For years, Virtual Reality has been heralded as the future. Since the mainstream growth of commercial VR headsets, the technology has become more widely accessible and has spread from gaming to many other fields. Industries like education and film production have certainly made use of the 360-degree immersive experience which virtual reality offers but not everything is going as expected. Sales are down in 2018 which only raises questions about its long-term survival. Is virtual reality still the future or a fad approaching the end of its life cycle?
There is a decades-old history of virtual reality. From early immersive arcade machines to the more modern wearable technology, popularity has only really exploded in the last five years. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus VR following the success of their prototype Rift headset. This was the cue for a host of technology giants like HTC and Sony to start creating their own wearable tech.
In the last three years, the availability of these headsets has massively increased. The HTC Vive and the Sony PlayStation VR headsets are widely accessible and saw steady sales throughout 2016 and 2017. In November of last year, Forbes reported that Virtual Reality sales had hit one million units following the popularity of the Vive, Playstation VR and the Oculus Rift.
Virtual reality has been most closely associated with video gaming. Widely popular VR titles like Star Trek: Bridge Crew and Lone Echo have seen to that but the technology has also been utilised in other industries. Education reaped the rewards with trainee surgeons being able to perfect their techniques on a VR simulator which even replicates the feelings of being in the operating theatre. The art world and the movie industry have also utilised the tech as shown during the production of LucasFilm’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Everything looked set for virtual reality to become reminiscent of the way it is portrayed in the recent film directed by Stephen Spielberg, Ready Player One, but it appears as if that has hit a roadblock. The IDC has reported that sales of AR & VR headsets were down 30.5% year on year during the first quarter of 2018. It’s a troubling figure and comes at a time of what should have been steady growth.
The VR gaming sector is certainly experiencing many problems but the industry is not alone in that respect. Betting company Betway has written about the problems which need to be solved if VR technology is to really revolutionise the online casino industry. It faces distinct problems like issues with delays eating away at the authenticity of the experience. For other sectors, it is simply an issue of cost. The prototype for the aforementioned surgical training hardware is priced at around $9,000 making the purchase difficult to justify for most education centres.
Despite this, the industry is still optimistic. In late July, HTC posted a blog article discussing the IDC report which effectively called for calm amidst the panic.
‘There’s a reason for this decline,’ Vive wrote.
‘VIVE has paced at its highest sales velocity of all time, for weeks on end, and we sold out. For a consumer electronic product in its third calendar year, this continued trajectory is nearly unheard of.’
The IDC report itself does admit that there are other reasons why the sales figures are dropping. It claimed that the largest contributing factor to the sales slump was the discontinuation of an initiative from phone companies which saw high-end mobile devices being sold together with VR headsets. This practice largely came to an end in the first quarter of 2018 but the IDC doesn’t think this slump will affect sales long-term. In fact, the report estimated a massive increase in worldwide sales of AR & VR headset from less than 10 million units in 2018 to well over 65 million in 2022.
Whether this comes to pass or not, the news of a decrease in sales in virtual reality headsets will disappoint many in the industry. VR technology has experienced tremendous growth in recent years but there are still many problems which need to be solved before a Ready Player One-style VR world is achievable. Still, it seems as if many figures within the industry are still highly confident in the long-term future of virtual reality technology, especially in the world of gaming. It may not be the best reading for fans of the wearable tech but most people agree that the future is still bright for VR.