Oculus, Samsung, Google, Sony, Valve, and everyone else who makes virtual reality devices have a problem: VR isn’t selling.
From a gamer’s perspective, it’s pretty obvious why. Devices like Oculus Rift and Playstation VR are innovative, shiny, new, and probably the way of the future or whatever, but as a gamer, I really only care about one thing: playing good games.
And even though it feels kind of nifty to wear VR headset at first, the novelty wears off fast, and you’re ultimately stuck with a messy system of wires and chargers and other accessories that just aren’t worth the effort of setting up. Plus, there seems to be, among most VR games, an emphasis on novelty of platform over quality of gameplay.
Take, for example, the trailer for Oculus Studios’ Lone Echo. The company describes the game as a “zero-gravity multiplayer experience,” but gives us little to no sense of the gameplay in the trailer. One of my friends commented that, “It seems like all I actually do is move around,” which is essentially true of most VR games. There’s very little story development or, more commonly, no real sense of why you should be invested in the characters. VR games don’t draw you in quite like a console games. Developers just aren’t producing the same type of epic sagas like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War or The Witcher 3 that are available on traditional gaming consoles.
And even among the gamers who do care about VR, who is going to be buying the Oculus Go? While it’s a new addition to the Oculus lineup, it promises to do the exact same thing Gear VR and Google Daydream View already do, but for $100 more. Plus, without being tethered to a PC, it probably won’t be anywhere near as powerful as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
But if there’s one thing this week’s Oculus Connect conference showed us, it’s that the company has something that its competitors never can: the world’s largest social network as its parent company. Facebook Spaces will take us on vivid virtual adventures our friends across the country. Oculus Venues will take us to live concerts from the comfort of our living rooms. And the made-for-VR artwork that Mark Zuckerberg showed us onstage is truly mind-blowing to experience. The majority of consumers aren’t gamers looking for top-of-the-line graphics and thousands of hours of captivating gameplay. Most of us are looking for a cool experience.
The Oculus conference showed us that we’re really, really close to living in a world where proximity is no longer a barrier to intimate interaction, and where everything we experience, from movies and television to sports and games, is experienced to an elevated and infinitely customizable degree.
There’s a major shift coming to virtual reality, and it’s not a shift in gaming as you might expect. Instead, it’s a wave of social media, art, and entertainment. And it’s going to get really interesting when our friends start joining the fray. The Oculus Go probably won’t be the best gaming console in the world, but I’m definitely going to buy it and make all my friends get one, too. The promise of social interaction is virtual reality is just way too exciting to pass up.