Paul, you did it again. The prospect of VR seems so theoretically exciting that I keep desperately wanting to love it. I bought a generation one Oculus Rift, the one that was crazy expensive while still using an Xbox controller, but after a few weeks, it migrated to my closet where it sat for several years.
But now, the Oculus Quest is here! Finally, no more pesky wires at all, an entirely self-contained VR headset, plus it came with hand controls that seemed like a key missing piece of the equation. For only $400, despite my clear abandonment of my last VR system, I dove back in.
Now what I’m realizing is that the tech is not really the problem. Well, not all of it anyway. The Quest solves a lot of the issues I had with the original Rift. It is a breeze to set up, simply pop the headset on and draw the playable area around your room with a controller. No wires, no sensors to set up, no nothing. Fantastic.
The hand controls are equally great, fixing one of the core disconnects I felt early on as using an Xbox controller instead of being able to see your virtual hands in front of you really messed up the user experience. Now, picking up everything from blocks to guns feels fantastic, and it’s a new level of immersion that I’ve never experienced before. There are still technical challenges to overcome of course, namely better FOV and resolution, as both are still pretty low, but besides that, the Quest is a massive leap forward over the original.
And so why am I in the same pattern again? Why did I play it a bunch the first few days, then less, then not at all?
For me, the core problem with VR now is content. Both the scope of content, and the kind of content that exists for the platform.
No, I haven’t played everything in VR the past week, but I have played all the big hits I’ve missed over the last year or two. Superhot, Robo Recall, BeatSaber, Vader Immortal, Moss and a few others. These are the cream of the crop when it comes to current VR, and yes, they are fun! But VR games still feel like a totally different plane of existence when it comes to what they contain. As a “core” gamer, I’m used to 10 hour linear stories, 100 hour RPGs and thousand hour loot shooters. But these games all feel like…minigames. Fun minigames, but minigames all the same. Gimmicks to show off what you can do in VR, but only baby steps for the concept. I play them for twenty minutes each then get tired of standing or hot from wearing the headset or just plain bored, even if they’re fun initially. “Beating” most of them takes no more than a few hours at the very most, and then what? There simply aren’t enough high quality VR games to go through a catalog that will last you more than a couple weeks.
But it’s not just games, either. Facebook, owner of Oculus, has this grand vision of owning the future of social, ie. some sort of Ready Player One-like Oasis where everyone goes online to communicate with virtual avatars. But nothing at all like that exists in VR right now. There is no VR social media of any significance. There is very little VR media period, as apps like VR Netflix are literally you just sitting on a virtual couch, watching a flat TV playing Netflix shows at low resolution. Hilariously, the one industry that seems to be booming with VR expansion is pornography, but traditional media has yet to produce anything of significance worth consuming in VR that I’ve seen. Even Facebook with its billion dollar Oculus acquisition does not seem to have added anything of value here, unless I am missing some huge development that is not immediately apparent.
VR still feels like a small collection of hit games that are fun, but far from the traditional gaming experience I enjoy on PC and console. The social aspect of VR is practically non-existent, as is the media aspect, and it remains something that I can really only consume in small doses, or show off to friends to impress them with my wizard-like tech, only to not touch it again for months afterward.
Fool me twice, I suppose, but knowing me, this will not be the last VR headset I purchase. I am looking forward to continued expansions of VR, and in particular, I think I’ll really get back into the Quest when No Man’s Sky comes to VR, as that has always seemed like a match made in heaven.
But for now, the Quest mostly sits idle in favor of my PC, PS4 and Xbox. Beside it is the Rift. At least it has a friend now.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Read my new sci-fi thriller novel Herokiller, available now in print and online. I also wrote The Earthborn Trilogy.