My Main Reservation About VR

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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  1. Premium User Badge

    Scrote says:

    I get this and I agree, I’m totally not sold on the current hype surrounding VR. This did make me think though, that perhaps where it will take off faster is in console-land. I would guess that it’s less effort getting VR stuff up and running on a typical console setup (in a living room with all of the advantages that brings) than on a PC one.

    • Xzi says:

      It’ll be no different than anything else, you’ll have three hardware levels for VR. PC, console, mobile.

      Quite frankly none of this is going to be an issue for your average PC gamer. My desk space is already perfect for Vive and I’ve even got a big drawer which should fit the HMD perfectly when not in use. The lighthouse stations don’t have to be powered down/up every time, they’re connected via bluetooth.

      I guess this is good stuff to mention, but I find the article somewhat unnecessary. Since when is it a hassle as a gamer to power on a couple of controllers and go? This is still common practice for consoles and even traditional controllers for PC.

      • XxBrentos9xX says:

        I disagree.

        Playing a game on Steam, or any of the 7 gen consoles, is a relative breeze. You have one controller (usually) and apart from a double click or powering on your controller (which also powers the console) and waiting, that is all you have to do. The hardware is still too primitive to make as streamlined as something which has had 7 generations to make comfortable.

        • Xzi says:

          So explain to me exactly where the giant hassle is in powering up two controllers, launching the UI from Steam, and then putting on the HMD? That’s seriously like one extra step. PC gamers are used to doing a lot more when it comes to optimizing games, modding games, keeping their system healthy, etc. This is absolutely a non-issue.

          Clearing out the space for Vive is a different issue, but anybody ordering one is committed enough to do it anyway.

          • fish99 says:

            All the time, people buy stuff with the intention of using it, and then don’t use it because it’s too much hassle. Case in point – my G27 steering wheel hasn’t been out of my cupboard in 12 months because it’s such a hassle to setup and takes over the whole desk.

      • Vorrin says:

        The lighthouses currently can not be switched off or on remotely, so unless you’re fine with them running all the time(and we’re talking somewhat power hungry, actual-moving-parts hardware here) it is indeed a pain, at the moment.
        I wonder why, and hope it changes, but for the moment what you say isn’t quite true.

        • vorador says:

          All of the reports are based on the pre-production kit, so hopefully they can be switched off easily when not in use on the retail version. Or even better, turn off on their own.

        • Xzi says:

          Incorrect. I frequent r/Vive, and there are screencaps of sleep/power options for the lighthouses. They are connected to the Vive breakout box via Bluetooth.

      • badmothergamer says:

        The article is talking about the standing VR experience, where not only do you have to power on all the hardware, but as Alec says, clear out a large floor space and tell anyone else in the room to watch out. You are correct most gamers are already setup for a sitting VR experience, where wires and floor space aren’t an issue.

        I agree with this point. I’m almost always sitting at my PC anyway, even when not gaming. To start gaming, I double-click an icon and that’s it. I don’t have to stand up, clean up the room, and turn on a bunch of other hardware.

        • Xzi says:

          Anybody buying the Vive is pretty much guaranteed to be dedicating a space to it, not moving things in and out of that space. For the most part, everything involved is a one-time setup.

          • xyzzy frobozz says:

            Why does VR have to be a wndering around the room experience though?

            Why can’t I just do it from my computer chair.

            I dunno. Walking VR just seems like a gimmick to me. I can’t see myself wanting to be too involved in that sort of experience. Flying a fighter jet and having full 360 degree visibility? Hell yeah! Wandering around the study for “immesion”?

            No thanks.

          • Xzi says:

            VR is all three experiences: seated, stationary standing, room-scale. There’s going to be plenty of content available in all of those categories. It’s my opinion, however, an opinion which Valve apparently shares, that VR is an entirely new way of interacting with games and game worlds, and should be treated as such. If you just attempt to hamfist existing forms of gaming into the VR space, people wonder why they should even bother with it. Designing games for VR is inherently different from traditional gaming.

