"Virtual reality is the future of gaming." Surely, you've heard this statement before from some game or hardware company's press conference or seen it on an ad. But, with E3 2016's major reveals out of the way, I have to break it to you:
It is the truth.
And, before you get up in arms over whether I've drank a big fat gulp of the Kool-Aid, I'm not speaking in hyperbole and this isn't simply "IMO", like the cool kids say. I'm just looking at the surprisingly long catalog of key, iconic entertainment franchises that have revealed their deep dives into VR gaming this week. I'll just list a few here:
- Resident Evil 7
- Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission
- Batman Arkham VR
- Final Fantasy XV VR Experience
- Fallout 4
- Star Trek: Bridge Crew
- Doom VR
Not only are these some of the most storied franchises in gaming history, but entertainment history to boot. Save for RE7, Doom and Fallout 4, you can only experience the next entries in these series with a headset on.
That's rather compelling, if you ask me, and I haven't even dug into the seminal games and film franchises that already have VR experiences, like Alien: Isolation, Minecraft and Temple Run.
VR is the future of gaming because the game makers have said so.
Say it with me one more time: 'content is king'
Somehow, various game development studios have convinced their publishers (or vise versa) to go whole hog on expensive VR technology, throwing their biggest properties into the mix. This point is key.
There are countless original VR games out there already since the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive landed earlier this spring, and they look incredible. But none of them yet have allowed you to become goddam Batman.
That's the magical difference that's going to seal the deal for VR; gamers will go where the coolest, biggest new games are, no matter the cost – eventually. (They hope.)
VR hardware manufacturers and big-time game developers alike have gotten into the ears of the publishers (or the other way around probably in some cases) with the idea that VR is the next technological leap that gaming customers will expect. And, it looks like – likely after putting a headset or two on – the publishers were convinced.
Don't believe me? Allow me to remind you that the video game industry was in the midst of a watershed moment just like this almost 20 years ago exactly.
Déjà vu with double vision
Those old enough can remember a time when almost every video game was flat – literally two-dimensional, but nevertheless fun. Then, as the '80s turned into the '90s, 3D graphics emerged as a reality, first with games like Alone in the Dark and Doom.
The latter of which supposedly forced companies, like Intel and Lotus, to ban employees from playing the game during work hours. Doom is widely regarded among the most important games of all time.
Early 3D games like these spurred a seachange in which about every major gaming franchise of the time – Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, etc – committed to 3D graphics unwaveringly. Coincidentally, many of those games are too considered among the most important ever.
There isn't necessarily a date that can be drawn on a timeline to demonstrate when 3D took over the industry, but one glance at the annals of gaming history will tell you it's there. In fact, we're at a time now when just two dimensions in games is seen as "a rare novelty" or a "brave artistic choice."
This then-new technology – and the gamers wowed by it – increasingly demanded new and more powerful (and more expensive) hardware, demand for which has been met in earnest by Nintendo, Sega and Sony among other PC component firms ever since. And, the industry has yet to slow down.
If you could say that 1996 was the year of 3D's "arrival", then 2016 certainly feels like the arrival of VR.
Today, we're met with an incredibly immersive – and incredibly expensive – new technology that seems to have similarly captured the imaginations of gamers. Well, it seems more of a mixed reaction, honestly.
But, this isn't 1996 anymore
Why? Because the gamer of 1996 is very different from the gamer of 2016. In 1996, kids (myself included) voraciously read and implicitly trusted every word that was printed in Nintendo Power – a marketing tool masked as a magazine. (Beautifully written, though.)
In 2016, gamers are reading forums like NeoGAF and 4chan, or getting their news and commentary from YouTube stars or simply relying on their social networks. The internet and social media have turned gamers into arguably the most discerning – or downright cynical – audience in entertainment.
Unchecked cynicism doesn't sell games or consoles nearly as well as unchecked marketing missives. While not exactly a statistical study, just look at what my closest friends think of VR having seen this year's E3 announcements:
Yeah, they're not exactly thrilled about the whole thing.
The expectations of VR couldn't be higher already – and rightfully so when you're strapping a $600 piece of plastic and silicon to your face.
It's safe to say that these reactions are neither unique nor unwarranted. But, with some of geeky entertainment's biggest names requiring us to strap on headsets to experience the next chapters in (or angles of) their stories, it looks like our fandom will be put to the test.
Contrary to popular belief, game developers and publishers are smart. They're only going to put more major franchises behind the visor in hopes of drumming up demand and sales.
Whether gamers come busting down the doors or get dragged in kicking and screaming, VR is the future of gaming, and a Change.org petition isn't likely to change that.
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