2016 is going to be the year of VR isn’t it? By December 96.5% of the Western world is going to spend more of its waking hours in VR than reality.
While that statistic may be a complete fabrication, the time for VR to break out really is here. The 28th of March is the official launch date for the Rift and the SDK 1.0 is already in the hands of developers.
Even your mum may think she knows what ‘a VR’ is after Stephen Colbert tried out a HTC Vive on The Late Show.
Despite all of that, 2016 is more likely to be the year you hear people talk about VR, rather than the year you spend much time with a headset on your face.
The main thing keeping people from escaping from the imperfections of the real world is VR's extremely high barriers to entry – both in terms of hardware requirements and price.
Sure, anyone can strap a Google cardboard to themselves, but truly compelling VR requires serious hardware. '
Oculus’s recommended card, the GTX 970 might well show as the most popular graphics card on Steam's Hardware Survey, but less than 5% of all users own one. It’s bigger brother the 980 makes up an additional 1.1% of users, while the top tier 980ti doesn’t even enter the charts.
Pre-existing gamers are going to be VR’s easiest converts. They're the audience most likely to buy into the hype and, more importantly perhaps, they're the most likely to have (or be willing to buy) the hardware to run the headsets.
As it stands today though, less than one in 10 is able to meet or exceed Oculus’s recommended hardware specification.
You'll need a bloody high end PC
Fortunately, for those without a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money to dive into, both AMD and NVidia have their next generation of GPUs due out this year, which may mean GTX 970 level performance for around £150.
This would certainly put a compatible graphics card into the realms of affordability for many, even if the £500 cost of actual the Rift is still too high to hide from your significant other.
VR also has to deal with the same chicken/egg scenario that new console launches almost always face. VR's initial install base, and thus for potential pool of game buying customers, is likely to be very small when compared to the mobile, console, or PC.
This creates a problem for Oculus or HTC/Valve - how do they convince third party developers to invest time and money either porting their game to VR, or taking the even bigger risk of developing a VR game from the ground up with such a small install base?
Some developers may be willing, and financially able, to take the risk that comes with developing for such a small platform.
If you're one of just a handful of developers with a full, polished game on a platform like VR, then chances are that a high percentage of the audience will be willing to pick up a copy.
Indeed, just last week Palmer tweeted about his high expectations of attach rates for VR games - essentially saying that he believed once a user had a taste of a good experience they would then want to go out and try them all.
The other strategy to attract platform adoption is the same used by Sony and Microsoft, where the hardware manufactures themselves directly fund the creation of VR games, either in a first or third party capacity.
VR Rock Band is basically like performing a live show in VR
Oculus is very much committed to this approach, announcing an exclusive deal with Harmonix - makers of ‘Rock Band’ - to bring a VR version to their headset, in addition to working with Playful Corp on Luckeys Tale and CCP on space combat game ‘Eve: Valkyrie’.
Valve hasn’t been quite so forthcoming, with no mention, so far at least, of any Valve funded or Valve developed games for the Vive. If it does have a game still to be announced, it’s likely Valve will reveal all on February 29th, the day Vive Preorders go live.
If not, then it'll be relying very heavily on third party developers to create truly compelling content to drive consumers to the platform.
Content and price aside, perhaps the biggest hurdle for VR in 2016 is its reputation. This is not the first time that VR has been touted as just around the corner.
Will it make me sick?
Followers of VR will know that this time, it's the real deal, but for casual gamers, skeptics, and everyone else there are still some questions to be answered.
Won’t it make me nauseous? Isn’t it a just a gimmick?
Movie studios, television manufacturers and cinema chains have spent the last 5 years convincing everyone that 3D is the next big thing, but in 2016, the reality is that it’s probably less popular than it was upon release.
With 3D being one of the key features that makes VR so compelling, the industry is going to have to take steps to distance itself from the failing technology in the minds of the general public. It doesn’t help that they both require users to wear something on their face.
On top of that, although HTC is an established brand, very few outside of the gaming population will have heard of Oculus, let alone how the ‘Rift’ might benefit their existence.
It has recently come to light that Apple is assembling a VR team, but it's likely to be some years before it brings its legions of disciples to the industry.
For 2016 then, as well as high quality content, the industry will be relying very heavily on the marketing teams at Valve and Oculus at the high end, and Google at the lower end.
And those teams will need to find ways to convince enough people to buy into VR, or even sell them on the idea of VR, to create a self sufficient ecosystem.