Virtual Reality: Can the breakthrough into the gaming mainstream succeed?

Virtual Reality: Can the breakthrough into the gaming mainstream succeed?

Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive or maybe Valve Index? The market for VR headsets has developed rapidly over the past five to ten years - and we don't just mean that in positive terms. In the meantime, virtual reality was considered the quantum leap in entertainment and was the dominant topic, especially in the gaming sector.

The hype began in 2012: behind closed doors, developer Oculus VR presented a prototype of the Oculus Rift for the first time. The following fall, crowdfunding kicked off with a Kickstarter campaign that grossed over two and a half million dollars. In 2013 it was nearly $ 100 million in grants. At this point at the latest, it was clear to the entire tech industry: There is a lot of money in virtual reality! So it's hardly surprising that Mark Zuckerberg's social media machine Facebook Oculus swallowed $ 2 billion in 2014 ($ 400 million in cash and $ 1.6 billion in Facebook shares).

After that, VR evolved rapidly and more and more manufacturers - especially HTC, Valve and also Sony - were working on their own devices. However, virtual reality has not yet arrived in the mainstream. What's going on?

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That virtual reality, even nine years after the first breakthrough of Oculus Rift, is only interesting for a small part of the PC gaming community, was shown in a Steam survey at the end of 2020. 1.7 percent of the participants confirmed the use of a VR headset. In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, this share rose to 2.31 percent by May 2021.

Home office, lockdowns and social distancing had a positive effect on sales of VR headsets. Compared to 2019, around 30 percent more devices went over the virtual counter in 2020. The trend is upwards, but VR is not a mass movement. So anyone who thought that this technology was booming in the PC sector is wrong. Reasons for the low distribution are certainly the hardware requirements and the high price of the VR devices.

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For many critics, virtual reality is already at a crossroads and will not prevail in the future either. But is it really like that? var lstExcludedArticleTicker = '1375549,1349361,1346247,1279238'; Stopover at PlayStation VR

If we look into the console area, things also look thin when it comes to virtual reality. Microsoft and Nintendo stay almost completely out of this sector. Okay, Nintendo tried out an inexpensive alternative with Nintendo Labo, but of course couldn't get close to the full-priced VR devices with the "do-it-yourself glasses". Microsoft, on the other hand, is focusing on the augmented reality device HoloLens, which recently attracted attention through the Microsoft Mesh communication platform, among other things. Boxing in VR: Thanks to the appropriate hardware, apps and services such as FitXR motivate a broader target group - especially in times of a global pandemic. Source: FitXR

The only thing left is Sony. And there is sand in the VR gearbox. Let's go back a few years at this point: The PlayStation VR, then still known by the nickname "Project Morpheus", caused open mouths in the trade press at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2015 ... and, due to its early development stage, occasional nausea. Nevertheless, those responsible were full of praise. Sony Germany boss Uwe Bassendowski described VR as "The Next Big Thing" - and PlayStation VR has actually been a success since its global launch on October 13, 2016. Points of criticism such as the fiddly structure or the lower resolution compared to the PC competition are countered by PlayStation VR with a comparatively low purchase price.

At the beginning of 2020, Sony reported five million units sold with 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles sold at the time. These impressive numbers are also due to the strong range of games: titles such as Resident Evil 7, Blood & Truth, Far Point, Beat Saber or Astro Bot were supplied. The AR application Microsoft Mesh serves as a communication tool for HoloLens. So it combines VoIP functions with modern AR technology. This is to guarantee new possibilities for the interlocutors to interact. Source: Microsoft innovative experiences and made PlayStation VR interesting for core gamers. But as the lifespan progressed, the weaknesses of the PlayStation VR became apparent - and especially those of the move controllers required. For many consumers, the headset was an additional toy, but not a piece of hardware for long-term use.

With the launch of the PlayStation 5 at the latest, VR glasses were finally on the sidelines: Sony only supplied a free adapter for the USB -Camera off, but waived exclusive games based on the new console. Instead, it has to address downward compatibility and the few new releases such as Hitman 3 or Doom 3 VR. The "Next Big Thing" has become obsolete. However, the successor is already in the starting blocks.

New start with PSVR 2

While Microsoft is still working on the development of the Game Pass, so that, among other things, next-generation gaming is also possible via the cloud Sony is already working on the PlayStation VR 2. For the new model, the company relies on fresh controllers that are reminiscent of Oculus control units and take up certain functions of the DualSense controller - including the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback .

At the same time, some weak points of the first VR generation are being eliminated and the quality of the built-in displays, the possible resolution and the field of view are being increased. In addition, a separate camera will no longer be necessary. Instead, VR glasses and controllers communicate with each other and thus determine their position in the room. In short: you are actually going the path that many other VR devices have already taken. But there is still one catch: PlayStation VR 2 will not be wireless either - in contrast to the Oculus Quest 2.