            But yes, as far as mainstream adaption goes, there will be the most demand for seated stuff, then standing, then room-scale. But really, it’s the room-scale stuff that will blow you away. Physically interacting with games with perfect precision, and removing any possibility of motion sickness.

          • fish99 says:

            Plenty of people will buy VR without the space to use it. Are you telling me no one ever bought Scalextric, or a model train set, without a dedicated space for it? That’s why Scalextric spends 99.9% of it’s life sat in it’s box.

            People do stupid things all the time.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I’m also not sold on the hype at all, but I am most likely to be tempted by Sony’s offering since I have a PS4 already. There’s no way I can run the Vive or Oculus on my laptop, and getting a good enough PC would add a sizeable amount to the already steep costs for this tech.

  3. Premium User Badge

    JiminyJickers says:

    Yeah I didn’t think about the hassle of it. Currently I have a TrackIR-like setup and it is a hassle enough to get started that I most of the time cannot be bothered.

    But the main thing holding me back from VR at the moment is the high cost of it, including shipping and taxes to where I live makes this not something I will be able to get into anytime soon. I have spent enough money on my machine as is and can’t justify the extra cost for this, even though I would love it.

    • n00dle says:

      Track-IR hassle? It starts when windows does and runs when you start a compatible game all by its very self … it’s less hassle than the few sentences it took to write this!?
      Perhaps VR is not for you if TIR is too much .. in fact a PC itself may be out of your reach, i mean, you have to press a button to turn it on. Mucho hassle!

  4. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    I so desperately want VR to happen; it was terribly disappointing when the first iteration in the mid-90s never took off. On the other hand, i can’t fathom ever buying the kind of hulking monstrosity of a computer these “first” gen headsets require. I haven’t owned a desktop for almost 15 years. The miniaturization of computers was the best thing that happened in technology since the world-wide web, so it feels awkward to me that the current VR renaissance is encouraging us to go back to the bad old days when a computer used more power than a vacuum cleaner.

    I used an Oculus DK1 briefly a couple years back and was sadly underwhelmed, not so much from the VR itself, which was less cool than i hoped but still pretty damn cool, but more because i had to plunk this huge helmet on my head and sit next to a desk full of machinery and wires that looked they were ripped out of a Cold War era jet fighter. I guess if you’re playing Elite or something it’s all part of the experience, but my dream of VR is as a replacement for tourism – grand walking sims that can take me to wild and beautiful places with broken physics and impossible Escher-like structures that could never exist in the real world. I want to jack into the matrix and be completely transported. And we are so not there yet.

    Right now i am much more excited about Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens and similar devices. I don’t think they will do shit for gaming, or for the kind of radical escapism i want from VR, but i’ll get to feel like i’m living in a sci-fi movie whenever i catch up on the news or order in Chinese. I can only hope next-gen VR makes some unimaginably huge leaps forward, otherwise it still feels like designer drugs and esoteric biotech innovations may sooner result in the cyberpunk future i imagine when i think VR.

    • Reapy says:

      link to

      Check this one out, just saw it today, it’s the werewolf party game as done in VR. I’m somewhat similar to you in that my excitement for VR is the escapism. I want to be having a crappy day and then put the VR goggles on and be sitting on a mountain top listening to music or something like that while I’m stuck in my house in the middle of the night.

      Stuff like this is pretty cool though, just people sitting around a campfire playing a game and socializing. We’ve lost a bit of the first person view of things over the years, VR hopefully will bring it back and in a better way.

      Anyway alec is right, I’ve had the same fatigue with my flight stick/hotas set up, I kind of sorta liked the games I had for it, but I never found a place to put it on my desk without getting in the way.

      It may be that way with the rift, I don’t see it as an everyday type of thing, but something for when you want to get lost, from time to time.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        That is cool. But the game could be done with a webcam and face tracking (tech is here already).

