You know what they say, porn has driven the progress of all media. (Really)
Since the launch of the Vive and the Rift, I can’t help but be completely, and utterly unimpressed by the first generation of VR titles. I keep hearing words like “revolutionary” and “immersive” but most of the apps I’ve seen so far are either gimmicky, overly simple non-games, or virtual desktops which merely allow you to look at a screen or screens while sitting in a blandly textured environment. If this is what’s going to pass for quality immersion, we might as well cancel any progress we’re making towards Total Recall or The Matrix-like detail: all we needed was a fucking virtual couch.
Check it out, bro! I'm sitting on a couch while I'm sitting on a couch!
Seriously. Take off the $600 goggles and think clearly for a second about the quality of these titles: If they weren’t VR games, would they be any good? It’s a question I’ve posed since the inception of this new gear, and every time I ask it of myself, the resounding answer is always, “Dear fuck, no.”
let’s start with the number one most obvious problem with many of these new apps:
Better hope this VR thing isn't just a fad, then...
If a PC game requires exclusive hardware to run, it is automatically breaking the cardinal rule of PC gaming: everyone plays.
You think League of Legends and Counter-Strike:GO are the most played games in the world because they caters only to the snobby #PCmasterrace crowd? (Of which I often declare myself a member, but that’s not the point) No. You can play these titles on a toaster. Smart developers make games which can run on a wide variety of hardware.
Next, let’s talk about how many of these VR exclusive titles aren’t even games.
It must be a good VR game! VR is in the title!
It’s mostly environmental emulators, and virtual desktops which all do the same thing. Is it possible to die from yawning? A game where you drift about waving at things and counting them is not a game worth buying, but they sell it to you as one because it’s all, OOH! LOOK IT’S IN 3D CUZ YOU’RE WEARING FACE SCREENS! They all just feel like lazy attempts to quickly enter a burgeoning market. This is not even remotely what we should be expecting. Pokemon Snap was more interesting than this, and it still didn’t need awkward face screens.
Even a game like Star Citizen, which is definitely designed as an exclusive PC game for those who are more inclined to use high end hardware… still has no exclusive hardware. It won’t run very well on slower computers, but having a slow computer doesn’t exempt you from installing it. You may need a better computer to play it, but you won’t need an entirely new and separate piece of technology to do so. See the difference?
A VR game that can’t be played not in VR, and doesn’t have anything which requires VR (like room mapping mechanics) is a game which should not only not exist, but should be shunned from the likes of the Steam store. (I know, that sentence was just as painful to write). Make an immersive game, then build VR into it. Don’t pigeonhole your potential audience just to be the first through the door with a new gimmick. What if not as many people are rushing out to buy headsets as you thought? You’ve now forfeited a major share of your own market potential. It isn’t just bad development, it’s bad business. There are far more games out there right now which could lend themselves to VR better than many of the new VR exclusives popping up left and right.
Seriously. Why does this require VR hardware? Why don't I ever have hands?
Take Elite Dangerous for example. It was one of the most played games in the earlier testing phases of the Rift (and likely still is) because it is a visceral, first person game with immersive qualities. It lends itself perfectly to a VR experience, yet doesn’t require face screens. It looks good, feels good, sounds good and does immersion well without pandering to gimmicks. VR fits naturally into a game like this because the game itself is immersive.
So that’s it. Make an immersive game. Implement VR. In that order. If you do it the other way around, you are just ruining market expectations for everyone else. At the price of entry, you’re target audience is people like me who are willing to spend a little extra on their hardware. It doesn’t matter how you price the game, because they had to buy that hardware first. I feel like no consideration is made for that. Your cheap, rushed “game” doesn’t sit right on exclusive, expensive hardware.
Plus, here’s another thing: I already have multiple screens in front of me. I don’t need a $600 device to emulate those screens. If I get a VR headset it’s because I want to feel like I’m IN THE GAME. It could be way more than just a pricey gimmick if developers would hold up on trying to be the first across the line.
Obligatory South Park reference.