TL;DR – Nobody knows what to do with it.
I actually like virtual reality games. I like my HTC Vive – except when the tracking bugs out and it stops working. But when it does work, it works well. That nebulous word, ‘presence’, actually has some meaning with VR games.
Except most VR games suck, and there’s no compelling reason to buy a HTC Vive, or an Oculus Rift, or any of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Or PSVR, for that matter. As much as I love the idea of VR, there are many reasons why I don’t play it very much, and why VR still hasn’t become the ‘must have’ gaming peripheral that so many people expected it to become. As much as I love my Vive, I rarely ever use it. Why? Probably for the reasons that most people don’t have a headset yet.
It Needs Lots of Space
Yes, you can stand in place and play VR games – but it’s much more fun if you’ve got some space to move. And therein lies the problem – to get the most out of it, you need space. And it isn’t just space to walk – it’s space to flail your arms around, space to lean, space to set up the tracking units so that they have good vision, and space to not hit anything accidentally when you forget where you are. That space requirement is going to be a big problem for a lot of people. If you can dedicate a room to it, it’s great – and I can sort of manage that in my house. But that space really has to be clear of pets, obstacles, and sometimes other people depending on how much of it you have. This is one of the major practical problems that remains difficult to solve for VR.
There’s a Lot of Setup
If I want to play a game outside of VR, I just launch it on Steam, or power on my Xbox and flop into a comfortable position. For a VR headset, I need to unpack it (because I don’t have the space to leave it lying around), connect up the power and the breakout box and the HDMI connector and the USB connector, power up the controllers, sometimes force Steam to start in VR mode, then wonder why the tracking lighthouse didn’t respond to the power on signal, then probably play with the headset straps to get it comfortable… and now I can play. It’s an imposition, and it stops me from playing more regularly. Granted, this might not be an issue for you – but for me, it sometimes borders on impractical. I’ll sit there and think “Yeah I’d like a go on GORN right about now…” but then remember the setup I’d have to go through, and go back to playing something else.
There Aren’t Many Good Games
This is, by far and away, the worst aspect of VR. It’s been a few years since VR really landed as something you could do in your own home, and so far nobody really seems to know what to do with it. My two favourite games are GORN and Hotdogs, Horseshoes and Handgrenades. Both are great VR games, but both feel more like expanded technology demos rather than actual proper games. The vast majority of titles that were build with VR in mind are the same – they’re fairly short, of highly variable quality, and there’s quite a bit of repetition among them (no more shooting galleries, H3 has already claimed that prize).
Those games that do have a bit of length to them are usually converted from existing games. I’ve played Skyrim in VR and it… wasn’t great. The UI is awful, the controls are a bit of a mixed bag (inventory management is an exercise in frustration), it doesn’t look particularly great (when you can play it in 1080p on a fucking toaster, or 4k on upper-mid range hardware), and a lot of it doesn’t translate well to VR. Once you get over the whole ‘I’m walking in Skyrim!’ it just becomes Skyrim, except it’s harder to control and thus more difficult to enjoy it. Same goes for Fallout 4 VR, except you can shoot guns.
Nobody seems to really know what to do with VR games – there’s a weird problem where nobody can make any worth playing for more than a few minutes at a time. Add to that the fact that there are few people with a VR headset to begin with, and fairly low tolerances for playing for prolonged periods, and you can see why there just isn’t that much to play. If you go through the Steam VR library, there’s a few gems, but there’s also loads of low quality trash that appears knocked up in Unity or something, while higher quality titles are very short or very shallow.
It’s games that move systems – just ask Microsoft about that with the latest console generation – and with VR, there’s very little that’s compelling enough to move systems. To paraphrase a man infamous for being unable to count to three: “There still isn’t that glQuake that convinced everyone to get a 3D accelerator card.” If Valve haven’t figured out what to do with it yet, it’s unlikely anyone else has.
Surprisingly, it’s probably Sony that did the best with VR titles – most of them are still a bit on the ‘demo’ side, but many of them end up being of reasonable quality with good presentation and gameplay, which is more than can be said for the bulk of the PC VR experiences, even if PSVR is an inferior headset all round.
It’s Still Too Expensive
If you want to get into the PC VR scene, you’re going to have to have a beefy rig to even get started. The better your hardware, the better the experience – and a sub-par VR experience is not only disappointing but frequently nauseating, because framerate is life for VR. Assuming you’ve got that, headsets aren’t cheap. They’re super expensive. Add on top of that the cost of games, and you’re in for one major expense on top of an already expensive hobby. PSVR is a lot cheaper to buy into, but it’s still not ‘cheap’ by most people’s definitions.
But even if it was cheaper (say for example when Windows Mixed Reality headsets hit mainstream), it’s still hard to justify buying one when there’s such little content worth experiencing. And I do mean ‘experience’ – because much of it are things you’ll play once and then never go back to!
It Isn’t Compelling After a While
LGR rambled on about the HTC Vive back in 2016, where he identified that games were lacking in depth, and that porting existing games isn’t going to fix anything. And that’s basically the truth. At some point, you just decide it isn’t worth the hassle of setting it up. You just go play something else. The headset sits there in a draw, waiting to be used, lighthouses lying dormant waiting for activation. There’s just nothing that compels me to set it up and use it like I did when I first got it. I can’t get engrossed in these games anymore. Setting the thing up seems like a chore now.
And that’s ultimately why I don’t care much for VR anymore – it’s just not worth it because there’s nothing much to play. Perhaps in the future they’ll come up with some VR games worth playing, but so far most of them are fairly disappointing, or nothing I’d want to play for extended periods.
If you’re looking to get a headset – hold off. Even 2 years after Clint raised his concerns in his 45 minute long video about the state of VR in 2016, we still aren’t any further along the road to a compelling reason to own one. Do I regret getting a Vive? Well, sort of. I won’t lie, when it’s good, it’s great, and I have had some fun with it. But after a while there just isn’t a reason to keep playing. It’s almost like forcing yourself to play something you bought in a Steam Sale despite the fact that it’s a chore to play… except it wasn’t on sale.