        Why does that particular game warrant the price of £1000-£2000 when a laptop and webcam come to £250? (Though more if you want 3d gaming :P )

      • aepervius says:

        Werewolf and one night werewolf is only interesting with real people because you can take clue from their face and attitude not only voice. you lose that with all the VR or even 2D equivalent (like Salem). Looking at the video there is an utter disconnect with the toon attitude of the person (e.g. laughing) therefor it adds nothing. In fact it adds noise (the picture) which you do not have in the 2D salem where you cease to look at the graphic and concentrate on VOIP/Chat.

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        alison says:

        I only made it through about 45 seconds of that. Though to be honest, i don’t see the appeal of the “real world” version of this game either. Perhaps i am missing some kind of social fun chromosome, but the idea of a game without a story that rewards social engineering and confidence tricks just feels creepy to me. I play games to escape those more stressful or disappointing aspects of human interaction.

        That said, from purely a technical point of view, i am not sure this is really a very interesting use of VR either. I would really like to see something more like NaissanceE or Rememoried, where turning your head results in something entirely unexpected and disorienting – just having a seated avatar look around in a “real life” world does not really necessitate VR – the flight sim guys are already doing that with TrackIR and a giant monitor.

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    caff says:

    What I want from VR is a slouchy, relaxed experience, that I can play any time. A physiotherapist would cry if they saw the way I sat at a desk. Cables do bother me, but only if they can be dumped en masse under said desk.

    In terms of immersion – the key thing in VR – the thing I most want is high resolution. This is a huge deal breaker for me – I’ve tried both DK1 and DK2 and been disappointed. For me, I feel like we need to go far beyond the current kit (4 or 8K per eye?) to engage my eyes.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, I’m worried about resolution too. Alec’s recent post on playing 2D games in VR had the phrase “screen door” in it, which might have been something you don’t notice in dedicated VR games. But it’s definitely something that would ruin immersion for me if I saw it.

      I’m also not convinced yet that civilian and combat flight simulation (one of the main things I’d buy it for) can run at a high enough frame rate, with the kind of smooth texture resolution and world detail I’m used to seeing. I don’t know how much I’m ready to dial back simulated world detail just for the VR experience. So I’m waiting for some detailed user feedback in that area.

  6. Chaoslord AJ says:

    My workspace looks like a mess without VR: cables leading to the KVM-switch and router and sound system even while the mouse is wireless it means you have to turn it on, change empty batteries etc.

    I’d imagine a VR future like in Mass Effect’s illusive man office. You’re just there in a virtual environment with others and don’t have to worry much about the technicalities behind it. Pls gimme.

  7. bakaohki says:

    Oh, the elephant in the room: UX. I am a developer and after years of trying to tell my parents how to send emails, copy files, execute executables and so on I gave up and started to play along: I’m a wizard. I do wizardish trickery. You mere mortals, to my greatest sadness will never surpass my mighty powers!

    I also am afraid of crap ux will drive people away – or it will just add to the drive away factor. We have the galaxy gear vr already and it’s dirt cheap, but demand for it is zero. Maybe marketing, don’t know, but maybe vr is just another crap mere mortals never asked for. Like I don’t give a damn about 3d tvs, intelligent tvs, the whole iot, touch controls on my washing machine and I solely use my tablet for a tray for my morning tea. Dunno. We’ll see.

    • frightlever says:

      UX is “user experience”.

      I looked it up so you don’t have to, folks.

      • frightlever says:

        Waitaminute, your post doesn’t even mention user experience.

        Show me a VR sceptic and nine times out of ten I’ll show you someone who hasn’t tried Google Cardboard even. The user experience is generally very positive, accessibility (a component of UX, for sure) perhaps not so much, and for the higher end equipment the price is a major barrier.

        I suggested Gear VR wasn’t selling well on another board and was told it’s sold out everywhere. No idea what the truth is.