Half-Life: Alyx is generally considered to be the best, exclusive VR game on the market. The high quality aroused the curiosity of the community and also increased sales of VR headsets. Source: Valve However, one has to wait and see what Sony's long-term strategy with PlayStation VR 2 looks like. The company is currently making headlines with the fact that there are too few PlayStation 5 consoles for too much demand. Many games that were initially called PS5-exclusive, such as Gran Turismo 7 or Horizon Forbidden West, are now also available for the PS4. The reason: The (still) too small hardware base of the PlayStation 5 and thus insufficient sales opportunities for large productions.

In addition, they do not want to leave the PS4 community behind. Do the delivery problems also have consequences for PlayStation VR 2? Sony has not yet announced an official release date. However, experts speculate that the VR headset could come in mid / late 2022. However, given the current problems, this release period could be wavering. A statement from Sony is still pending.

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We all know the motto "software sells hardware". Translated, this means that really good games usually also ensure that the corresponding consoles and devices sell. Sony followed this maxim in the past PlayStation generations and lured Resident Evil 7 was one of the big sellers for PlayStation VR and added a whole new dimension of horror to the horror adventure. Capcom has not yet confirmed whether there will be a VR patch for the recently published eighth part. Source: Capcom interested parties with high-quality exclusive games at the checkout. This strategy worked and, for example, attracted a lot of attention to PlayStation VR - thanks to the big games already mentioned. But as soon as this source dries up, interest in the product also wanes.

On the other hand, on the PC there is one game above all: Half-Life: Alyx. Valve's continuation of the legendary shooter series is technically and playfully a real gem and drew thousands of newbies to the VR headset. It's one of those games that made big waves outside of the gaming bubble, too. Not just because it was a new half-life, but mostly because it showed what VR is really capable of. Virtual Reality also works in the blockbuster area.

But if you look around outside of Half-Life: Alyx, it is noticeable that so far few developers of major brands have made the leap into VR waters Bethesda recently put titles like Doom and Doom 3 for PlayStation VR among others. The shooters also impressed in the VR environment despite the significantly adapted gameplay. Source: Bethesda Dared. Bethesda stumbled during the implementation of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim or Fallout 4. For established role-players it quickly became clear that the "normal" version simply works better. Rockstar, on the other hand, didn't even try to port Grand Theft Auto 5. Instead, modders took over and developed a corresponding extension that showed that GTA 5 in VR - despite motion sickness - can be fun.

Virtual Reality is more than just a gimmick

But of course this view is very one-sided. Because virtual reality is much more than just gaming. As beautiful VR gaming experiences as in Resident Evil 7 or Half-Life: Alyx may be, they are ultimately only part of the large-scale virtual reality construction site. This business area will undoubtedly remain interesting for developers, but especially in times of pandemics, the possibilities for apps in the field of sports and leisure with the help of VR gadgets became apparent. Music and rhythm games like Beat Saber or Rez Infinite are among the most popular titles for VR headsets. Beginners in particular have it easy here thanks to the intuitive controls and the easy-to-use game principle. Source: Beat Games

The aforementioned Microsoft Mesh uses HoloLens to build virtual rooms. Facebook is working on its own social app called Horizon and wants to revolutionize its own platform. Applications such as Supernatural or FitXR combine subscription services with workouts and VR training programs. Sam Cole, co-founder of FitXR, explains the advantages of the new technology in an interview with WIRED: "We see a great expansion of our achieved demographics in this area - not only in terms of age and gender, but also in terms of fitness . " He adds that feedback was received from bodybuilders who hated cardio training, but thanks to VR integration they also did this part of the workout.

Of course, virtual and augmented reality devices have long been used in medicine, too, Research and development for use. More and more corporations - including Apple - are investing money in the technology, as the market is growing and generating increasing sales. In the ideal case, this in turn ensures broader acceptance and a larger hardware base. Virtual Reality allows you to immerse yourself in a strange world or even in the body of an eagle - as in Ubisoft's Eagle Flight. The depth effect and the speed are doubly effective in VR. Source: Ubisoft

And what does that mean specifically for computer and video games? Ideally, this development also increases the chances for really large VR game productions. Because these have to bring in the manufacturing costs again. That is impossible without an appropriate basis. The half-life mentioned: Alyx sold over two million times and was therefore extremely good for a pure VR game. By comparison, Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch had sold over 31 million times by early February 2021. We do not need to mention at this point which game brought in more.

We do not see that virtual reality will dominate gaming in five or ten years' time. The video game medium lives on the one hand from its immersion, but also from the fact that it can be enjoyed uncomplicated and at any time. Virtual Reality goes one step further and therefore requires more attention. This complete immersion in a strange world is not possible for everyone - be it for private or professional reasons. In addition, there are technical limitations that still need to be eliminated. Virtual reality will gain in importance in the future, but will probably remain a niche. But sometimes it can also be very nice and cozy in this niche, right?

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