Facebook gave its third annual Oculus Connect conference, showcasing some of the upcoming tech for the Oculus Rift VR set and revealing more details about what the Oculus will actually do (outside of causing epidemics). It all seemed... well, a bit uninteresting from a gaming perspective, to be honest.
I fully admit, part of this is because I haven't kept up with the VR scene as much as I could have been and part of it is because some of the conference jargon was definitely aimed at the kind of crowd that would be invited to a conference in the first place. But as someone interested in VR's effect on the future of gaming, I couldn't help but feel like the Oculus may be something that I wait on purchasing.
No, I Don't Expect VR To Be Exclusively About Gaming
Back in 2015, the co-founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, did an interview with Re/code wherein he stated the following:
"And [the confusion over Facebook acquiring Oculus] made sense in the context of a gamer looking at it. It’s worth remembering that virtual reality has never always been about gaming. Any real virtual reality enthusiast can look back at VR science fiction. It’s not about playing games … 'The Matrix,' 'Snow Crash,' all this fiction was not about sitting in a room playing video games. It’s about being in a parallel digital world that exists alongside our own, communicating with other people, playing with other people."
I absolutely agree with this view of virtual reality. It should not be pigeonholed into being purely for gamers — the possibilities for VR extend well beyond gaming. Virtually hanging out with friends across the globe in a shared space, learning and teaching in a virtual classroom, creating simulated worlds for no reason other than to escape, or even using VR as a way to practice medical procedures — there are seriously a lot of reasons developers should focus on more than gaming for VR.
But most of those reasons don't grab my attention as a gamer. They have me excited for the future of VR, mind you — but that's more about my love of seeing technology grow than it is my penchant for playing lots of video games.
Much Of The Oculus Connect 3 Seemed Focus On The Social Aspects Of VR
During the Oculus Connect 3, "Oculus Rooms" and "Oculus Parties" were introduced. These are both different ways to connect with your friends and see them in your virtual environment. Parties are sort of like group Skype calls, while Rooms are actual virtual rooms where you can hang out and do a variety of activities like playing games or watching movies.
Additionally, you'll be able to create a virtual Avatar for yourself so that your friends recognize Virtual You and so that hanging out will feel much more authentic. Again, what we saw here was pretty damn cool — but it didn't do much for me as a gamer.
This is all stuff I would love to do, but it's not stuff I would specifically buy an Oculus for. That's especially true while the gaming side of development is still underway. Were the Oculus to have a healthy backing of compelling, fun games, then all the social aspects would be icing on the cake. But right now, my primary interest in VR comes from the gaming side of things, which had a somewhat limited presence at the Oculus Connect 3.
Okay, So What About The Games We Do Know Oculus Rift Will Have?
It's worth mentioning that there were trailers for Oculus Touch games presented at the conference today. In fact, trailers for Arktika.1 (above), Lone Echo, and Robo Recall all showed some pretty good looking VR tech in action.
Unfortunately, none of them quite drew me in. Don't get me wrong, they look good and fun, but they also look very much like launch titles. What I mean by that is, Robo Recall seems to be an (admittedly very fun) robot-destroying shooter that looks a bit like a high-tech version of those House of the Dead-style arcade games.
Meanwhile, Lone Echo mostly hints at an ambiguous plot while showing off what it would be like to use your actual hands to aim a blowtorch/glove amalgam. These two games are clearly designed to show off what VR can do, and they succeed in that sense. But as a gamer, the tech alone isn't going to convince me to buy a brand-new system.
What did pique my curiosity was Arktika.1, which still leans on the VR tech but doesn't make it the primary selling point. What I see in the Arktika.1 trailer is a game with unique environments, an interesting backstory, and solid-looking gameplay. Arktika.1 is a game first and a VR showcase second. This is what I want more of.
The Oculus Is Still An Exciting Piece Of Technology
I don't mean to sound overly critical of the Oculus' VR. I am genuinely excited for where VR is headed. And to be honest, I haven't had the chance to play with VR myself. It could be something you need to experience to fully appreciate — I've definitely heard great things from those who have played with VR — but I'm not willing to spend the money to assure myself that the experience is worth it. Yet.
Granted, the games I talked about above aren't the only games that have been shown off for the Oculus so far, but they're still good examples of the variety of approaches being taken with Oculus games right now. They have their pros and they have their cons, and no matter how you look at it, they're still promising — but I need a little more convincing before the gamer in me is fully invested.
Are you interested in the Oculus and its VR tech? If not, what would it take to grab your attention?