A friend of mine recently sent me a note on his first experience with Virtual Reality, and he was impressed and enthused for its future. So I got back to thinking about Virtual Reality (VR), and how close or far away it will be to being a viable mainstream technology. I have made numerous posts in the last few years, thinking VR was closer than it turned out to be. But its been awhile, and so here are my current thoughts in a nutshell:
- I don’t think gaming will be enough to jumpstart VR into mainstream usage. I think its a chicken and the egg thing. Manufacturers wont be able to get prices down until gamers buy it en masse, and gamers wont buy an expensive headset until decent games are developed for it, and most gaming studios wont put the extra money into building a decent game for it it until a market exists. So its kind of a three way deadlock. I could be wrong, perhaps a game company such as Valve has a hit that jumpstarts adoption (Valve is in a unique situation where it is partnered with a headset maker, so they have much more incentive to push the adoption). But at this point, I am in the camp that it will take something other than gaming will break the deadlock.
- That something else will be social. It seems that all new technologies have been built on social interaction – and I think VR will come to mass acceptance via some social interaction app – not gaming experience. My current thought is ‘Virtual Reality will be to human interaction what Television is to a Movie Theater‘. We all watch movies on TV, even though most would agree a theater is a better experience. But television is just much easier. So it is with the promise of VR. If I can use it to hang out with my friends without going anywhere, I will do it virtually with my friends, then on special occasions I will actually physically get with them. Isn’t this much of the appeal of Facebook? You can easily keep engaged with friends, but only when convenient (and in small doses). Perhaps this is why Facebook is spending boatloads of money on Oculus Rift. So I look for early VR adoption to be driven by a combination of Skype and Facebook and VR. An interesting example would be renting out ‘virtual luxury suites’ at a ballgame – where you could get together virtually in a room with your friends and watch a sporting event or other pop culture event. I think this is the kind of thing that will end up driving mass adoption, get Virtual Reality headsets into everybody’s hands, and kickstart the revolution.
- We also discussed the worry that Virtual Reality will bring on a new social problem – full immersion into a virtual world. Given the current problems with have with alcohol and opioid addiction, it does seem foreseeable that many people will prefer a virtual world over the physical world. Of course, for generations we have been told we watch too much TV, or spend too much time on the computer, so maybe that fear is just an an echo of previous fears about technological advances. But the full immersion of the mind into a vivid fantasy world might be too much for many of our minds to rationally handle. So this will be interesting to watch.
I am not negative on the future of Virtual Reality. Prices are coming down to be more approachable and the quality is getting better. I just think adoption will appear via a backdoor application that is not currently obvious. And I think once the price gets to under $200’ish – watch out – we will see things we never dreamed of.