From The Armchair: All Aboard The VR Hype Train

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums. It seems that barely moments after out last little chat about VR, Facebook caused the gaming community to fall off their bar stools in astonishment by buying Oculus Rift for a whacking great sum – $2 billion to be exact. Not exactly small change, but ’tis but a drop in the ocean for the hulking moneywhale that is Facebook. I must say, the move rather caught me on the hop, and it certainly had the community in uproar. The immediate reaction was one of horror that an ‘evil’ megacorp had stolen ‘our’ company to use for nefarious ends, probably involving FarmVille or Candy Crush, or some other such insidious free-to-play mugger game. But on the other hand, it could also be seen as a healthy sign that the technology we’ve all learned to love is finally, after years in development, about to wade out into the mainstream.

I sympathise with the naysayers in some respects, especially those who funded Oculus through Kickstarter using their very own cash, simply from a will to see the technology succeed. It highlights a very real problem with Kickstarter – namely that it works fine for small projects where the end result is simply a game that never would have been made otherwise, but when it comes to kick-started new technology, the backers end up short-changed. If those backers had bought shares in Oculus in the traditional sense of the word, they would now be on the receiving end of a healthy financial return thanks to Facebook’s money cannon, and more to the point would have a say in what happens to the technology. As it is, they’re left wondering what on earth will happen to the fantastic contraption that they helped into the world. Will it evolve into the revolutionary gaming machine that was sold to them? Or will it become simply a fancy gizmo for watching basketball ‘as if you’re in a ringside seat’, as Mr. Zuckerberg so bizarrely touted? Only time will tell.

Despite the Facebook buyout, or more likely because of it, the hype behind VR is escalating to absurd levels. This week the CEO of Epic Games claimed that VR will be “bigger than smartphones” – a comment that was rightly subjected to scathing scepticism. As I espoused from the comfort of my armchair last week, VR will be big, but not that big – the very fact that the technology requires one to don a medieval-style helmet necessarily limits its application, and this will instantly put off many people from using it. VR is unlikely to entirely usurp the more traditional way of playing games with a controller and TV, mostly because it still makes a lot of people feel sick, and fast-paced games really aren’t suited to the medium. I see it developing more along the lines of Kinect – a massive buzz will lead to rapid sales, but many will quickly dismiss the tech as a novelty. However, unlike Kinect, there will remain a dedicated and hardcore following who will wholly embrace the technology. Augmented reality systems such as Google Glass, on the other hand, are likely to become more mainstream, but I still doubt whether they will gain the market penetration of smartphones.

In other news, Amazon entered the console market. After a fashion. Their set-top box allows users to stream games, but mostly it appears to be focused on allowing purchasers to watch Amazon’s video content. The fact that the game controller is sold separately indicates that games are an afterthought, and I doubt many readers of A Most Agreeable Pastime will be enticed by the prospect of the hundreds of free-to-play games said to be in the works for the system – for this gentleman at least, the words ‘free-to-play’ have become synonymous with ‘we-will-attempt-to-rip-you-off’.

To be honest, I am left utterly clueless as to the market for Amazon’s Fire TV. Most gamers have consoles through which they can stream Netflix, etc. and aren’t interested in free-to-play games, and most non-gamers already stream such content through laptops, tablets or services like Sky. Add in the fact that Internet TVs are getting ever cheaper and offer the same streaming services, and I’m left pondering the point of Amazon’s new device.  Oh, and that controller looks awful, doesn’t it? Like a cheap knock-off of an Xbox One controller you might find on the local market, perhaps with a neon, star-shaped label attached, scrawled with “Genyuine X-boX 1 Controler! £9.99!!!!”

“Genyuine X-boX 1 Controler! £9.99!!!!”

Back in The Manor, it’s been an eventful week, as I finally finished both Fire Emblem: Awakening and L.A. Noire. Ms. D. and I were both impressed by the ending of the latter – which crescendoed in classic film-noir style. I’m saddened that our nights in with Cole Phelps and co. have come to an end, and I dearly hope that L.A. Noire 2 eventually emerges, although we may be in for a long wait. In the meantime, however, I’ve been consoling myself with the purchase of Steamworld Dig on the 3DS, which has proven to be an excellent buy… but I fear I’ve waffled on for too long already to tell you more: I shall leave that one for next time.


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