Has Virtual Reality Failed? — The future of VR / AR / Mixed Reality

According to KITATUS

Due to the fact I moonlight as a games analyst, I often get asked about my viewpoints in regards to the current state of VR, if AR will suffer the same fate and will mixed reality change anything?

Today, I hope to answer these questions for you to help share my perspective and hopefully motivate you to share your thoughts on such topics with me using the comment section.

I will break my observations into three main sections: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality, to help you jump to whichever part is most relevant to your current interests.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. They are similar and yet distinctively different, both to develop for and to use. Source: KITATUS

Before we begin, I would like to re-iterate that these are just my opinions, formed from the research and development that I have personally performed. As with any industry analyst, it is undoubtedly possible that I am interpreting the data incorrectly or that the data, to begin with, is incorrect.

Because of this, I must stress that you perform your own research to come up with results that you can rely on. Obviously, I believe in my findings and data, hence why I am presenting it to you today, but it is always better to be safe, not sorry.

With the usual disclaimers out of the way, let’s dive right in.

#1 — VIRTUAL REALITY

The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR are the three most popular VR devices currently for sale. Source: KITATUS

Virtual Reality has been a really interesting rollercoaster ride. From the underwhelming but expected public reception to the surprisingly strong numbers from PSVR and PSVR titles, there are contradictions flooding the industry. Is VR working? Did it fail? Is it going to have its big-bang moment? When will this happen? It has been a confusing time for investors and analysts alike.

I would like to note that it would seem a number of investors did not foresee how important a strong, diverse catalogue of games and experiences out of the gate would be. This is what happens when you launch a new technology without extensive developer support (See the Nintendo Switch’s strong first-year lineup of diverse titles for validation of this fact).

If you were to ask any casual VR players (or even people mildly interested in the VR field) about what genre most VR games are, they would all mostly say the same two words “Wave shooter”. A wave shooter is a 360 shooting gallery in which you have to shoot incoming targets.

Raw Data, a popular “Wave Shooter” for VR devices. Image source: VrHeads

There is nothing wrong with this type of game however, the popular opinion is leaning towards disdain at the fact that the VR market is flooded with these “Wave shooters”. Many people stipulate that they feel they’ve paid anywhere from $500 — $1500 to play the same game over and over again due to the fact that these games play very similarly.

Obviously, there are games available for VR that do not follow the formula of the “Wave Shooter” games. The issue is that the market, at least at face value, is oversaturated with wave shooters, so much so that it has almost become a meme amongst communities who observe VR that VR is just a wave shooter device.

You might be thinking “What is the problem with that? People do not have to play Wave Shooters if they don’t want to”, which is correct but is a flawed logic. Imagine that you do not own a VR device but you’re interested in checking VR out. If you take a look at a few discussions online and browse some of the games available in stores, all you see is wave shooter after wave shooter.

The top 10 VR games on Steam at the moment does not feature any Wave Shooter games (SuperHot is the closest to such a genre of game). Source: Steam

Naturally, you would probably exclaim that you won’t waste money to play one type of game and move on. Not good for the growth of an industry. There is a bigger issue here though, not caused by wave shooters but incorporates wave shooters into the problem. The platform. VR as a whole, as a consumer platform right now is the issue.

I have said this a few times but I will say it again, I have yet to see a VR title that would only be possible as a virtual reality game. You have your wave shooters and your racing games, you even have titles such as Resident Evil 7, which are arguably even better when played in virtual reality.

Even with all of these games, there isn’t a single one that would be impossible to play without VR. You might be ready to argue with titles such as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. When you break down the core concepts, it is perfectly playable without the need of a VR device.

That is the key tipping point that will decide the fate of virtual reality. Whether or not developers can uncover the enigma of creating an exciting game that would only work in VR and nowhere else. If developers can’t figure this out, I fear this will spell the worst for the future of VR. If they do somehow figure out how to solve this puzzle, I definitely see VR becoming what the initial investors originally imagined it would turn into.

In my opinion, Resident Evil 7 has the right idea in terms of offering a unique experience with the power of VR. However, I don’t feel it does enough as the title is 100% playable outside of VR. Image source: GameSpot

#2 — AUGMENTED REALITY

Augmented reality is in a “safe zone” at the moment. It is a technology that has been occasionally utilized for years and years at this point and features a variety of benefits that make it not only more affordable (when compared to VR) but due to the fact that by design it is less resource intensive in terms of processing, you can do a lot more with a lot less than augmented reality.

This does not give AR a free pass, however, as it includes downsides that VR has it beaten on.

We have seen some but not much significant progress on the front of AR recently. Supposedly most of the AR-centric companies are hard at work within bringing their technologies to life. If you ask the general populus about the biggest buzz in the AR world now, they will answer in one of two ways: Apple or Magic Leap.

Nintendo is a good example of how AR has been a quiet but constant force in the gaming industry. The Nintendo 3DS launched with an AR mini-game and AR cards to use with your 3DS. Source: Nintendo

For those who don’t have their ears close to the current AR scene, let me fill you in on these two companies and why they’re the “talk of the town” at the moment. Apple recently announced that the iPhone 8 will be AR-ready, including multiple cameras that can discern depth (similar to how something like the Kinect worked). But people don’t have to wait until the iPhone 8 to dive into Apple’s AR efforts.

