VR Is NOT Fun

By mrixrt | MRIXRT | 22 Apr 2021


I bought my Vive on June 8, 2016, and immediately jumped into the world of Virtual Reality! Since then, I’ve reviewed over 200 VR games, played hundreds more, streamed VR, shown it to friends and family, made it a central pillar of this very YouTube channel, gotten involved in the community, even made friends and viewers in major AAA game development studios who view this channel as a Go-To for VR related opinions and criticisms. In fact, our core VR viewership is made up by VR game developers.

Well, I’m happy to say that after two years I’ve made a decision.

VR is not fun.

Now if you’re a VR super fan, or you’re part of the incredibly vocal and passionate enthusiast community out there who views it as your job to help evangelize and spread the good word, you might already be disagreeing, writing up angry comments about how I’m a heretic and a traitor, but consider for a second that I’m totally right. Because I am.

The failings of VR are many, they are varied, and they are huge. That fact should be obvious even to the die-hards simply by looking around you and seeing how it is a small, vocal minority of super fans, instead of the revolutionary industry-sweeping all-encompassing paradigm shift we all wanted, expected, and are still expecting to come any day.

I feel this is most easily shown in my own VR reviews, perhaps biasedly, in the frequency we talk about the want, the need, for the Must Own VR Game. Something that everyone simply has to have. Is this the one? Is this? Could this be the one?

Indie developers, AAA developers, enthusiast modders, and everyone in between has taken a stab at creating this Prime game, and we’ve now had several full cycles of development--and with the exception of Valve’s own VR titles, released...someday...well everyone’s failed to produce that Prime VR game.

The die-hard VR user is likely to pull something completely random out of their pocket, like the nauseating Detached, or maybe they’re a PSVR fan so their favorite is Bridge Crew because of course it is, or maybe they’ll talk about Duck Season.

Less experienced VR users might bring up Skyrim thanks to recency bias and a sheer hunger for anything high quality. Perhaps they talk about Rec Room because it’s so open and accessible to all types of players. If you poke and prod, you can probably get them to say that Valve’s own The Lab was the best experience they had in VR for the first year or so of the platform’s existence-- since it was also the most heavily polished.

If you ask casual VR users, they’re going to tell you Resident Evil is the best VR on the market. They’ll also tell you it’s a compromised version of the non-VR game, and that they played it for 20 minutes but really liked it.

To a VR enthusiast, they’ll point to this and say it shows the breadth of the content available, that it can easily fulfill anyone’s desires.

However, if we look a bit closer at the casual user’s thoughts, it undermines that pretty quickly. The casual VR user thinks of VR as a super neat experience. It’s a 3D movie, worth paying $20 for a ticket for, enjoying for a couple of hours, and then putting away to ‘get some air.’

It’s super telling to me, personally, that basically no VR game sells 200,000 copies, with the exception of Tilt Brush which was bundled with all the early vive hardware. The two golden idols of VR are Job Simulator and Fallout 4 VR, one of which was a launch title in 2016 and essentially a playground that expertly demonstrates the fun of VR. Fallout 4 on the other hand  is a full price AAA title with massive marketing and the weight of one of the world’s largest game companies behind it. It sold somewhere around 80000 copies. Bayonetta 2 on the Switch, a barely upgraded port of the WiiU release, sold more than that. This week.

It’s not that the games are too expensive for what you’re getting, though they absolutely are, and it’s not the the games as a whole aren’t fun, though many of the trash asset swaps released every week aren’t. It’s that VR does not hold its users for more than a few minutes, maybe an hour, and then the player puts their games down and walks away.

The average playtime for many top selling VR titles seems to be somewhere around 3 hours, which is pretty consistent with my own experiences, and I can already see exactly how that 3 hour total comes together. A player buys a new game they’re excited about, spends time getting things set up in the game--learning the ropes--and then, plays for a few hours before getting tired and putting it away. Maybe they play for an hour or two, then come back to play for an hour or two, but the point is that there aren’t many people loading up games for the hundreds or thousands of hours that other titles see.

According to HTC itself, the average user plays for 5 hours a week, which isn’t a terrible number, but they also buy up to 24 ‘experiences’ a month, meaning they often spend less than a single hour in a single game.

Even when a winning VR title shows up, like Moss on the PSVR, there is often a debate about whether or not the title would be more enjoyable without the VR aspects at all. This is pretty terrible. The discussion around VR titles should never be “should it even be in VR.”

Most of this revolves around the fact that VR can’t seem to sell itself, and I blame a few different things.

First, I absolutely blame Samsung’s Gear VR for being the first experience most people have with VR overall. It’s not that it’s bad, but it isn’t the stunning overwhelmingly cool immersion that people expect--leading to a huge swath of users who say they have “done VR,” giving bad recommendations to new users who haven’t experienced it yet, and muddying the waters around the VR experience. This is because VR is so readily attached to the name, when in reality it’s more like 360 video.

