In one guise or another, the curious concept of a 'virtual reality' is one that’s been with us for long as we can remember.
However, decades on, it's fair to say that the modern interpretation has yet to truly break through as a mainstream and widely adopted technology — and it looks like it may take a while longer still before it truly does.
In recent years, now that technology allows it, an increasing number of contemporary takes on the vision of just what VR can deliver, particularly for gaming, have emerged.
Palmer Luckey was briefly hailed as the VR poster boy back in 2015 — and since then, there’s been a notable uptick in the number of players in the virtual reality space, including the likes of Meta, HTC, and Valve.
It’s easy to forget that Oculus (now under Zuckerberg and known as Meta) was founded in 2012, over a decade ago. The following ten years since then have resulted in a flurry of virtual reality optimism, and of course, several consumer products.
This hype cycle of the early 2010s came to something of a head in the middle of the last decade and has slowly evolved since.
The resulting innovation in the VR space — helped largely by the rampant miniaturisation of core technologies (borrowed from the ubiquitous rise of the smartphone), has been inarguable.
The headsets have gotten smaller, less bulky, and not as cumbersome to use, the tech smarter, and the need for numerous wires slowly removed.
However, despite these advancements on the tech side, the consumer response has yet to fully materialise.
Now, there are plenty of reasons why that may be, including the often prohibitive cost of entry, the difficulty in demoing the benefits, an insufficient number of must-have killer apps and games, a far from perfect user experience — and for many a lack of usable space to actually play in an unrestricted way.
Of course, despite all this, the coronavirus pandemic did provide something of a bittersweet uptick for all things VR. During 2020 and 2021, sales of virtual reality headsets were on the up. With most of us staying at home, having the option to escape to other worlds without leaving the house had seemingly huge appeal.
However, as most of the world opened up again in 2022 — as you might expect, gaming spend did dip down. So, where does that leave VR today?
Well, following this decade-plus of innovation, and coming into 2023, it’s clear virtual reality has reached a point of relative stability, where some key players are now well established and somewhat settled, and a number of the obvious main friction points of VR now vanishing.
It’s been years of slow progress, with the odd burst of excitement and interest, followed by periods of dismay, disillusionment and false starts — but on the whole, it seems like a turning point has now been made, and mainstream success is on the distant horizon.
Now, being clear — that success is a far way off yet.
2023 won’t be the year of VR, but there are plenty of healthy signs that things are looking good for the future of virtual reality and VR gaming — and it is reaching a point of significant maturity. This is clearly a marathon and not a sprint.
Sony is imminently going to make its next big VR splash with the highly anticipated PSVR 2 for the PlayStation 5. This pricey bit of kit gets a lot right but is entering the market in 2023 at a really difficult time from an economic and consumer spending perspective. Yet, despite the far from compelling price point (compared to the PS5 itself that is), early previews for the PSVR2 are super positive — the tech on offer and the sizeable line-up of games on the way, make Sony’s second take on VR rather convincing.
Beyond Sony, Zuckerberg is betting the house on all things virtual. Renaming his company from Facebook to Meta (ala Metaverse) is a huge signal of the company’s intent and desire for VR, AR, and MR experiences to succeed.
Their latest round of Quest headsets was a hit during the holidays, and out of all those currently in the VR space, the Quest experience is the one making the most impact right now. With Meta, it feels like they’re just going to keep trying and trying until we’re all walking around in the Metaverse.
Plenty of other big players continue to push VR and AR forward — names such as HTC with their Vive headsets, Magic Leap, HP, and others.
There’s a ton of innovation and interest, across both hardware and software, with the likes of Intel, Lumus, Varjo, and Panasonic all getting involved — and then of course we have the anticipated moves of Apple also looming.
Across the board, now more than ever, there’s a big will to make this happen — we’re just waiting for that truly breakout moment.
So, when will that moment of widespread adoption come? It’s hard to say for sure - but the strides made in recent years point to a really promising future.
We’re going to start to see games with bigger production values, unique gameplay experiences, and appealing licensed IP — all things that will help VR reach a more mainstream audience.
Virtual reality is yet to hit its apex, and that peak won’t be reached this year — but once the killer apps start showing up in numbers with truly compelling content, the hardware costs reach a consumer-friendly level, and the remaining usability and accessibility concerns are ironed out — things will take off.
Three big hurdles really: cost, usability, and the experiences on offer — once you have all three sorted, the VR space will be truly rocking.
The virtual reality industry has spent the last decade in training. Now, the VR marathon of the next decade is underway. The finishing line? Seeing headsets in countless consumers' homes, playing a ubiquitous role in our everyday tech and gaming life.