Why VR is Not a Gimmick

why-vr-is-not-a-gimmick

With the release of the PlayStation VR, we stand at a threshold where the way we play games will change forever… or remain the same. The three major players in the virtual reality arena have released their hardware along with some decent gaming experiences to give you a taste of true immersion. It’s that term “immersion” that brings me to this little collection of thoughts.

It’s virtually impossible to search for “VR” or “PS VR” without arriving at a comment section on your favorite news site and not see the words “it’s just another gimmick.” Used as a derogatory term in gaming, “gimmick” refers to a tacked-on technology that may or may not contribute to the gaming experience.

Sometimes, the difference between a gimmick and innovation is the longevity of the experiment’s survival. For example, I recall the rumble pack for the Nintendo 64 being referred to as a gimmick, and now, rarely does a video game controller exist without a rumble feature.

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When the Wii released, the entire concept of motion controls became the epitome of “gimmick” what with Sony and Microsoft releasing their own versions of waggle. While certain games supported motion controls successfully, the concept alone did not truly add anything to the enjoyment of the game, and was thus reserved for party games like dance sims.

Motion systems like Kinect and the Eye Toy camera for the PS2, ended up abandoned and forgotten. One could almost understand the skepticism gamers had whenever a new “gimmick” was introduced.

Then there was 3D. I was fortunate enough to try 3D with gaming before I experienced it in the movies and was immediately taken in by the immersion that it created. One of my first 3D games was Motorstorm: Apocalypse on PlayStation 3.

Besides blinking my eyes when virtual rain and debris appeared to come out of my television, my first true physical connection with a game came when I jumped off a cliff in 3D and felt my stomach rise slightly. I was now truly immersed. But I could still see the edge of my television, and looking left or right immediately broke that sense of presence within the game world.

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My second experience was playing Killzone 3 in 3D. As I was playing, something felt odd, like the feeling you get when someone shines a laser pointer near your eyes. Sure enough, moving my head slightly revealed a sniper’s laser coming from the TV and centering itself between my eyes. I felt afraid and amused, and I personally was convinced that 3D was the way of the future.

It wasn’t.

It was also labeled a gimmick. I didn’t quite understand. How could something that served as a means to increase your immersion in a video game world be considered a gimmick? I figured that the damage had been done when folks associated 3D with movies and never quite gave gaming in 3D a chance.

Now that VR is becoming a household word, I realize that 3D and motion controls independently may have been a gimmick, but the combination of 3D and motion, within a head tracking VR headset, would be the gaming evolution we needed.

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This brings up another complaint I have often seen. Sony abandons their creations. While I would tend to agree that 3D was pushed hard only to be left behind, the aforementioned PlayStation 4 camera and Move controllers have not only escaped abandonment, but have now become absolutely integral to the function of VR. Even 3D plays a huge role in the functionality of the new headset.

I was somewhat surprised to see the reactions to VR on the boards and comment sections of gaming sites. VR is still considered a gimmick: a passing fad that will vanish like the Move controllers – that didn’t actually vanish.

This time I seriously could not understand it. As video gamers, we have spent the last thirty plus years, less for some of course, watching the evolution of our favorite hobby. We have seen onscreen characters, represented by blocks, turn into fully animated 3D models, with flowing hair and clothing, expressive faces and voiced by amazing actors. We have seen those pixels come to life in ways that we couldn’t have even began to dream possible thirty years ago.

I experienced the emotion of losing Nei in Phantasy Star 2, conveyed by 16-bit artwork and on-screen text, and saw it evolve into the absolutely moving and devastating introduction that Last of Us provided.

last-of-us-sarah

Evolution. Not only do we expect it in the industry, we get it. Hardware developers, console and PC, work their asses off to give those gaming boxes the power to create better graphics and effects in order to provide their audiences with the most immersive experience that can possibly be achieved. And we consume it, expecting more with each generation.

We do this because we seek that next level of immersion, of presence within a video game. We look to the next Elder Scrolls game to whisk us away to a fully realized world. The more robust the graphics, the more we feel that we are truly visiting another land. Repeated textures and pop-in break that reality, so we demand the best experiences.

Enter VR. The gimmick that is taking the steps to immerse you even more, and some, certainly not all, reject it as another gimmick.

The first time I donned a VR headset was at a small Oculus kiosk at a comic convention. The very generic flying game within was as shallow as you could possibly imagine, but I was no longer in that convention facility. I was in a crude polygonal airplane.

oculus-rift-headset

I didn’t leave there thinking that this crappy airplane demo was the future of gaming. I left there amazed by the sense of presence felt under the hood, and dreamed of what other experiences this could bring, given the right developers.