        • bakaohki says:

          Ux covers many things, but it is mostly about accessibility. Do I have to plug in twenty exotic cables, do I have to fire up an app with a totally wonky interface (hey is that a button or just a call to action text?), do I need this special magical glove, do I need to learn how to handle some exotic input interface, do I need to prepare an app to work with 3d, will theater mode support this movie, will the movie get jerky, will I be able to use my glasses comfortably, will I still be able to see something (via an overlay for example) from my surroundings etc.

          Price is a very big problem now, but ux is even bigger: if these devices will not cater the interest of the common consumer (the mere mortals) then they will die prematurely. But I’m no seer… I played a bit with google’s cardboard and could give google glass a try (both were terrible for me), but in this part of Europe we never had a chance to give the shiny occuluses a try. And while my salary is stellar compared to the average, even I would not buy a VR headset (plus upgrade my pc) because I could just buy at least two 50 inch tv sets for that price.

  8. aircool says:

    Clear the floor? Can’t you just use it sitting down at your desk?

  9. dagnamit says:

    I’m totally sold on VR as a thing. I think it’s the bee’s knees. My main reservation is that I have a family and career that requires quick turn around on communication. I simply can’t be totally disconnected from the world for even one hour of the normal work week, except at 11pm on a Friday/Saturday night. I’m only going to be able to use the thing for 2 hours a week tops and that’s just not worth $600 to $800 for me. $300? sign me up.

  10. racccoon says:

    I feel sorry for you.. good luck with now even more enclosed life! along with your now future impaired loss of eye sight.

    • Agnosticus says:

      Feeling better now, after pre/misjudging other peoples lifes?

  11. snv says:

    Hmm, how is it any different from any other involved usage?

    For example, playing a flight sim: It would probably by a comparable challenge to guide someone remotely through setting up the Hotas and Headtracker and configuring the scenario.

    Some things simply are not as simple as a hidden object game.

  12. Thats no moon says:

    A while ago I managed to get my crap phone (a LG G2) hooked up to Elite in VR mode through what seemed like 50 various apps and hacks. Dodgy Cardboard viewer from ebay probably didn’t help.

    All I saw was a low rez image and a terrible frame-rate which was to all intents and purposes pointless for gameplay.

    In between all the technical hassle and the rubbish picture I did see something that ignited my imagination. Those asteroids, blurry and juddery as they were, had a genuine tangible quality that I had not experienced before. The 3D effect; cockpit close, rocks far away (not just small Dougal) was quite impressive.

    That crappy, cobbled-together experiment convinced me more than any marketing spiel ever could. So if we can get functional (not crappy) VR into peoples’ hands it will take off.

    That’s why PSVR is going to be the game changer. PC VR will (ironically) be the new betamax…better tech but ultimately lose out to the mass-market appeal of plug-and-play VR.

    We probably have to wait another couple of generations for properly photo-realistic graphics in a 4K display. Give it another generation or two for that to translate to VR headsets. Until then we will be pushing up against the uncanny valley, so the best tech is irrelevant if everything still looks like a video game.

  13. xyzzy frobozz says:

    I’m totally disintetested in wandering around the room in a VR geadset, tripping over cables and bumping into bookcases. I can’t help but think that if this is the direction that developers insist on going, the concept will remain niche.

    I think VR will work best for fixed perspective games – those that put us in a cockpit of some type. It’s here that I’m quite excited for VR.

    With games that put us in a body – FPS and walking sims – I can’t help but feel that a simple controller is going to be better than blundering around the constricted space most people have their computers in.

    My enthusiasm for VR has cooled considerably but not completely.

    • DD says:

      Tis a shame. Your tune will of coarse change once you actually use it.

      • DFX2KX says:

        I have, and I agree with him. unless those walking-in-place peripherals become a lot cheaper, I’m much happier sitting down for VR when I use it. And quite honestly? I prefer a monitor anyway.

  14. phenom_x8 says:

    It will release soon on steam and the only things that should be included on every purchase of Oculus Rift or HTC Vive rather than any exclusive game, a.k.a , this is VR killer app we have been waiting for. No game will sold me on VR, but this absolutely made me a potential buyer for VR

  15. Chaz says:

    I’m in this dilemma with my G27 wheel at the moment. I’m getting a Rift and I need to set the G27 back up after building a new PC a few months ago. But the thought of having to set up the profiles for all the different games again is just making me think, urrrrrghhh!

