With the recent announcement of Sony’s Project Morpheus, we can see that the big names are looking at virtual reality again. And with the Oculus Rift being so popular before even being available to consumers, it’s understandable. Although it all may seem bright and optimistic, the industry has been in this situation before. In 1995 Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a table- video game console. Despite only being able to produce games in black and red, it was dubbed as the first ever 3D and virtual reality gaming console. Due to its uncomfortable make, headache-inducing display and lack of quality games, the Virtual Boy was a commercial failure, not even lasting a year in the market. But so far the modern VR devices seem to be doing much better than their embarrassing grandfather. Sony and Oculus promise to back their respective hardware for the long haul and are convinced virtual reality can be a successful medium for video games.
So the optimism is justified, but the skeptics still have reasons to be concerned. The main reason being accessibility. How will the mass market and general audience react to it? Price is going to be a big factor when these hit the market. Each device is equipped with two HD displays and light sensors to detect your gaze. That’s a lot of hardware to manufacture, which makes rumored prices from $300 to $500 dollars for the Morpheus sound about right. Although the Oculus Rift is a little further along in development there’s no reason to say it won’t cost much different. Of course this is all speculation though. This isn’t an outrageous amount of money, but it’s still a lot. It’s hard to imagine a large initial following when one could use that amount of money to buy a brand new current-gen console. Or you know, pay bills.
Another possibility for the virtual reality to fail commercially is the lack of support from developers. The Virtual Boy only had 22 games and never released outside of the US and Japan. For a console to be a success it needs a bevy of quality games and a large fan base. The Virtual Boy had games (not many good ones) but not a large enough audience to attract more developers. You can’t attract consumers without games but you can’t attract developpers to make games without an established audience, the age old vicious cycle for video game consoles. Sony can back Morpheus with all the first-party titles they want, but ultimately they will need third-party support.
The reasons for VR to attract consumers is obvious, ever since gaming was introduced into the mainstream market gamers have always wondered what it would be like to be in the game as oppose to looking at a screen. The success of first-person perspective games exemplifies it, players want to be as heavily integrated into the game as possible. We want to be storming the fields of Skyrim or assaulting a terrorist occupied fort in Call of Duty. Games such as these will no doubt work perfectly in VR. Once audiences get their hands on demos they’ll realize this technology is no joke. The day when we’ll get to explore the virtual reality may be closer than consumers think.