What happened to the virtual reality gaming revolution?

What happened to the virtual reality gaming revolution?

Aurich Lawson/Getty Images

Six years ago, consumer virtual reality seemed like the next major technological breakthrough.

With the demonstration of his impressive Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) prototype in 2012, Palmer Luckey managed to instantly erase the bad image that virtual reality had obtained from 90s films like lawn mower man and woefully premature commercial curiosities like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. This led the Kickstarter campaign for the first Oculus dev kit to surpass its fundraising goal of $250,000 on its way to a final raise of $2.4 million. Two years later, Oculus accepted a $2 billion takeover offer from Facebook.

Preparing for the 2016 launch of the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift (the CV1) has only raised the profile of consumer VR. Analyst forecasts were optimistic, going so far as to say that the virtual reality market would reach $150 billion in just five years. The Oculus co-founders were featured breathlessly in glossy magazines, with Luckey landing on the cover of Time in August 2015. Google even teamed up with Disney to offer its low-cost cardstock sleeves. tech, appealing to fans of Star Wars and other mega properties with themed mobile experiences. Decades removed from the hangover of failed VR arcades and fancy consumer trinkets, things would be different this time around.

Double Fine’s Tim Schafer said it well at DICE 2016. “We all wanted Snowfall happen, and then we put things on, and it was just Pterodactyl Terror, and we all threw up,” he told Ars, possibly (jokingly) misnaming the VR arcade experience less than stellar from Virtuality. Cocksfoot Nightmare. “I think there has been a huge leap forward [this time].”

Six years later, virtual reality has yet to reach the stratospheric heights promised by its cyberpunk fantasy. But the latest wave wasn’t another high-profile failure either. Meta’s Quest 2 headset has helped dramatically revitalize consumer interest in the industry with its user-friendly experience and relatively low price (although not as low as it once was), with its Oculus Store supporting a handful of bonafide native VR hit games.

All of this goes a long way to explaining how, given the ups and downs of iteration and experimentation following Rift’s mainstream release, developers and VR watchers told Ars that they were always excited about virtual reality and that they were excited to see where the technology is heading next. And while initial excitement about its global impact has been muted somewhat since 2016, most space players now say it doesn’t need to have a deep impact to be a success.

Hype meets reality

Rift CV1.

Evan Amos

When Rift CV1 was released, evangelists proclaimed that virtual reality would not only revolutionize games, it would change the world. (Goldman Sachs said in 2016 that mass adoption of VR hardware alone would dominate the $99 billion TV market by 2025, and it wasn’t the only company to make such lofty claims. )

But an instant revolution was never in the cards, as Road to VR editor Ben Lang told Ars. “The nascent industry expectation was that it would be this crazy takeoff,” Lang said. “But as is the case with brand new technologies, until you can move from pure hype – like ‘this is going to change everything’ – to finding specific useful cases, it never becomes that instant, overnight thing.”

Back in 2016, it seemed like every big tech company was eager to carve out a slice of the VR pie. HTC’s Rift and Vive were available on PC earlier this year, while Sony’s PSVR is due out in October on PS4. On the mobile side, Google has enhanced its Cardboard product with its mobile-powered Daydream to counter Samsung’s Gear VR.

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