Every few years or so, the question rolls through every gamers mind: ‘What can we expect from the next round of consoles?’. Our heavy hitting home all-in-ones, the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U have incorporated some great ideas, and our developers have the long-awaited task of bringing out the full potential of the given attributes, some that might take several years. With the consoles in hand, and several amazing titles having been mastered by many, there are an endless number of adventures to come. When consumers seem to stick to a few basic principles: eye-catching innovation; hardware to keep up with ground breaking new IP’s; and, what seems to be the most important, the cost-effective threshold - does the same criteria for software apply to hardware peripherals and system integration? Specifically, is all the news about Virtual Reality being the next big thing going to go the way of 3D and end up that we just don’t care?
The term ‘Next Generation’ can be an intriguing topic. As a consumer, I go in head first looking for the graphics to be outstanding, and whilst appearance isn’t everything, and I believe it’ll be a big factor this console cycle and we will see some heavy VR incorporated into the realm of household gaming. This idea seems great but it will never come without some heartache. There will inevitably be the expected growing pains, as with any playable motion controllers such as the PlayStation Camera for the PS2 or the Kinect for Xbox 360. The basic ideas for putting VR into practice are either a headset or projector based setup, both demonstrated well by the current console leaders and other start-up companies, with the Oculus Rift being the most well-known, which is a beautiful idea that brings VR to everyday consumers through a head-mounted display.
The problem I see happening for this type of hardware is that there simply won’t be enough justification for either to work. The easy-out method that a projector style setup provides is exactly that of a television. With the exception of a larger point of view, you have too little benefit for putting too much extra into your setup. Simply put, it isn’t a feasible commercial idea at this point. The same problem rides on the shoulders of any head mounted hardware. Yes, these provide a larger point of view at a point-blank distance, but for the average person on a Saturday morning looking for a bit of action, they already own a TV that does exactly that if they move a bit closer to the screen.
There are arguments siding with more visually appealing wearable technology that will catch the eye of the consumers, through adding sensors to track the gamers motion for ducking or moving into crouching stances. These arguments are understandable when you are only targeting a narrow market, but as a fan of many different genres I can say that I am not sure how I will incorporate any additional HUD display or head mounted screen into a Need for Speed title, NCAA Football title, or even an Uncharted title with a large enough benefit for the gameplay.
With the purchase of the Oculus Rift by Facebook, it could mean an interesting turn for VR. Mark Zuckerberg has gone on the record to point out some basic ideas that the Oculus project will dip into, like enjoying sports or movies from the front row, classroom uses and even medical practices. One of the worst things to happen to a decent idea is for it to die because it had no financial backing, because the investors aren’t sold the potential. That doesn’t seem to be the case for such Oculus Rift because with Facebook now the owners, and each day narrowing the window of patents available to other developers in the Virtual Reality field, they have shown that they believe in the idea and will take it to its limits.
On another note, rumored for quite some time and later confirmed, Sony unveiled Project Morpheus at the March GDC 2014. As a lifelong Sony fan-boy, it pains me to admit that they might be going in the wrong direction, once again. I am an advocate for keeping an open mind and again for pushing the limits, but I believe that Virtual Reality can’t stop with just video games. If Sony take the lead and pull ahead in the VR race, it will mean an amazing product coming to my home and video game experience, but would be a sad waste of potential if it was only around to be bound by the chains of a 3D Kratos. Sony has a long history of making risky decisions and I hope for their sake that their shareholders can see beyond what lies directly in front of them and are able to see the potential for a big picture outcome.
All of the hoop-la aside, my main concern lies in the continued support of said tech. It is very irritating to know that a wonderful piece of tech could be shoved aside like the PlayStation Vita has been. The Vita was priced at the launch appropriately and held up for a short period of time. Though too quickly the price had dropped and now sits at approximately $199. The problem with the price point for the device is the consumers have spoken with their wallets and too many have held off believing the dreaded thought of yet another PSP phase. This snowball effect spread among the developers causing many to duck out altogether. No new game’s means no incentive for advocates or potential recruiters, something that Graham has already talked about with his disappointment in the Vita.
Make me believe that investing in the tech that will expand or compliment my next-gen experience is worth the stretch… that it’s worth the cost of the new idea, or as some would put it, having to buy themselves into a new system and out of their old. For most consumers, a piece of hardware can look as good as the developers and producers want it to, and it can even run like a banshee, but if the price tag doesn’t fit neither will the sales numbers at the end of each quarter. A cost-effective solution is a must! And whilst it might grab less headlines, sometimes iteration over innovation is what the core consumer desires.