The VR Hype just keeps getting dumber. So this recently at Oculus Connect…
To which I have one thing to say;
Been here, done that, still a dumb idea, but 20 years later we should know better right? Nope. Way back in 1995 when my colleagues and I were designing the Direct3D API there was a lot of enthusiasm for emerging VR technology. New head tracking technology and high resolution LCD displays had made it possible to make light weight VR glasses affordable to the masses. I worked closely with really cool, really hot VR technology leader of that era, Virtual IO to define the DirectVR API. At the time there were two really promising VR technologies entering the market. Virtual IO like gear that was the early ancestor to the modern snorkel mask VR everybody is dying to wear for some reason and my personal favorite, shutter glasses. I worked closely with Nvidia to support stereo shutter glasses early on and they have gone through several iterations of supporting and promoting them over the subsequent TWO DECADES.
Now I know there is a whole new generation of millennials who were born after the dark ages of VR tech who think that VR was just invented when the OculusRift was announced but the truth is that VR has been tried and failed repeatedly over the last two decades. The reason VR consistently fails has nothing to do with the technology not being good enough, not having enough games or content support, not being cheap enough or any of that nonsense. VR as we know it today is a bad idea and will continue to fail because of a persistent failure to understand how our minds generate our experience of reality and a failure to appreciate how lazy and lawsuit prone we are.
To help future technotards avoid the pitfalls of their ancient predecessors I have formulated a handy reference to the 8 Laws of VR failure to help future generations avoid wasting billions of VC dollars on the same dumb ideas over and over.
Now lets review a brief list of famous VR technology fails against our Laws to see if we can figure out what went wrong?
Notice that the VR and AR goggles hit the largest number of these points? Ironically as an expert in gaming technology, the one application for VR that one might think had the biggest market opportunity gaming, is the worst for VR devices. Like Microsoft Kinect, Guitar Hero and the Wiimote they may have a brief novelty value for a truly original game but the negatives will wipe the market out as they always do the second the novelty wears off. Lets get real here. Nobody is going to tolerate people playing AR games in public places, at work or in their cars. No parent will pay for a device that enables their kids to crash around the house chasing invisible creatures. You may be allowed to enjoy your VR scuba mask sitting in the comfort of your arm-chair pawing futilely at the air as long as you dont swivel too much and bang your knee on the coffee table and sue The lawyers kill these brilliant technology revolutions far quicker than the market does.
Consumers had amazing haptic input devices available to them in the 1990s, lawyers killed them! Consumers had amazing VR scuba goggles available to them back when most TVs were still in tubes, nobody likes wearing heavy crap on their faces! People made amazing VR open world MMOGs with open economies and they immediately turned into the most violent depraved communities on the Internet. Second Life was my personal favorite because it was funded by the Valleys most prestigious VCs. The game got nothing but glowing media coverage about how amazing virtual economies were and people making millions on virtual real-estate but anybody who actually played the thing knew it was basically a 24/7 virtual orgy site and anybody entering the world for the first time was generally bombarded with flying penises. As Facebook prominently demonstrated the only way to get people to behave in a somewhat civilized manner in online communities was to force them to use their real-identities and link them to their mothers which is kind of the opposite of what people want from a virtual experience. MMOGs are the only examples of truly successful large-scale commercial virtual worlds, of course these games impose stringent controls on the range of social dynamics they tolerate from their communities and generally require enormous moderator staffs to supervise them. So the only successful examples of virtual communities allow you to assume a fantasy persona of your choice as long as you accept police state like supervision of your social interactions with others and confine your online relationships to those approved by the game operator.
Think about the demo we actually just saw from Facebook this week. You can wear a mask to hide your identity and precisely control your expressed emotions preventing the other participants in the community from knowing who you really are or if you are expressing yourself honestly. You can interact with one another in what might look like a beautiful virtual world as long as you actually stay put and dont move around at all costs. If you ACTUALLY move naturally you risk hurting yourself and if you move virtually, its a vomit ride. The VR communities consumer promise to us is that in a few years this bad experience will look more realistic.
UPDATE: I can’t make this stuff up;
For those of you new to my blog, here are links to a few of the many VR related stories I’ve told over the years.