VR, and the Problem with Friction in Gaming

It’s 10:30pm.

The kids are in bed, and their lunches for the next day have been packed.

The dishes are done. My wife has just finished watching television.

I’m tired, and I have to get up at 6:00am the next morning… But I want 30 minutes of game time before calling it a night. I look at my HTC Vive headset. Should I turn it on?

htc-vive-set-0

Tough call. I haven’t turned it on in two weeks. That last play session was great; I had gotten a little farther in Raw Data, and I felt like I was starring in a Robert Rodriguez movie. The experience was far more immersive than playing a game on a television.

If I decide to play with it, I’ll have to grab the lighthouse stands that I store upstairs, and plug them in. Then, I’ll have to push my dining room table up against the wall, so I have enough room to play.

When was the last time I charged the controllers?

I haven’t booted up Steam in a while, so a lot of my VR games will probably have to go through an update before I can play them.

I love VR, but tonight, I think that’s too much to deal with. I only have a half-hour to play until I should be in bed, anyway. And really, I don’t want to stand up to play right now. I think I’ll just play Gravity Rush 2 on my PS4 instead. Besides, that way, I won’t have to untangle the headset cord afterwards.

Sound familiar?

Playing VR games introduces a high level of friction. When it’s a weekday, and you’re tired and short on time, you’re prone to take the path of least resistance when it comes to entertainment. That’s usually not going to involve a head-mounted display and a pair of light houses.

How do we overcome this, as an industry?

By embracing social experiences in VR. The VR experience that has convinced me that HMDs have a mass market future is a social app on Gear VR called VTime.

beach_02-vtime

The concept of VTime is simple – you choose an avatar that looks like you, and then you enter a chat room facing three strangers. Your avatar is seated, which takes away the problems VR has with realistic locomotion. When you talk, your avatar’s hands move, a small touch that makes interactions feel strikingly realistic. You vote on environments, which include a private jet, a space station, and campgrounds.

By reducing the technical issues that VR presents and focusing on interaction, VTime achieves a feeling of presence that I’ve not felt in any other VR product. Conversations are usually very satisfying… small talk about parenting and the weather can bloom into thoughtful discussions about politics and science. Not every interaction is a gem, but it’s always easy to leave a group that’s not piquing your intellectual curiosity.

VTime makes you feel like you’re somewhere else so effectively, I’ve recommended that our office use it for conference calls. Having a fully 3D avatar ‘sitting next to you’ feels better than looking at a video feed of a co-worker in Poland. I see this kind of tech making its way into a lot of board rooms and living rooms.

VTime is the kind of experience that represents the future of VR because:

  1. It can be accessed via mobile VR – no cords, no fuss.
  2. It isn’t pre-occupied with fancy locomotion solutions, so it’s highly accessible.
  3. Combining ‘presence’ with social is more compelling than looking at a friend through a video feed.
  4. Friendships will begin in VTime, and will be maintained in VTime. This will result in strong retention.

samsung-gear-vr-lead

There will always be a market for games in VR, but they too must incorporate strong social hooks. The best-in-breed social VR game at the moment is called Rec Room, on HTC Vive. It’s free, so there is always a lot of players online, and it allows you to match up with fellow Vive owners and play games like “Frisbee Golf” and “Paintball” while chatting. It’s not as elegant or simple as VTime, but it nicely serves those looking for a more active VR experience.

At their best, social VR experiences give you the feeling of going to a bar or club, without the hassle of leaving the house. It reduces the friction inherent in meeting new people and forming new bonds. Better still, there’s no drink minimum. For people craving a new, safer, lower energy way to connect, this is powerful stuff.

bar-and-club_guide

For people craving a good single-player game, it’s always going to be easier to just turn on your PS4.

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