Why I'm Excited for VR in 2019
I've always been captivated by the concept of Virtual Reality. I grew up in the early 2000's playing games like Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Pokemon, and Final Fantasy (mostly 3). All of these games showed me worlds that I wish I could really experience and take part in first hand. Then, in august of 2012, Oculus released a kick starter video that showed people a world in which those dreams could be real.
VR's Challenging Journey So Far
6-7 years later, here we are; VR is more viable than ever thanks to the advent of independent headsets like the Oculus Go, more powerful PC's, mainstream gaming adoption (PSVR), innovation in the headset market, and billions of investor dollars. However, even with the immense progress we've made, we're still nowhere close to living in the world of Ernest Cline's "Ready Player One".
Headset sales are increasing reliably, but they're a drop in the bucket when compared to Xbox One or PS4 sales. The cost of VR gaming is still ridiculously high due to needing a gaming PC in addition to a headset. Arguably most importantly, due to VR's small user base, it's financially risky to build software for the platform thus disincentivizing developers to risk their time and money on building for VR beyond small "experiment" projects.
If you take an honest look at today's VR landscape, it wouldn't be reaching to conclude that either :
- VR is never going to become the game-changer we thought it would be
- VR is going to take some more time to become the game-changer we thought it would be.
All of this in mind, as a self-admitted VR lover, I think that there is still hope for VR to prove itself in the near future...
Hope for VR in 2019
There is one pivotal device that I think, given a bit of luck and some great games for the platform, could bring VR to the masses.
The Oculus Quest: a fully mobile, tether-less, 6 Degrees of Freedom (or 6DOF), VR headset.
I know that was a lot of jargon I just threw at you, and I'd like to breakdown exactly what the quest is and why I think it's such a huge deal for the state of VR in 2019.
- Fully Mobile / Tether-less : This means that the headset isn't dependant on any other hardware or services to work. No expensive PC, no wires attached to the headset and on the floor for you to trip on, nothing. Just you, the Oculus Quest headset, some Controllers, and you're good to go. TLDR: You dont need a PC
- 6 Degrees of Freedom (or 6DOF) : In the early days of VR, VR headsets had 3 Degrees of Freedom (or 3DOF) representing the 3 axis that your headset will track, roll, yaw, and pitch: this essentially means the headset can only detect your head looking up and down, left and right, and side to side (or tilting). While 6DOF allows for the previously mentioned tracking as well as full 3D tracking of your hands and head (you can walk, crouch, and move your hands any way you like). This increases overall immersion and allows for much better accuracy and control of VR applications. While 6DOF is present on the Oculus RIft, HTC Vive, and Windows MR headsets, this is the first time it's available tether-less. TLDR: 6DOF essentially allows VR users to move freely, exactly as they would in real life.
- VR Headset: A headset that you use as your portal into virtual reality, It's comprised of a screen, two lenses, some straps, a mobile computer, and some remote controls for your hands. TLDR: If you're reading this you know what a VR headset is
Now that you know what the Oculus Quest is, let's get into why I think it could plunge VR gaming, headset first, into the mainstream in 2019, for good this time.
The Oculus Quest starts at only $399 USD which is an absolute steal if Oculus delivers on all their promises. at $399 the Quest is poised to take on consoles like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One S, and PS4 Pro which are all priced right around the same.
This price-point takes high quality VR out of the $1000 - $1500 USD range that you would currently pay for a VR gaming rig and puts it right in competition with other popular and attainable gaming platforms.
Oculus has stated that it intends to insure that all content on the quest is strictly vetted and reviewed internally before being added to the store.
This extra step is taken to make sure that every single thing on the Quest's store works well and will put the system's best foot forward in every interaction possible.
While the Oculus Quest simply wont be able to provide the same graphical fidelity as a $1500 PC setup, it still packs a hell of a punch with ports of killer PC VR games like Super Hot, Beat Saber, Job Simulator and Robo Recall.
When you take into consideration Oculus's focus on quality content with this console, porting over existing, high quality makes a tonne of sense. Not only will this provide great experiences upfront, it will show that the Quest is powerful enough to run with the existing PC market.
You can take this thing anywhere. To your best friends house? sure! To your grandparents house for a family re-union? sure! To work in hope of freaking out some of your older co-workers? awesome!
This portability can contribute to the virality of the Quest especially if there are a few good applications to get people in and having fun right away.
Things That Could Ruin VR in 2019
Hardware / Software Issues
I would be ignorant not to mention the massive leap in both hardware and software needed to make the Oculus Quest possible. I would also be naive to not acknowledge that when new hardware comes out like this, especially first-generation technology, *cough* apple-watch gen 1 battery *cough* there tends to be some pretty substantial issues with the hardware.
Lack of Product Knowledge / Understanding
Overall, VR seems to be a pretty misunderstood technology. People tend to know of VR, but more often than not that's where their understanding ends. People tend to think of VR as PSVR or google cardboard, which, at best, are sub optimal 3DOF experiences, that aren't representative of today's excellent VR tech.
Overall, this is on the companies producing these headsets to better educate consumers on what high quality VR can look like.
Facebook being Facebook
Facebook, being the owner of Oculus, and more particularly, Mark Zuckerberg seemingly being the new face of Oculus may not be the best look for Oculus right now.
Facebook has been under heavy fire the last year or so regarding privacy scandals and breaches of contract. Potential Quest users may take issue with this and in-turn be turned off by the Oculus Quest.
The odds are definitely not stacked in Facebook and Oculus's favour here. VR has has had problems climbing all of the hurdles I just mentioned. For the Oculus Quest to topple them all and come on top as a commercially viable, fully viable VR headset would be unprecedented and huge win for Oculus and for every other name in VR.
However, even with all of Facebook's resources, I'm not sure if Oculus will be able to pull this off. Only time will tell and until them I'm still an optimistic VR fanboy.
Update! May 8th 2019
I just pre-ordered the quest on amazon! It should be delivered on May 21st (the day of release) and I am stoked!