Virtual Reality: Niche or Mainstream Potential?

As of late, virtual reality is not just a future step for gaming industries, but is the most groundbreaking current technology. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Joseph D’Amato

In 2012, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, announced that he was creating a virtual reality headset that would allow users to see and interact with an all-immersive, virtual world. If you do not know what VR (virtual reality) is, or the rock you live under has poor reception, allow me to explain it in layman terms. These VR headsets project a stereoscopic image, which essentially tricks your brain into perceiving the image to be three-dimensional, while also adjusting the projection to your eye movement (thus being described as all-immersive).

Two years later, Oculus was acquired by Facebook and the excitement surrounding VR created the impression that this technology would forever transform entertainment. Gaming, television and movies would become an entirely new experience, enticing companies such as Google, Sony and HTC to create their own headsets and enter the emerging market.

Fast forward to 2017. All of the aforementioned companies have made their headsets publicly available, ranging anywhere from $15 for the Google Cardboard to $800 for the HTC Vine. Because of the availability, we have to assume that these companies feel confident in not only the VR technology, but the accompanying catalog of games, videos and other VR-compatible media. Despite the development and availability of these products, the chatter surrounding VR is not significantly greater today than it was five years ago, so the question becomes why has VR not been as disruptive as initially predicted? I have toyed around with a few of the available VR headsets and I believe the issue facing VR is similar to what we saw in the tech-sphere a few years ago when Microsoft introduced the Xbox Kinect.

For those who do not remember the Kinect, it is an Xbox add-on that includes a motion-sensor and voice-detection system, using the user’s movement as the game’s controller. When the idea was first introduced, gamers and techies alike were raving over how this would remold the gaming industry. According to Business Insider, Microsoft sold eight million Kinect devices within the first 60 days of its release, earning a Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling consumer device. Following the early media and consumer craze, the Kinect went from being “the next big thing” to nearly obsolete, raising more than a few questions.

One of the major faults of the Kinect was that it was released prematurely. The technology was underdeveloped and subsequently, the games which incorporated this technology were very remedial and lacked lasting appeal compared to traditional console games. I believe the inception of VR closely resembles that of the Kinect. Based on my own experience with VR, as well as the reviews of those whose headsets I borrowed, I found the feedback to be relatively uniform. While the idea is great and it is certainly a unique experience, there is not nearly enough stand-out VR content to create frequent users, nor is there an overwhelming desire among users to expand their catalog to include VR-compatible games and media.
Many groups, including Sony, overestimated how developed VR was for current markets. According to Game Industry, the 2016 sales forecast for Sony’s Playstation VR plummeted from 2.6 million to less than 750K due to “a fragmented title line-up” which supports the fact that there is just not enough excitement surrounding the under-developed content.

Though the argument can easily be made that better content will be made as the technology progresses, the same was true for Kinect at the time. When a product is introduced to the market, the expectation is that consumers are not receiving a beta or a glimpse of what that product might be. Rather consumers buy it because they assume that the product and its accessories are fully developed. Sure, Microsoft could have continued to develop more enhanced Kinect titles, but by the time Microsoft realized how underdeveloped its product was, demand had faltered entirely.
What distinguishes VR products from the failures of Microsoft’s Kinect is that VR is applicable to industries beyond gaming. If VR is able to match expectations, the landscape of gaming will undoubtedly change, but why use such limiting terms when talking about a technology that alters the way in which we both view and perceive motion-picture? VR provides developers the freedom to create fully immersive worlds from a blank slate, that fit perfectly to the user’s point of view. This allows VR technology to be integrated into fields such as film-making, healthcare, real-estate, construction, journalism, travel and military.

These applications are not as distant as one may think. Just the other day, my roommates and I were looking at apartments on Arthur Ave., and one of the units our realtor had in mind for us was undergoing interior renovation. After showing us the location and façade of the building, he had us use a VR headset, which placed us in a 3-D walkthrough of what would be the finished apartment (shoutout to our realtor Camilo).

Think about consumer processes that could benefit from similar VR simulations. In the travel industry, hotels may create virtual walkthroughs of rooms and the surrounding area so that potential customers can better envision their vacations. In healthcare, surgeons can simulate operation and hospital patients can virtually transport themselves to places more pleasant than hospital beds. It is because of this universal applicability that I am optimistic about the future of VR, despite the premature launch of VR headsets and content. Why such a disruptive product was released in its infancy stage is beyond me; however, this failed release is easily outweighed by the expansive potential of VR and its subsequent, global implications.

Joseph D’Amato, GSB ’19 is a finance major from Wykcoff, New Jersey.


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