task oriented eyes-only experience is perfect for VR lite.

    • rt66@wanadoo.fr' Yichard says:

      “Classical” virtual worlds, either social or video games, are a first attempt for virtual reality. They were (and still are) poorly served by the traditionnal computer interface (screen and keyboard), but their purpose is still toward a total immersion. This is why any new technology (headsets, body sensing, haptic return) will enhance the existing worlds and experiences, not replace them.

      You seem to imply that these technologies may create new specific experiences. That makes us curious. But I think that basically these new experiences will develop from classical 3D worlds, when new technologies will provide better ways to experience them.

      Example: flying in a today virtual world provides no physical sensations, and the sensation of freedom is limited by the narrow field of view of the screen. But haptic return and the possibility of looking in any direction simply in turning our head, will surely enhance the experience to a further level of sensuality, which will make it comparable to the real thing (although still far of equating it).

      However there is no sense at just “flying” in an empty space. We fly in a landscape, of for a purpose (roleplay). Here is how today “classical” virtual worlds will bring a base where the new technologies will find uses. From here new sports may appear, new yogas, new communities of flying beings, new landscapes made for flyers.