Short-lived VR games are leading us to an uncertain future

My love-hate relationship with desktop VR software.

Back at the start of the year, I remember countless publications labeling 2016 as the year of virtual reality. With three large companies set to release their own consumer hardware, it was clear that VR was going to see true worldwide exposure for the first time. And while that has transpired, the global rollout of VR hasn’t passed without setbacks. Following dubious policies, hardware shortages and a battle to spread appeal, desktop VR still has a long way to go before being accepted by the mass market.

Though the cost to entry and general inaccessibility have been linked to decreasing VR adoption, there’s also several constraints placed upon those with hardware. One of these has been affecting me in recent months as an HTC Vive owner, originating from the online marketplaces and content they offer.

When the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift released earlier this year, both headsets shipped with titles that brought forward interesting concepts but came to be nothing more than tech demonstrations. These were great for showcasing the potential of desktop VR but struggled to keep an engaged player base over time. As a relatively new concept in its current form, these titles were a great opportunity to familiarize users with the hardware but had little to offer after a few fleeting playthroughs.

This launch interval has since passed, but over this period, the lineup of titles hasn’t grown alongside the expectations of many consumers. While I knew that the available software was limited six months back, I expected a wider range of titles to be available by the end of the year. In comparison with other gaming platforms where a wave of releases has hit the market before the holidays, there seems to be a general lack of buzz for upcoming VR projects.

That’s not to say I’ve not enjoyed my time with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift — far from it. I’ve had the some of my most unique and memorable gaming experiences with desktop VR. But unless a new title has arrived that introduces some interesting ideas, my headset is often left gathering dust beside my PC. But what’s holding me back from the virtual world?

This simply comes back to one of VR’s biggest flaws, by failing to provide the staying power of traditional PC gaming experiences. With a lack of consistent releases that offer a significant amount of replayability, desktop VR isn’t something I find myself craving to come back to regularly.

Like 3D displays and motion controls in games, desktop VR is yet to prove itself with the hardcore gaming demographic. But unlike the aforementioned technologies, virtual reality does appear to have the potential to expand to a wider audience. As shown by some titles, VR can improve many experiences, but overcoming hardware limitations is half of the challenge.

Looking at existing storefronts, only a few prominent titles stand out for their implementation of virtual reality. Though there are a number of games that are undoubtedly enjoyable, many of these experiences ride on their basic VR support as a vehicle for driving home sales. Although strong integration can be a great differentiator, the best games are improved by virtual reality, rather being just diluted with today’s flashy tech. After the novelty of simple VR actions wears off, support by itself doesn’t make for an engaging experience.

Even though we’re still in the first year of modern consumer VR, the repercussions of virtual reality downfalls are starting to show. SteamVR statistics have indicated that HTC Vive adoption is starting to decline, amidst a number of barriers to entry. As of right now both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are flagship high-end headsets, but several drawbacks and a high price tag leave them struggling to penetrate a wider market.

However, now that three higher-end VR headsets are available, larger studios are beginning to gauge interest in these platforms. Only earlier this year did industry giant Bethesda show their interest in VR, promising versions of Fallout 4 and DOOM for the HTC Vive. Other publishers such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft have also begun testing the waters, adding additional content to their existing triple-A titles.

For now, as consumers, we play the waiting game. Maybe sometime in the near future that a single system-seller will emerge from the pile. But in its current state, the limited existing library is yet another factor holding back success.