What virtual reality needs to succeed in 2016.
This could finally be the year that virtual reality takes off. Gamers have sought more and more immersive experiences over the years, and long dreamed of headsets that make them feel like they’re inside new worlds, but now that dream seems closer than ever.
In just a few short months, the long-awaited PC virtual reality headset Oculus Rift will launch. Sony is expected to release its own headset, the Playstation VR, for use with the Playstation 4 later in the year, and beyond that there are already other options available for smartphones and tablets.
But if history is an indication, just because they work great doesn’t mean peripherals will sell well (just look at the Sega CD), and the public can be wary of VR (just look at the Nintendo Virtual Boy). If these virtual reality headsets are going to succeed, they need to be treated like big console launches, and these are the three most important lessons VR headset makers can learn from the big three console makers.
The Nintendo Lesson: Innovation
The Oculus Rift retails for $599, which is almost enough to buy both an Xbox One and a Playstation 4 right now. So Oculus better have some amazing games up its sleeve to get gamers to shell out that kind of money, because right now it just seems like a really fancy way to play Half-Life 2 and Project CARS.
Nintendo hasn’t always had the best hardware launches, but when it’s had hits, it’s hit big. Take for example Super Mario 64. It doesn’t look like much today, but the game was mind-blowing when demo kiosks went up in 1996. Gamers had never before been able to traverse huge, open levels or move a character around with an analog stick. Analog controls are something we all take for granted now, but 20 years ago no one ever thought you could use a control stick to directly control the speed of a character.
Nintendo again showed how it could completely re-think games when it released the Wii in 2006. Again, we all think of the Wii as kind of simplistic now, and its library did eventually devolve into a pile of wiggle-happy shovelware, but the system was full of promise when we first got our hands on it a decade ago. With Wii Sports, you could directly control the spin of a bowling ball or how hard you wanted to a swing a baseball bat with a flick of your wrist. And regardless what you think of its final implementation of motion controls (or their usefulness), there are very few experiences that compare to the first time you waggled your controller and Link swung his sword in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Never before did games give players so much direct control over the action.
The Oculus Rift may not be able to completely revolutionize how we play games, but it’s going to need something right off the bat that delivers an experience that only virtual reality can, like a world that reveals details you can only see with the headset, or puzzles that require wearing the Oculus Rift to solve.