VR’s been around for nearly two years now, yet the technology still seems both otherworldly and peripheral. While anyone who tries on an Oculus, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR headset is likely to be blown away by the experience, VR hasn’t yet taken the market by storm.
So is it time yet for you to cut yourself off from the world and see what the fuss is about? Is VR worth it yet in 2018? In this article we look at the general state of VR today.
The VR Market Is in Good Health, with Caveats
A crucial thing to know for those sitting on the fence is that VR sales aren’t faltering, which means that developers will continue to make games for the major platforms, and the tech won’t be abandoned a year or two down the line.
Forecasts suggest that the VR market will grow by 50% each year over the next four years. This is driven by steadily decreasing prices, more choice of headsets, and by consistently big sales of smartphone headsets like the Gear VR. Oculus appears to be just ahead of Vive in sales, but this is offset by the fact that HTC make more money per headset.
Much of this growth is driven by mobile VR sales, however, and it’s not all digital sunshine and virtual rainbows on the PC and console fronts. Both Sony and Oculus VR’s Matt Conte have come out and said that the VR market isn’t where they’d hope it would be in 2018. Sony said that growth was “below expectations,” while Conte said the following:
“I’m not going to mince words: VR is still small. There’s not as many headsets out there as we thought there might be a couple of years ago.”
Calling VR a “niche,” Conte stressed that Oculus encourages its developers to sell their games on all platforms to give VR the exposure it needs. There’s a hint of urgency among the big-platform VR manufacturers, and the following section may help explain why.
There STILL Aren’t Enough Great Games
When we wrote up our analysis of VR gaming last year, we pointed out that games continued to largely feel like novelty experiences rather than fully fleshed-out games dedicated to the platform. We also said that Bethesda’s work on VR versions of Fallout 4, Skyrim and Doom was a promising sign that mainstream publishers were willing to support VR, hopefully encouraging others to do the same.
With the exception that the aforementioned games have now been released, not that much has changed. Skyrim and Fallout VR are solid and very immersive experiences, but they’re clearly not “Made for VR.” The fact that at E3 2018 Bethesda announced dedicated VR spinoffs of Wolfenstein and Prey (rather than just VR versions of the existing games) suggests that they’re trying to focus more of bespoke VR experiences, which is good news.
There have been some other interesting developments, too. At E3 2018, From Software (of Dark Souls fame) revealed an intriguing VR-only adventure game, while Oculus announced a Zelda-like open-world adventure called Stormland. These games look fully-fleshed out – the kinds of titles you’d genuinely want to play whether they’re VR or not – but really we ought to be seeing many more of them.
For some the technological marvel of VR may be enough, and the hundreds of pretty-yet-gimmicky experiences that have defined the platforms until now have plenty of “wow” entertainment value. But looked at with a bit of critical distance, the lack of quality VR games continues to frustrate.
In short, VR is still awaiting a bumper gaming year to really blow us away.
You Have Tons of Choice, Which Is Both Great and Confusing
The idea of being “priced out” of buying a VR headset isn’t really an issue any more for the average consumer. Yes, the best VR games are on PC and PSVR rather than mobile, but as we’ve said, the gaming market is yet to bloom, so you’re not missing out on too much if you go for a mobile/standalone headset rather than PC/PS4.
Also, both Oculus and HTC have now released cheaper “standalone” versions of their VR headsets in the forms of the Oculus Go and HTC Vive Focus. Both these headsets are wireless and don’t require a computer but are less powerful and confined to mobile-level gaming catalogues rather than PC.
The following are the main VR headsets you need to know about.
PC: Oculus Rift ($400) and HTC Vive ($500)
These are the standard VR headset options for PC users. They’ve dropped in price a fair bit since launch and remain technically impressive bits of kit. For those with sufficient PC hardware, a bit of money to spare, and a burning desire for experiences like Skyrim in VR, they may be worth a shot, though they both really ought to have better gaming catalogues by now.
Standalone/Wireless: Oculus Go ($199) | HTC Vive Focus (approx. $600 in China – not yet available in Western markets)
Negating the need for a decent gaming PC, Oculus and HTC’s standalone headsets, both out this year, are looking very impressive. Oculus Go uses the same games library as Gear VR, while HTC Vive Focus has its own library at Viveport and is also working on streaming Steam games from your PC.
If you’re wondering why the Vive Focus costs so much more, that’s because it’s more tech-heavy, with hand-tracking and its ability to have 6D0F movement tracking, tracking your movements in real-time around the room much like the PC Vive headset. The Vive Focus has only been released in China thus far, where it’s selling very well and making its mark.
High-end: HTC Vive Pro ($1400)
The most powerful VR headset on the market, capable of offering a spectacular experience with its 2880 x 1600 (615 dpi) resolution and improved ergonomics. With that said, you’ll need a very powerful PC to get the most out of it, and the VR gaming library just doesn’t justify it yet. If we had all the money in the world though …
Mobile: Gear VR ($120) | Google Daydream ($50-$100) | Merge VR ($45) | Many more
The entry-level option is to get a smartphone VR headset, which attaches to your phone to the front of for a surprisingly impressive VR experience. Of course, phones are much less powerful than PCs and consoles, so don’t expect the same kind of searing graphical fidelity, but at these price points, you don’t have too much to lose in giving it a go.
On both smartphones and the “big” platforms, VR games continue to (mostly) be novelty experience; the difference is that the price of a mobile VR headset ($40 – $100) reflects this, while the $400 Oculus Rift and $500 HTC Vive don’t. (Let’s not even get started on the $1000+ HTC Vive Pro.) The tech is worth it; the games just aren’t.
The PSVR and Oculus Go, both priced at under $200, represent a decent balance of value-for-money and technological prowess; the PSVR is the more powerful option (particularly with a PS4 Pro), while Oculus Go is wonderfully faff-free by being standalone. On balance, these two seem like the best entry-points into VR.
If VR still feels like a new frontier for you, then there are reasonably-priced options out there to give it a dabble. Those who have tried their fair share of VR headsets without buying one yet and are looking for truly groundbreaking games to get immersed in, may have to wait a little longer.
Until the VR games market really starts to flourish, or alternative uses such as virtual tourism find their feet, VR’s excellent technology and potential still feel largely untapped. It can be worth it, depending on what you need and your budget, but for the average consumer the pricier PC options are yet to justify themselves.
This article was first published in September 2017 and was updated in July 2018 to reflect the latest updates in VR technology.