Virtual reality has been around for centuries. Not commercially, keep in mind: aside from a brief explosion in the 1990s, the use of VR was restricted to some very specific areas. But the 2010s finally brought it back to light thanks to a 17-year-old who played in his parents ’garage. Oculus Rift sparked a new wave of excitement around virtual reality, with more media attention. Suddenly, everyone and their dogs began to develop headphones, drivers, and content for virtual reality. Even online casinos joined the race. Microgaming, a veteran of the industry, offered players a look at a future where we can play online blackjack and roulette in an immersive and realistic setting without having to leave the room. The project earned Microgaming the industry’s well-deserved recognition.
But a decade later, virtual reality seems to have remained a niche product, still awaiting its big break with the general public.
2020 could have been the big year of virtual reality. With millions of people locked up at home, virtual reality headsets could have been the answer to their escapism. Unfortunately, the reality did not live up to analysts’ expectations.
The virtual reality industry has struggled to top $ 1 billion (in sales per year) for quite some time. Apparently, it did in 2020, but it needed a global pandemic to surpass the $ 1 billion mark. This translates into about 6.4 million headphones sold to consumers. Of course, supply was also limited last year: the manufacturing challenges encountered during the first half of the year, as well as the launch of the two most important game consoles towards the end, offset quite the numbers in 2020.
According to the company of technical analysts Omdia, the penetration of virtual reality headsets in homes was still 1.2% at the end of 2020, much less the predictions fueled by the initial enthusiasm about the technology that we saw in the early 2010s.
Omdia analyst George Jijiashvili expects RV to be present in 3% of all households by 2025. But by then, the platform will have to overcome a major hurdle:
If you’re wondering “how many major gaming franchises have a successful VR version,” the answer is exactly one: Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx, released in 2020. The first Half-Life game in ages was a bit disappointing for the average fan (after all, it was a VR exclusive), but it also increased sales of Valve’s Index headphones just before the holiday season.
There are many other virtual reality hits available today, ranging from immersive adventures like Lone Echo to intense shooters like Superhot VR or the casual game based on Beat Saber music. Still, the lack of VR content from the top names in game development seems to be holding back the industry. VR still lacks “really engaging content,” as Jijiashvili said.
Since virtual reality doesn’t have the massive and engaging content library that PC and console games have, it will play, at least for now, the third violin with the other two. And it’s the chicken and eggs dilemma once again: users are reluctant to invest in virtual reality headsets until there’s an attractive game library they can play with and game developers are reluctant to change resources. to the development of virtual reality games until a sufficiently large set of potential customers is reached.
RV started out as one of the most exciting entertainment innovations of our time. Right now, it looks like it’s becoming the “next big thing” that was anticipated, but slower than expected.