Vive, Oculus, PSVR. Hell, even Samsung Gear; in order for VR to survive, all these players are needed and developers need to buy into this hardware. And given what I walked away from at E3 2017, that is exactly what I think developers are beginning to do.
First off, VR’s biggest obstacle isn’t the price; we are millennial now and upgrading things annually isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Buying mid-gen consoles, repurchasing Skyrim for the 13th time, or buying a second console simply because it comes in Master Chief Green. This is normal. I’m more awkward because I upgrade my phone every two years instead of every new iteration. No, the biggest obstacle VR will face is the current crop of consoles and games. Titles, graphics, and length of games released on consoles will be compared to VR. Justly or not, every part of a VR experience will be compared to the huge AAA titles that seem to be popping up every two weeks. But the truth is, games have hit their stride. Developers know what sells and what doesn’t, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Second: VR is in her infancy and like any infant, can only do as well as she is taken care of. That means having experiences and having shovel ware that gets her into people’s hands. Those games are as needed as the AAA experience because they are symbiotic. Without the games, no one wants the hardware. Without the hardware out there, no one wants to develop for it. Plain and simple. And the term AAA needs to be rethought of for VR. No, we are not going to get The Witcher 3 graphics while playing on VR. The cost, for one, would be so inflated that it wouldn’t be feasible for a company to do so. These are all things that must grow along with the hardware itself; hardware on what it can advance, studios on how to develop, and investors on what to expect… symbiotic. We are all relearning.
E3 2017 might have been lackluster overall, but I did make note of VR being a much bigger focus than in years past. Bethesda opened their conference with the showing of two major brand names getting VR treatment: Fallout 4 VR (HTC Vive) and Doom VFR (HTC Vive / PSVR). Yes, both were discussed at E3 2016, but this was a showing of the fruits of their labor. And then they doubled down by showing everybody’s favorite Elder Scrolls game (Skyrim) coming to the VR market as well. Even Nintendo has stepped into the arena, in a way, and Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is an actual thing. Not an accessible thing (unless you live in Tokyo), but a thing nonetheless. Ubisoft, as usual, continued to push VR hard as well, and in a strange and unusual way collaborating with Elijah Wood on a game that seems to be very surreal and blurring the lines of just how differently VR can be used. In that same path, Sony revealed it will be collaborating with creators on a Breaking Bad VR experience, with many more titles being teased and shown…
Moss and Inpatient were two trailers that really caught my eye. The latter being a title from Super Massive, the minds behind the sleeper hit Until Dawn and what I feel is one of the best early VR titles for PSVR, Rush of Blood. Like those two, this is in the Until Dawn universe, taking place in Blackwood Sanatorium, that same abandoned mental hospital from Until Dawn. Moss is a gorgeous title from Polyarc where you play the spirit in this world and must work together with Quill, a small mouse. A top down Zelda-like game, but with more of a focus on exploration and puzzles rather than combat. But for me, the big news was Superhot VR no longer being exclusive to Oculus. Exclusivity is important, but so early in this VR life, it’s just nice to get the titles that you’re wanting. Right now, a rising tide lifts all ships. Superhot VR looks amazing and I’m glad it is being shared with more people.
Sales of VR are strong. PSVR has topped the million mark and Oculus and Vive are not that far behind. “AAA” titles are coming out, or being revealed, with much more regularity with titles like Farpoint, Resident E7il: Biohazard, GT Sport, and Ace Combat 7. Games like Tomb Raider and Tekken are adding VR components. Indie games like Moss and Dino Frontier are figuring things out. And major “experiences” like Arkham VR and Rush of Blood are some of the best thing on the units.
So before you toss around “gimmick” and “fail,” remember that like any symbiotic relationship, the ecosystem must first balance out, and that can take some time. But once it does, we all flourish and thrive from the other.