It reminded me of the same dreams I had when the Super Nintendo and Genesis were announced and I saw pictures of Phantasy Star 2, wondering what worlds I would visit. When the first PlayStation and Saturn were announced, my dreams skyrocketed. Now I could walk around in a 3D environment, the way I see the real world, and no longer be limited to seeing my characters as if I was flying above them.

The game industry, and the expectations behind it, thrive on experimentation and every one of those experiments is based on the desire to immerse us more in the virtual worlds developers create. So why do some of us see VR as a gimmick? If our ultimate desire is to achieve immersion, why would a headset, that puts you into the gaming world in ways only dreamed of, be considered a passing fad?

Admittedly, as with any technology, perfecting its application will determine its staying power. Sony’s VR headset has sold well. It launched with some great, and not so great, games. Personally, Eve: Valkyrie has kept me extremely entertained, and I can’t even begin to explain that experience of being in the middle of a space battle.

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Twenty years ago I would never have thought this possible. Looking over my shoulder and seeing a pursuing vessel fire rockets at me, then turning forward and maneuvering towards a nearby asteroid, looking over my shoulders again and watching its missiles harmlessly impact against the giant rock.

Yes, I could have experienced this on my television, but I wouldn’t be “there”. I was there because of the depth provided by VR, but also because the world was realized around me. I could look in any direction and see it. Not with a press of a joystick, but with my head movement.

Staying power will absolutely be determined by the support these headsets receive. I don’t want VR to pass. I’ve been a gamer for thirty years and this is what I always hoped gaming would evolve into, but I never really expected it to happen.

As modern gamers, we owe it to ourselves to give VR a chance. I didn’t write this to encourage you to go buy an expensive headset because yeah, even the Sony one isn’t THAT cheap. I simply think that we shouldn’t write it off as a gimmick without truly trying it. And now we have more options than that silly airplane game I tried three years ago.

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Batman Arkham VR may be an hour long game, but holy-hell Batman if it didn’t completely place me in Gotham City as the caped crusader. I can only imagine what the future holds. But that future will not exist without support from gamers, least of all if folks don’t even give it a chance.

Developers have to meet us halfway and provide us with gaming experiences that take advantage of these devices. Imagine, for example, if an actual full-length Star Wars game launched with this thing.

This is a PlayStation focused website, but I’m not exclusively pimping the PlayStation VR with this opinion piece. I’m saying, go out there and try any of the headsets. We play games because we like to slay dragons in other realms, fly spaceships into battle, and win wars against incredible odds. We want to become those characters. This takes us a very huge step forward in that realization. A gimmick it is not.

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  • Until time proves to me other wise. VR is just a gimmick. We certainly need to see more games other than tech demos.

    • Renegade Bastard

      I completely agree… I still haven’t purchased a VR solution and I have no plans to, unless the technology proves itself in the next couple of years.

    • ChazzH69

      Robinson: The Journey, REZ Infinite, REZ Infinite, Sports Bar VR, Headmaster, Werewolves Within, Thumper, Driveclub VR, Tethered, Battlezone, RIGS, and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood are just some of the (launch window) games that show it isn’t just tech demos. With tons of others already announced and more on the way. The question I ask you is..

      How many games do you want!

      • All those with the exception of Driveclub feel like a demo or a technical test. Something the studio was making to only be a test to get an engine and an idea going. But it then turned into a “game” because they spent so much time on it and didn’t want to spend money on making an “actual” game not knowing how well VR would do.

        I expect games like Killzone, Uncharted etc, full blown franchises. London Heist would of been a great example if it was only a full game like the old Getaway games. Do I expect them all to be at launch? If of course no. But one really big seller should of been. There was nothing to blow me away. Some interesting ideas and concepts but that is it.

        Until I see value for the asking price of not only the hardware but the price of some of these games is outrageous. It is also the same with all VR units. So far the others have not impressed much either.

        • ChazzH69

          How do you think we get most games. Many start off as tech demos. Look at the parkour mechanic in Assassins Creed, Snap-to controls for inFamous, dynamic camera split in Lego games, even the camera controls in Mario 64.

          It all has to start somewhere and games are either built around the new ‘gimmick’ or they are thought of to solve a problem. This is the beginning of that process so you will see many experiments in VR, some will work and built upon, then copied.

          Regardless of your views on the titles I mentioned, they are all worthy of being called games. I am glad we didn’t have a AAA franchise as a launch title because the media focus would have been on that game alone.

          • All true, But to me it is still a gimmick until Sony proves me other wise. So far they’ve only supported such projects for two years or then dump them. Look at Move, 3D just from Sony. After big pushes and “this is the future” they were no where to be seen after about two years.

            Now everyone says VR is here to stay and I believe it. Just not with Sony or MS. They don’t stick with anything long enough. Where VR will stay and thrive will be the PC. Maybe I am wrong and we won’t know until about two or three years.

