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My Main Reservation About VR

No mainstream for you yet, Johnny Vive

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RPS has sealed itself inside a chocolate egg for the duration of the UK’s long holiday weekend, to emerge only when the reign of Mr Hops The Doom Rabbit has run its dread course. While we slumber, enjoy these fine words previously published as part of our Supporter program. More to come.

I am a big VR believer, no question about it: I’m in for the long haul myself. But I don’t think it’s going to become anything like mainstream until it’s very, very easy, and right now it’s anything but. The possible exception to that is the PlayStation VR, which I haven’t used yet but benefits from a fixed hardware spec and lower ambitions, but in the case of the Vive and the two models of Oculus Rift I’ve used so far, the reality is a nightmare of cables and turning things on.

They make your workspace unavoidably look messy, but worse still it’s never a simple matter of sticking a headset on and getting going. There’s all this tiny stuff to be done first: turn on each controller, plugin the motion sensors, load up the SteamVR application, clear the floor…

It’s a first-generation problem, and it won’t even be a problem for the most committed, but think about the number of people who have never once loaded up the settings menu on their TV or just hit ‘play’ when confronted with a game’s title screen. Sure, PC gaming is a rarefied land of the technically savving, but that’s not an all-encompassing truth. Until VR is as simple as putting the goggles on, it can’t break out of its niche.

I imagine this will happen first, if it does happen at all, over in phone-land, where lighter, simpler, less incredible headsets are currently the thing mobile companies are using to trick people into believing they have to upgrade their perfectly capable two year old phones for. Simplicity rules in phone land, and requirements are less. I’m extremely taken with the Vive, but I can’t really pretend that, rather than a pair of light, wireless phone-goggles is the more likely future of the technology.

Put it this way: in some delightful parallel universe where my partner didn’t feel everything I do at my computer is just facile shirking of household chores and decided she wanted to use the Vive while I was out, I don’t know how I would handle the ‘how do I use it’ phonecall.

Same for anyone who didn’t set it up themselves and hasn’t used it extensively: for instance, my dad’s visiting this weekend and kindly looking after our toddler while we go away, and he actually will want to use it. I simply will not be able to remotely talk him through it. He’ll be disappointed; “oh but everyone else is asleep and there’s nothing on TV. You have an amazing virtual wonderland on your computer and you won’t help me to go frolic in it.” I will! I just can’t.

A bit of complexity’s fine, especially in PC gaming-land, but by God right now we are the foot of this mountain and it will take years to climb it.

The relative hassle creates another problem: laziness. Last night I spent so long sitting on the sofa and trying to summon up the energy to turn on all the various Vive components, clear old pairs of socks and bits of recently-shattered-while-wildly-flailing-in-a-headset LEGO AT-AT off the floor and go dick around in a virtual grand canyon, which I had been looking forwards to for most of the day, that it got too late and I had to go to bed. First world first generation problems.

A petty complaint, but symptomatic of a huge hurdle for VR to leap. Smartphones have eclipsed PCs (in a pure sales regard) because they are infinitely easier to use and quicker to get going than PCs, and can be used anywhere. We’re talking about making PCs more complicated, slower to get going and even less portable. It is the very opposite of what society has repeatedly proved it wants. VR is for a hard, hard ride – even without factoring in the huge expense.

That said, VR, even with all its complexities, is rapidly proving to be exactly what I want, and while similarly meek geeks will not inherent the Earth, there are enough of us to hopefully keep VR going until such time as everything that is required is built into one wireless headset with a single, instant-on power button. VR is definitely here to stay – it’s just that, for the time being, it’s staying in a quiet corner full of snaking cables.

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Who am I?

Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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