Why I’m still not convinced by VR and AR gaming

By Alex Maidment (nSanity Beach)

The first time I tried proper gaming VR was a few years back – it wasn’t at a fancy expo or a game or technology shop, it was in a shopping centre on a pop-up stand run by a cereal company selling a new product. I already know what you’re thinking…

But, let me caveat the above by saying the set-up was the real-deal – it was an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and the game demo was Mirror’s Edge. It was pretty damn cool!

At the time, I remember being very aware that I was sitting in the middle of a busy shopping centre having a go on VR, with a random person guiding my head down so often – why down? Because the headset wasn’t particularly well calibrated so it was all slightly out of whack!

As if this part of the experience wasn’t awkward enough, I definitely felt a little bit motion sick after taking the headset off.

Fast forward to today and I’ve actually experience VR and AR gaming quite a few times in different formats, from the HTC Vive to newer Oculus Rift headsets and most interestingly, the new Magic Leap AR headset.

The experiences I’ve had since the shopping centre (or mall, for the Americans…) have actually all been very good. It just goes to show that when calibrated properly, it’s a great experience. The technology has also come a long way meaning you don’t have to rely on a big hefty gaming PC to run VR anymore and you can actually just buy a headset.

In many senses, it’s finally becoming a more accessible gaming medium.

Despite all of this, I’m still not quite convinced by virtual and augmented reality for gaming. It’s an ace example of how the industry is changing and how the technology has come a long way but there’s something about all of my experiences that stop me from wanting to go and buy a headset and play it at home.

Part of it is likely the cost – while it’s dropped massively in price, you’re still looking at a few hundred quid to thousands of pounds depending on what you go for.

Of all my recent experiences, the Magic Leap AR headset was the most convincing due to the mix of seeing other things around me as normal and the Angry Birds game being overlaid on a coffee table. It was also very fun to play.

Of the two technologies, I can imagine AR becoming a more interesting market offering for a few reasons, firstly, it doesn’t completely immerse you, which can be an odd sensation, secondly, there could be some amazing game applications where the AR headset acts as additional information laid over the top of the game and thirdly, the headset wasn’t nearly as clunky to put on and was quite comfortable. The downside – it’s very expensive at the moment!

So on to VR, a medium that’s already hot in the market with a lot of options – the core reason I’m not convinced by it: it’s too immersive. Yes, that’s right, too immersive.

I love to kick back and play games and lose myself in the world of campaigns and multiplayer, but I also like to interact with friends when playing and I like a dose of reality every now and then. Further to this, most of the games I’ve played in VR involved arm and body movement, great for exercise, not so good for feet up on coffee table gaming.

VR and AR will only improve in the coming years and I personally think it’ll either go mainstream in gaming in 5 years or dead in 3 years and I don’t really mind which! It’s definitely got the potential to pull me in and I actually like the idea that I’ll be eating my own words in a year’s time and rewriting this very article with corrections!

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