Techies of all varieties constantly look forward to the next great revolution. For video gamers, that revolution promises to be virtual reality. Countless new companies have emerged to research and develop virtual reality hardware, while existing video game authorities like Sony and Microsoft are doing everything they can to push for faster development in their own organizations. The notion of virtual reality, done right, is certainly thrilling to the average gamer. But with so much hype being dragged out for so long, is it possible to meet such lofty expectations the genre has amassed?
The Scramble For Investment
If virtual reality (VR) was being worked on by a handful of isolated techies in a garage, it wouldn’t have generated nearly the hype that the technology currently enjoys. This level of enthusiasm is due almost exclusively to the number of major companies and venture capitalists who are going “all in” for its development.
Take, for example, Oculus Rift, one of the most notable brands in VR today. First emerging in the form of primitive prototypes back in 2014, its developers have constantly revised the device and postponed revealing a finished version until 2016. What really generated attention was the company’s acquisition by Facebook for $2 billion in March of 2014.
Facebook and Oculus Rift, of course, aren’t alone. Magic Leap is a competing VR company seemingly focused on more practical applications backed by Google. Video game studio Valve is now working with mobile company HTC for a VR product called HTC Vive. And, of course, the current leaders in the video game world, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are trying to get into the market with Project Morpheus, HoloLens, and NX, respectively.
Take also Boost, a California-based startup accelerator that has recently made virtual reality one of its core pillars of investment. Practically any startup with some kind of promising VR technology could easily pick up millions of dollars in funding, either through private investors, a startup accelerator or a partnership with a major tech firm that hasn’t already found a VR partner. The money is flowing fast.
The Long Game
What’s really interesting about this flood of investment is that it can’t possibly pay off anytime soon. Oculus Rift, possibly the closest company to completing a finished product, isn’t going to emerge until the first quarter of 2016. Even that date might be pushed if they feel their device isn’t ready for end users.
The hype will either build or fade away until VR is an old-news gimmick.
Most of the other startups I mentioned are still years away from final development. That means consumers will have years of waiting before they get their hands on the actual devices — meaning the hype will either build or fade away until VR is an old-news gimmick.
As VR hasn’t been extensively tested in a wide market, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to go over well upon its release. Extended use of a rotating VR headset could cause neck strain, and if it isn’t handled properly, can cause virtual reality sickness. These problems could lead to significant portions of the population who aren’t able to use VR headsets at all.
Consider also the wide field of VR developers. While many of these enterprises do offer some unique functionality to distinguish them from the group, such as Microsoft’s and Sony’s ties to console gaming, for many users, these will all blur into one. The diversity of devices available could feasibly be too much for the initial demand, resulting in lower than projected sales.
It’s almost impossible to tell when a classic investment bubble has formed — some major bubbles went almost completely unpredicted, while other bubbles were claimed to exist without any measurable consequences. Still, the diverse number of rising VR startups and the sheer number of dollars attributed to them seems like overkill. The technology is impressive, and in relatively high demand, but with so many people putting such high stakes on it succeeding, any blip of failure on the radar could set off a chain reaction that results in an over-funded, over-saturated market.
It’s impossible to say for sure how these technologies will develop, especially since we’re years away from solid products being available to the public. But the amount of attention and funding generated by these startups is momentous, and the technology has some huge expectations to live up to.