There are many developers and members of the press who often forget that, for the vast majority of people, it's been impossible to use the current generation of virtual reality technology. For reference? This is the line at this year's CES to get in for a demo of the hardware.
The reaction to the hardware's $599 price point has been immediate and intense. People are saying VR is dead. The argument is being made that the specs needed to run the device are too high. Everyone, including the companies selling VR headsets, agrees that the path to the mainstream will be long and challenging. There is nothing about a new technology that requires a $1,500 investment all-in that won't be difficult.
Why the technology will take off
I had an appointment during CES to see a recent build of Eve: Valkyrie. The game is coming bundled with the Oculus Rift, and represents a sort of wish fulfillment that is often talked about in games but in practice is incredibly rare. The game presents you with the very convincing illusion of being a hotshot deep space dogfighting pilot.
I've played Eve: Valkyrie dozens of times, and was lucky enough to have been in Iceland for Eve Fanfest when the game was first announced. I know what's coming in the short demo I'm playing because I've tried it in less-polished states. The higher portions of my brain know that I'm sitting in a small meeting room on the second floor of a company's booth at a consumer electronics show while a PR person is most likely checking their email during my demo.
Stale coffee is burbling away downstairs in the waiting area, being drunk by tired press working off their hangovers from long days of tech coverage and long nights of gambling. I can dimly hear the sounds of the crowd through my headphones.
But I'm someplace else. A voice in my ear is explaining the basic movements of my fighter pilot, and suddenly dozens of enemy ships jump into my area. I'm in space. I'm not looking at a screen that makes it seem like I'm in space; I'm in space. I look down and see a virtual version of my body in a pressurized suit. I can taste the sharp tang of adrenaline in the back of my throat. I'm whipping my head around to follow targets as they zoom around the giant space cruisers of this scene.
This is everything I dreamed about as a child. This is what I imagined it would feel like to be Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. This is what I saw in my mind as I played with space toys growing up. Earlier in the day I sat in another meeting room and lost myself in the feeling of floating outside a space station, the stars above me and the world spinning below me.
You will be able to do amazing things, and see things you've only dreamed of
Virtual reality is not for everyone, and it's certainly not going to sell millions of units while the initial cost is so high. Some experiences will always make at least some people sick, no matter how good the technology gets. It is doubtful that the act of strapping a screen to your face will ever make you look "cool." The downsides to virtual reality, and the challenges for adoption, are well-documented and completely fair.
And yet, here we are. The Rift is currently sold out through June. In 2016 there will be multiple products that allow you to sit in front of your gaming PC and become someone else. You will be able to do amazing things, and see things you've only dreamed of. The word "transformative" is often used to describe a great virtual reality demo, and it's not hyperbole. This is why I love the technology, and why developers talk about it in language I've also heard when interviewing astronauts.
The Oculus Rift is coming, and it's expensive as hell. It's worth it.