Secondly, I blame the fact that there is no good way to show off what VR is like to non-VR users. Games can build huge success and virality through streamers, youtubers, and other content creation because players can SEE what the game is like. This is not true with VR, at all. You don’t get the sense of immersion, instead you get slightly disorienting head bobs and quick movements that don’t translate to a good viewer experience. In fact, when recording, I try very hard to move my head slowly, evenly, and only look at interesting things so that the viewer can at least attempt to understand what the experience MIGHT be like, and I would say that I fail at that 99% of the time.

And finally, the absolute lack of real world demo locations to try out the VR experience. I was not going to buy a Vive. I had no intention of doing so. I thought it was neat, but overpriced and kind of gimmicky. And then, while walking through a mall one day, the local Microsoft store had a Vive demo unit. There was no line, so I went in and tried it out. I then preordered my Vive immediately after getting out of the headset. It was that much of a game changer that I immediately changed my mind and bought into VR.

All three of these come down to the fact that it’s impossible to express to someone who doesn’t understand VR, or has never tried VR, or who has tried Fake VR, what exactly VR is, and why it’s so cool.

So, VR isn’t holding casual players attentions, most games get no playtime, and it’s hard to sell players who haven’t tried VR on VR itself. But the biggest problem, the problem I’m experiencing now, and I believe many people are going to start experiencing soon, is that most of the stuff in VR just isn’t great.

The sad fact is that Skyrim and Fallout 4 VR are not good VR games. They’re just the best we have. Players want longer, more in-depth, higher quality titles. Selling longer, in-depth quality titles means that selling 100,000 copies is not profitable. I don’t blame Bethesda for porting Skyrim and Fallout 4 into VR, but they ported those games because making a new game isn’t profitable. Skyrim originally cost somewhere around $100M, but it made only around $5M when ported to VR. That means this game would not exist in VR as a standalone product. And even with that huge development cost, sunk into the non-VR Skyrim version, it’s not a stellar VR experience. It’s alright, but it’s not Must-Have.

In fact, there’s few games that are even worth buying most of the time, and I would know. I have played hundreds of unreleased, AAA, indie, beta, alpha VR games. I’ve played games that were scrapped and never did a video on them, I played the newest hottest titles, the coop titles, the single player titles, the multiplayer titles, everything in between, and I can safely say that 70 or more % of the games are not worth buying.

They’re just not.

They’re horde shooters. Physics playgrounds. Tower defense games. Bow shooters. Some new trendy popular game modes from non-VR copy pasted into VR. Or often some combination of all of those. Rarely are they playtested, refined, or improved. Most of the time they sell so poorly that they never even get a single update. Or they are priced so completely outside of market expectations, because they are **V R** so the developer thinks they should charge 10x more. 

I am, sadly, excited not to have to review VR titles unless I really want to in my new format. I am excited not to have to play 6-8 VR games a week in order to find 3 that worth highlighting, and still end up showing poor quality games--games that more often than not fall into the physics-based wave tower defense bow shooter category.

When I get a game that is reasonably well put together, but otherwise unremarkable, I am surprised. When I play a game that feels 90% finished, it’s the best VR experience of the month. When I play something that does anything fresh or new, I make a 25 minute video about how you have to try this one because it’s at least different.

This is the state of VR gaming at this point, and it’s disgusting. I am still a VR fan, I love what it can do, but I’m not excited for VR. I don’t want to play VR. I am not excited to show off VR. I have lost my faith in VR overall.

And who knows, maybe Valve’s titles will change that. If they’re ever released, and they’re not just The Lab 2. 

Maybe I’ll find some way of affording the Vive Pro and it will be the revolution we need. I don’t think so, but I’ve learned that I need to actually try it in person before I can even start to assume. 

Unfortunately, the sad fact remains. VR isn’t fun. It’s not exciting anymore. And it’s impossible to relay anything that is exciting to others because it’s being relayed on a flat screen. Or they’re comparing to their experience with a mobile phone. And let’s face it, if you pay attention to a channel like ours that does a lot of VR previews and reviews, you’re going to start thinking VR is nothing more than wave-based shooters.

I have a lot of hope for VR in the future, but I don’t see a path to get there. One day maybe VR will be the fully immersive experience people saw in Ready Player One, and then it’ll be absolutely Must Have, but for now it’s decidedly not. I can’t help but worry that there’s no reason to buy one unless you’re a hardcore enthusiast. Or, a developer being forced to work on it.

I want to end this on a positive note, which is that VR is still the best social experience you’ll ever have. It’s incredible to ‘Meet’ someone in VR, and see them at their height, moving in their natural ways. Meeting a friend in Rec Room and treating them as more than a voice on the internet is really incredible, and I can see a lot of very cool ways to socialize and enjoy other’s company--even if you’re thousands of miles away from one another. And in that way, VR truly is revolutionary.

How do you feel about VR? Have you tried it? Or are you just a viewer who’s never been in VR, and can’t understand how it compares? Does it look bland or boring? Tell me your VR story.

 

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mrixrt
mrixrt

MRIXRT is Moriarty


MRIXRT
MRIXRT

Completely Biased. Video Game Critic & Digital Connoisseur. MRIXRT is Moriarty, and I create visual thinkpieces, or "Video Essays." My most popular videos focus on delivering complete histories of studios, genres, events, or specific games and their franchises. Articles are scripts of videos with minor additional editing.

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