    I’m going to have to search Google for all the best profile settings, because the Logitech software can be a bit funny, as well as the in game wheel settings. I’d like to play The Crew, but when I last went to set the wheel up for it, all the advice I found on Google basically said don’t bother use a pad, as the wheel support was crap.

    Why can’t I just plug it in, have the game detect it and just offer me the best settings for my device?

  16. Huggster says:

    It’s interesting to look through the comment section on these articles – you can tell immediately if a user has tried current generation VR or not.
    VR becoming mainstream is inevitable within the next 5 years. And, like smartphones, as demand increases so will development of the technology.
    Any technological revolution is met with scepticism at first. Resistance is futile!

    • DFX2KX says:

      I see it being a thing, though not an entire replacement for monitors in gaming. I’ve used high-end HMDs before (not the Vive and Rift, the two I used where a lot pricer). They where okay, but the monitor is still less of a pain to set up. It’s a TV, so I don’t even need to put on my headphones if I’m so inclined.

      Even if the current tech becomes vastly better, the monitors while have also become vastly better as well, so the best picture is still going to be with them.

      Even if that’s not a concern for you: Anyone who’s got a monitor and purposefully disables Anti-aliasing is going to have the edge over you in any flying game (even moreso then they already do).

      Given that, I suspect VR’s shtick will be single-player scenery-galore games and low-competitive muiltiplayer.

  17. FreshHands says:

    Well, because of the price involved I am inclined to sneer at VR until it is indeed fast and easy like paypal and steam and all that stuff creeping into my life.
    Unfortunately the things I have read are making me nervous that I a will be missing out on something extraordinary.
    Pretty much with Alec on this though: Getting my vacuum cleaner out and running is so much of a hassle that I could paint mandalas into the dust on my desk right now.

  18. Kefren says:

    Is part of the problem the whole “room-scale VR” experience? I just want a headset to sit at my PC playing old games in VR on mouse and keyboad. I don’t need controllers and space and so on. You could probably have head tracking without the base units. Take away all that crud and you’d have a fairly simple setup – sit down, slip the headset on. At the moment the VR manufacturers are focussed on these imaginary perfect experience setups with full movement and so on, but I don’t want any of that. They really should offer “just a headset” version, and work with VorpX or similar so that it will work with many old games out of the box. I’d buy that in a flash.

    • Thats no moon says:

      That’s exactly what will happen after the initial spooge that the Vive and, to a lesser extent, the Rift generates. People are more comfortable in so many ways when playing a game in a stationary position.

      Seated driving, sims, space and cinema experiences are what will attract customers. The wandering around a room stuff will quickly be relegated to a funfair attraction and stop being a factor for the home user.

    • Premium User Badge

      Erayos says:

      I’m not completely objective, because I’m a disabled guy stuck in a wheelchair with arms not working properly, but yeah, I think and hope the stationnary part is the one that will grow and thrive, the other stuff obviously doesn’t interest me at all.

      Like you, I’d definitely buy a “just a headset” version without even thinking, but right now I’m kind of hesitating, I feel that if I’m buying it now, I’m also paying for the full experience, even if I don’t care about it. I’d like to know what would be the full price of a “just a headset” kit, to know exactly how much does the “extra experience I definitely don’t want” cost.

  19. Craig Pearson says:

    It takes me about ten secs to set up and turn on, and Valve will soon enable switching the lighthouses on remotely, via the PC. It’s barely an issue.

  20. zombiecamel says:

    Regardless, how far it is from VR, I have the same problem with playing on steering wheel. Amount of cleaning, managing cables, adjusting position and connecting wheel is just a pain. So I play hardcore racing games rather rarely, while choosing xbox controller everyday is just easier.

  21. tomek says:

    This very recent article has you covered:

    link to