Apple recently unveiled ARKit at WWDC 2017. Compatible with popular game engines such as Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, ARKit allows developers to utilise the features of iPhones to allow augmented reality experiences. That is about as much as we know about ARKit (from a non-developer perspective) at this moment in time, aside from a few beautiful tech demos shown on stage.

I was not expecting much from Apple so a whole framework dedicated to AR is a nice surprise (for those who know me personally, you’ll know that I find most things Apple do to be pretentious and borderline counterproductive). Like with VR, developing AR experience for mobile has a number of positive points when compared to other platforms. The install base is massive and continues to swell every single day. This is definitely a safer bet for developers, who do not have to hope a certain product sells well before they can even consider their profit margins on their projects (such as with the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift).

Is ARKit about to set the standard for how AR should progress over the next few years? Only one way to find out. Image source: Apple

It is too early to tell whether Apple is on to a winner with ARKit but I am optimistic. The install base plus ease of use and low cost of entry, bundled with not only the gameplay possibilities of AR but also the practical uses, it might be the runaway success in terms of this latest iteration of the AR market but only time will tell.

One company I have faith is not going to steal anyone’s thunder, however, is Magic Leap. All over the internet, message boards and social media pages are filled with thousands upon thousands of excited customers ready to dive into the world of Magic Leap. I am worried that this is a premature move that will hurt consumer confidence in AR as a platform.

Magic Leap is a company dedicated to bringing a head-mounted virtual retinal display to market. Without showing much evidence of their work (at least publically), they have managed to raise over $1.4 billion in investment funding as well as managing to be valued as a company at roughly $4.5 billion. From what I’ve seen publically, this is laughable in every sense of the word.

Magic Leap is a company that can seemingly generate near infinite amounts of investments at will, yet have not even shown anything publically that isn’t pre-rendered marketing material that is not even indicative of the possible final product. Anyone can create a trailer or a concept, why are so many companies funding something that has yet to live up to its grand promises? Image Source: CNBC

Obviously, I am only talking as an outsider. I have not peaked beneath the curtain of Magic Leap, yet. It is entirely possible their marketing mock-ups are going to be closer to what the final retail product will be able to do than any other company before them. However, from what I have seen, no company in the history of archived marketing has managed to pull this off (please let me know if I am wrong).

I don’t want to dwell on Magic Leap for too long. It is obvious from a distance that I am incredibly sceptical with the videos they’re trying to pass off as “actually captured with Magic Leap hardware”. That is not to say what they’re showing is impossible, it is just that it has been so long without much noise on the developer front which is forming my opinion that Magic Leap is just a glorified “Snake Oil” company, made to sap investment dollars for a promise they can’t deliver on.

Again, I could be completely wrong and I hope I am. At this time though, if you’re looking for my opinion, do not put Magic Leap on your radar. Forget they exist until they can show us actual, tangible evidence that they can deliver on their promises and Jesus Christ, stop feeding the money pit.

No, this is not actually captured using Magic Leap technology. This is a pre-rendered marketing campaign to get you excited on the possibility of AR. I strongly advise you actually fund companies that have shown progress in the field since their inception. Image source: Magic Leap.

If you want to fund them, it is entirely your choice but from all the publically available knowledge, I must stress that you should really confirm what you’re investing in before entertaining them with your money.

Before we move on, I would like to state that Augmented Reality fixes something that Virtual Reality is currently struggling with. As I alluded to earlier, VR developers are having trouble bringing games to life that can only work as VR games. There’s no game out there yet that would only be possible in virtual reality. Augmented reality, however, by design is destined to feature plenty of these types of games and experiences. We will have to see how things pan out but from talking to my developer peers and friends, the ideas of games only possible with AR are flowing out of nearly all of their minds.

#3 — MIXED REALITY

This one is simple. Ignore Mixed Reality. Completely ignore it. It is a stupid marketing buzzword used by companies that do not want to use the terms VR or AR. It offers no benefits when compared against VR / AR as it is just the bastard child of both of them.

If you are talking to someone about their product and they try to tell you it utilizes “Mixed Reality”, just walk away. Similar to the “Blast Processing” of the Sega Genesis, it is a technology that is a non-technology. A simple marketing buzzword to get you excited at the possiblities.

Told you it was easy. I can make it even easier “Do not invest in companies that use the term “Mixed Reality”. Done, I’ve just saved you a lot of dissapointment and headaches.

WRAP-UP

So that is a wrap, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed the read and I hope I offered some interesting opinions that have given you food for thought. As I mentioned before, this is all only my opinions as an industry analyst, born from my own personal research. It is totally possible that I’m wrong about everything.

It is down to you to formulate your own opinions about where the respective industries are headed. I hope that whether or not you decide to follow my advice that you have at least found some sense of worth from this post. It has taken a while to congregate all my analysis about where these technologies are going, so I am hopeful that is helpful to at least a handful of you.

I will include a selection of research at the end of this article to help you in your own research. Now it is your time to help out! If you agree, disagree or have anything else to add to the points raised, please use the comments system to let everyone know about your opinion.

A lot of industry analysis is built on multitude’s of peoples different opinions. And as I always say, you need to know all the players on the field before you go to war. So please, drop your thoughts in the comments and discuss what you think to help others and perhaps help you develop your own opinions.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

=======================

FURTHER READING