            And I still find most of them not games in the sense of worth their price. Interesting ideas and probably unique experiences, but in the long run is it worth the price for VR right now? That depends on the person of course, but for me it is not. Nothing there to say “wow I have to get this” Which would of been Batman if there was more to it then what it is.

          • ChazzH69

            Batman is a good first step and I look forward to the next evolution of it. I see what you are saying but VR is more widespread than 3D ever was. And those Move controllers are back with a new lease of life.

            If you need a ‘wow’ then you wait for it, good luck to you sir.

          • Makai Ookami

            You’re right the Move is trash. That’s why Sony has never used it again. That’s why they went through all that effort of making brand new controll…. wait a second!

            Sony didn’t abandon Move Controls, people did. They put them into tons of games, from Infamous, Killzone, Socom, but people said “Oh it’s just a gimmick there are no games” Sorcery “Nope still no games”

            Sony can’t prove to you that VR isn’t a gimmick, you have to hop off the Doom train and actually try it for yourself.

            If you think the games are over priced… I have news for you. Games tend to drop in price after about 2-6 months. So if you buy a VR unit, you can nab up games you didn’t think were worth $60 and play them for $20-30. Well there’s like 1 or 2 games that were $60.

            Though I guess if we have retards like on Metacritic as critics that review Robinson the Journey, and 1 70 Review says that it’s $60, and another low review says it’s full price…

            Well then I can’t blame you for thinking that the games are full priced games. Jeez I just went there to find out what people didn’t like about the game, as I gathered my thoughts and fact check what I was saying… but for fucks sake, this is why we can’t have nice things people!

            Just give it a chance. Tone down your inner hipster a bit, and see if there’s any way you can try it out.

          • I am giving it a chance. I am giving it two or three years. And Sony still gave up on Move as well as 3D and most recently the Vita. Yes they still make it, but they don’t support it with first party. But whatever. It is either going to be the next thing or its not. I just don’t see it going anywhere on consoles. PC on the other hand.

          • Makai Ookami

            You’re confusing “Stopped forcing it down people’s throats” with giving up. Giving up is what Microsoft did on the Kinect. They forced it down people’s throats, and now they are selling a version of the system faster than ever before that doesn’t even have a port to plug the thing into.

            Like that’s giving up. I just don’t think it’s fair to arbitrarily say that Sony should have supported the Move better, when there’s no explanation of what “better” means. It seems like a way to say “I’m right” without having to show your work.

            They made SOoooo many Move games, and they made the controllers on the PS4 have a crappy battery life by implementing move tech as a default, and they made VR function with move tech.

            I don’t see how they gave up on it. It seems like they just went back to the drawing board on crafting experiences for it, and waited for VR to come out to try again.

          • I never said i was right. Just giving my view and opinion on what I think it is. A gimmick. It may not remain a gimmick in the long run (like a lot of people thought the Wii was) but that is how I feel it is right now. If you don’t agree with me, fine, enjoy the product and don’t worry about it.

  • Keith Dunn-Fernández

    Well said, Rey. I agree completely! I’ve purchased Batman, Rush of Blood and the VR DLC for Stardust Ultra. I love them all! I also downloaded ALL the free apps and demos.Thumper is AMAZING! It really allows you to focus and leave the annoying real world behind for a while to score chase.
    I’ve also experienced some of the cinematic VR experiences like music videos and actually being on stage in the Broadway production of the opening number of The Lion King!
    In response to Stoff I gotta say that, as with ALL new platforms/consoles, there are launch titles in small numbers but they are certainly not simply tech demos or proofs of concept.
    Additionally, my husband and in-laws thought that VR was gonna be some corny gimmick. Then they experienced it and were astounded at the immersion. Even my brother-in-law who was born with only one eye was blown away and thrilled by it.
    These opinions of folks who are enjoying PSVR, even the laypersons who aren’t hardcore gamers like I am, are more than anecdotal.
    VR isn’t just a gimmick. It’s here to stay.
    It’s fine if people want to wait and see before investing. That’s their right. The games out now will still be there when they drink the Kool-ade too…LOL.

    • himdeel

      Having not had hands on with vr until I purchased a PSvr, I must also agree it’s not a gimmick. Vr heavily influenced my decision to purchase a PS pro.

    • Makai Ookami

      I have to wait till I have good internet probably before I can do the stage stuff like you did. What app does the broadway? Will the Book of Mormon and Hamilton be on those?

  • TipTop

    Nice damage control, but no. It’s still gimmick.

    • Renegade Bastard

      As of right now, that is correct. Sales on VR solutions are nowhere near what was projected for 2016. It’s sad and unfortunate, but it’s the truth. I was really hoping to see VR blow up and take the world by storm, but to this day? I still don’t know a single person, friend, or family member that even has a VR solution. Anecdotal evidence, I know, but still. VR doesn’t seem to be catching on mainstream at all. 🙁