Challenges to the VR industry
And how they might be overcome
Challenge: The senses of sight and hearing being tricked by VR produce an incongruity with the rest of our body. In other words, seeing and hearing a roller coaster does not yet feel like riding a roller coaster.
Solution: Motion sickness has largely been solved through new screen technology like higher refresh rates and greater pixel density. Besides better HMDs, other equipment and creative solutions will be needed to mitigate the incongruity between what the brain sees and what the body expects to feel. Perhaps hydraulic machines that can simulate physical movement will make a comeback in arcades. For example, imagine a chair you sit in that moves in coordination with the virtual world to simulate the gut-wrenching centrifugal forces we expect.
Challenge: The keyboard and mouse were devices designed decades ago to manipulate objects on a two dimensional screen. While controllers may get the job done, they're far from ideal when it comes to controlling things in three dimensional space. Furthermore, moving in VR remains a massive challenge when pushing a joystick is so far removed from actually moving your legs. The question becomes: how do we create the illusion of limitless space in consideration of physical limitations?
Solution: Xbox controllers are temporary solutions to the input problem, but new motion sensing controllers like the Sixense STEM are the way of the future. The STEM system precisely recognizes where your hands are in space and manipulates digital arms in true 1:1 motion. A company called Tactical Haptics is working a controller that simulates weight and tension through sliding bars on its handle. Meanwhile, the Virtuix Omni attempts to solve the problem of movement through an omni-directional treadmill.
Challenge: Current 3D modeling and game development tools have a steep learning curve and are inaccessible to the average consumer. Even with programs like Unity and Maya, creating 3D models and VR games is too difficult and complex for the average consumer.
Solution: In order for VR to be successful, VR content (i.e. games, experiences, and 3D models) needs to be abundant and easily creatable. World-building software that makes putting together basic rooms and environments faster and more intuitive must be created.
On the other hand, software like Sixense's MakeVR have the potential to democratize 3D modeling. Combined with the Oculus Rift and their STEM controller, Sixense is on a path to making the first mass-market 3D modeling software.
Challenge: If the past few years serve as any kind of example, we are practically guaranteed to see a Fox news special on the "dangers" of VR. Countless news stories falsely connecting video games to violence have surfaced in the past decade; there will be more. Members of the media who don't quite understand VR are sure to take aim at the medium for its ability to "train" mass-murderers.
Solution: While media backlash may be fierce in the years to come, VR will gradually become accepted as form of art. While VR is supposed to simulate aspects of real life, the important distinction is that it is not real life. VR proponents need to stand their ground when asked about the medium's potential negative uses.
Challenge: Today's Oculus Rift requires a wired connection to an expensive PC in order to run games smoothly. This presents a huge barrier to entry to everyday consumers and may be one of the toughest technical challenge Oculus faces.
Because it's only for developers right now, VR also requires a lot of setup. Currently, gamers download VR content from random links and keep all their files in folders. When opening
Solution: The Rift (as well as other HMDs) needs to be plug-and-play easy. Think of how little friction there is to watch TV: simply grab a remote, press a button, and you're watching something. That's how VR needs to work. The Rift desperately needs an official centralized app store to find and download the best content.
In terms of wires, the Rift will eventually become a stand-alone platform with an embedded computer and graphics chip. It makes most sense for it to run on Android, but perhaps Facebook will pressure Oculus into developing their own operating system so they have control over the entire platform from end to end.
Challenge: VR is slowly creeping into the public consciousness, but only technologists and super-nerds know about it for now. Unfortunately, a negative stigma associated with sticky arcades of the 90s and massive, vomit-inducing headsets still exists. Furthermore, many will dismiss VR as an escapist technology, arguing that it isolates you from people and problems in the real world.
Solution: In this early industry, building a community of like-minded people who want to see VR succeed is incredibly important. It is the job of VRLA and other meet ups to promote VR as a tool for creative expression and positive change around the world. It is our duty to not only make people aware of VR, but destigmatize it as an isolating and potentially dangerous technology.
Challenge: The biggest hurdle Oculus faces in terms of marketing is the difficulty involved with communicating the feeling of VR through mere words and pictures. VR, by its very nature, must be experienced to be fully understood.
Solution: Before the public at large knows about the Rift, Oculus could set up pop-up stores demonstrating their device and its capabilities. They could also set up a road trip in some kind of PR stunt, introducing consumers to VR from state to state. Beyond that, advertisers will have to come up with clever ways to express what VR feels like. Two key parts of their slogan could be: "Go Anywhere. Be Anyone."
April 7th, 2014