There Is No Room in My Life for PlayStation VR
If PSVR is the savior of virtual reality, virtual reality is in for a rough ride.
I am an angry dad on Christmas down on the floor trying to plug this goddamn PlayStation VR into the TV and it's a pain in the ass. It comes with a giant, color-coded instruction booklet for idiots, which is apparently what I am now because I can't make it work without reading it.
It's not that it's too hard. It's just too many boxes and cables for a living room that already looks like a rat's den in an abandoned RadioShack.
This is what a promotional image for PSVR looks like:
And this is what my life looks like:
It'll probably take you 15 minutes to set up, but then you have to figure out how to use your space. PSVR uses the PlayStation camera to track the move controllers and headset, so it needs a clear view. The headset itself is also tethered, meaning that no matter where you choose to sit there's going to be a heavy cable between you and the PlayStation 4.
In my living room, it made more sense to move the coffee table aside and sit or stand in the middle of the room, which means I have to move furniture before I play a PSVR game. This is not ideal.
Also not ideal is that the headset itself is not comfortable to wear for more than 30 minutes at a time. Out of the high-end class of VR headsets—including the Vive and Oculus Rift—it is the easiest to take on and off, especially if you wear glasses. This makes sense given that Sony has been designing mass consumer, ergonomic products for more than 20 years, while Oculus and HTC have not.
Sadly, the PSVR is still a pretty heavy thing to wear on your head (1.3 lbs compared to the Rift's 1.0 lbs), which despite Sony's best attempts to distribute weight, is going to rest too hard either on your forehead, at the base of your skill, or above your ears. It is tolerable, but it is not comfortable by any definition of the word that I am aware of.
Now let's pretend that none of this is a problem and that we all live in spacious lofts and have very numb and sturdy heads. PSVR has the same problem that every VR platform has: There's *clap* *clap* not *clap* enough *clap* good *clap* games.
I haven't been alone in saying this for the last two years but it seems especially dire with PSVR's October 13 launch around the corner.
There are some cool ideas.
The first game I played was SuperHyperCube. I chose it first because it comes in part from Fez maker Polytron, easily one of the most interesting developers working in VR, and because Polytron announced it won't be bringing SuperHyberCube to Oculus because its founder Palmer Luckey supports the alt-right and Donald Trump.
It does what a lot of developers who have realized the limitations of VR at the moment do, which is recognize that you're not able to render hyper-realistic scenes, so you might as well lean into the retro aesthetic of pixels, scan lines, neon, and VR as imagined in the '80s or '90s, but for real. It's a cool puzzle game that's a mix between Tetris and that game show where idiots try to jump through holes in the wall.
I'm presented with a 3D Tetris piece, and I need to twist and turn it in the right direction so it fits into the hole in the approaching wall. Every time I make the piece fit, I get a bigger, more complicated 3D shape. It was fun.
Next I tried the PSVR Worlds demo disc. The first demo was an undersea adventure where I was lowered into the ocean in scuba gear and a shark cage. I waited for 20 seconds before I realized I couldn't stomach another passive VR demo and hopped out.
Then I tried Batman: Arkham VR because it's at the top of the list of games Sony suggested we try for free and because in general the company has pushed it as a great example of what PSVR can do. I will say in its favor that it looks like a big budget game because developer Rocksteady is reusing some high quality art assets from its excellent Batman Arkham games. It also has an admirable premise in that it focuses on Batman's detective work rather than swinging around the city and kicking ass. Again, like the best VR games, it's doing its best given the limitations of the technology.
It's basically a lot of standing around, pointing, and interacting with objects to solve very easy puzzles. I would have rather played any other Batman Arkham game, but I was with it up until the end, when my head started to hurt and I had to take a break.
Look, folks. There are still a lot of games I need to try out and there are more on the way but I am begging of you to step back and really think about how this thing weaves itself into the lives and habits of normal people. There are more that 40 million PlayStation 4's out in the wild. That's a healthy install base for Sony to work with. Even if just 10 percent of the people who have PS4's buy a PSVR that will be an astounding 4 million people jumping on the VR train. Even if just 1 percent of people who have a PS4 buy a PSVR that is still 400,000 new VR users, which is easily more than what Vive and Oculus Rift have sold according to some estimates, and on par with what Facebook hopes Oculus will sell by the end of the year.
I'm sure that these early adopters will be tickled pink at first blush. The promise of VR is an incredible idea, and PSVR, much like Oculus and Vive, is like a blurry postcard from a future where all the problems have been figured out. The reality of VR is that it's still an incredibly clunky mass consumer device, with a whole host of design and user experience issues developers have barely begun to solve.
Once the novelty wears off, I am left with a messy living room and a lot of new plastic clutter. Only some really engrossing, groundbreaking, must-play content can justify this literal headache. It didn't exist or was on the horizon two years ago, and the same is true today.
Out of all the major headsets, PSVR has the best chance at penetrating the mainstream. If it doesn't, VR is at the same place it was before it launched, which is going nowhere fast.
If it does, Sony needs to work quickly to make it seem like more than a gimmick, because if this is how millions of people are going to get their first impression of VR, and if it ends up collecting dust in closets across the world a year from now, it can end up doing more harm than good.