Five Big Questions Facing The VR Industry In 2018

by Jamie Feltham • January 3rd, 2018

2017 was a busy year for VR but not entirely in the ways you might have envisioned. While supposed headset sales failed to set the world on fire, Oculus made headlines for lawsuits and disputes while developers like CCP threw in the towel on the industry. It wasn’t all bad news; headset prices fell and major games were released, but it’s left the industry in a precarious position heading into 2018.

Whereas 2017 was largely about content, 2018 seems to have already turned its attention to hardware once more. We’re still waiting on Valve’s refresh to its SteamVR platform, for example, while Oculus readies the launch of the Go and developer kits for Santa Cruz. Google, meanwhile, still has to give us an update on its WorldSense headsets and who knows what’s going on with Xbox VR? Excitingly, much of 2018 seems unpredictable right now, which makes these five questions for the industry all the more intriguing. Yet another busy year awaits.

What are 2018’s biggest VR games?

Over the holiday break we posted our massive list of 55 games we’re looking forward to playing in VR this year. There are some hugely promising titles in there from developers both new and old, but it’s hard to deny that the list is missing a special spark; something that truly has us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. This time last year that something was Fallout 4 VR or Resident Evil 7, but there doesn’t really seem to be anything of that caliber to replace them in 2018 just yet.

That’s not to say there won’t be; Skyrim VR and L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files were both announced and released within 2017, but we can’t help but get a little anxious with a few barren weeks and months ahead of us. Perhaps games like Firewall: Zero Hour or Raiders of Erda will prove to be breakout success stories, but we’re holding out hope for more AAA-level announcements as the year goes on.

When does the second generation of VR arrive?

It was nearly two years ago that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched now and, while both still deliver amazing experiences, they’re also starting to look just a little dated in some respects. Both rely on external tracking sensors, for example, while new devices from Microsoft and others feature inside-out solutions with those sensors instead fitted to the headset. VR optics continue to gradually improve, meanwhile, as does the technology that powers content. Is it time for an upgrade?

That’s not as simple a question as it first sounds. While you could constitute the second generation of VR as simple sequels to the Rift and Vive, VR is evolving in different ways right now. 2018 promises to introduce several new standalone headsets that won’t be as powerful as PC-based devices, but won’t need to be tethered to them, either. Then there are new challengers like LG’s SteamVR headset that might introduce new ideas, while Valve’s updates to the platform as a whole could hugely benefit existing Vive owners. The shape of the VR landscape could be very different this time next year.

Where is Xbox One X’s VR support?

Here’s a leftover from 2017’s questions. We still don’t know when Xbox One X’s promised VR support is coming, nor what it looks like. Microsoft’s enhanced console is already providing gamers with 4K experiences, but it’s still keeping tight-lipped about the ‘Mixed Reality content’ it said would be coming to the system this year. Have plans changed or is 2018 the year that Xbox finally goes VR-ready?

If the latter is true then we’re hoping to hear more about the hinted-at wireless VR device very soon. Microsoft laid the foundations for Mixed Reality with the launch of partner-built headsets late last year, suggesting that whatever device comes to Xbox One, it could feature inside-out positional tracking. If that’s the case, Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) may suddenly look considerably more dated than it already does.

Where is Google WorldSense?

Halfway through 2017 we asked where Google’s new standalone VR devices would fit into the VR landscape. Now we’re just wondering where they are at all. At last year’s I/O developer conference, Google revealed it was working on a reference design for headsets with six degrees of freedom (6DOF) ‘WorldSense’ tracking with a 3DOF controller running on its Daydream mobile VR platform. Devices from HTC and Lenovo were supposed to be properly detailed later in the year.

Since then, HTC has canned its headset in favor of the Chinese Vive Focus, while the Lenovo headset is still said to be in the works. Exactly when will we see this device and how does it plan to compete against other standalones with 6DOF tracking for both headset and controller like the just-announced Pico Neo? Google has a lot of explaining to do in 2018.

Will PlayStation VR maintain its lead?

With over two million units now sold, it’s largely thought — though entirely unconfirmed — that Sony’s PSVR headset is comfortably leading the sales race between the three major VR headsets. But will Sony be able to maintain that lead in the new year? PSVR is a great headset, but it’s already outdated in several key areas like tracking and screen resolution, and it’s likely we won’t see a true upgrade until the next PlayStation console.

It could be that the gap between PSVR and Rift/Vive is already too large for its more expensive competitors to catch up, though the advent of Xbox VR, standalone devices and other competitors means Sony shouldn’t rest on its laurels. The company is going to have to keep delivering great content in 2018 if it wants to stay relevant (though, judging by how many games in our 2018 list are PSVR-exclusive, that shouldn’t be an issue). We hate to beat a dead horse, but it might be nice to get some better controllers, too.

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  • RFC_VR

    “Where is Google Worldsense?” I’d rephrase that as “Where is Google’s commitment to Daydream?”

    The sad realisation in the Daydream community is perhaps it’s all being quietly dropped as it’s not gained any real traction with a small user base which Devs cannot monetize.

    Like being a Dreamcast owner all over…

    • That’s sad… I used to own a Dreamcast, and loved that system for a minute… but everything worth playing on it was also available on the PC, at a higher resolution, so I got rid of it right before it tanked –luckily. But TBH though, I wish I’d gotten the chance to play the console builds of Slave Zero & Starlancer before I’d gotten rid of that system. I just recently managed to get Slave Zero (PC) working again for the first time in over 10 years… it’s hilariously dated looking now, but still a fun game. I’d love to play a sequel to that one. 🙂

      • Robbie Zeigler

        When dreamcast was out gaming rigs were garbage by comparison…

        • I would address this with a serious comment –but I looked up your account history, and see no reason to.

  • Jim P

    Also where is googles Seurat that is suppose to bring us high end graphics on a mobile phone?

    • Mane Vr

      wow do no one play attention, the Santa Cruz is mobile hmd not a highend graphic hmd, John Carmack said not to look for the standalones to match the pc connected hmd anytime soon. so we can rule out high end graphic on Santa Cruz

      • RFC_VR

        GTX 1070 has maximum power draw of 150 Watts, and that’s just the GPU in a PC.

        Mobile/standalone using contemporary Snapdragon SOC (Adreno GPU) typically 4 watts maximum for total system.

        That’s why there will always be such a performance gap; having said that it’s actually incredible you can run a game like “Eclipse: Edge of light” on such a low power system, and speaks volumes to the skill and optimization of developers đź‘Ť

      • Jim P

        Do you know what Seurat is?Look it up. Do your home work before replying. My paragraph is a no shit to your comment.

  • Justos

    I’m really excited for Oculus Go myself. Worth it for a portable theatre alone.

    While i’m not expecting any release for 2018, I really hope we get the ‘crescent bay’ version of CV2 shown off at OC5.

    • Doctor Bambi

      I think you’re right there. OC4 was largely focused on standalone. For OC5, I very much expect to hear about their plans on Rift CV2.

    • impurekind

      I’m not particularly excited by Oculus Go to be honest (it’s a step back from the current Rift in many ways other than being wireless)–but Santa Cruz looks like it could be a good step forward (at least in some ways).

      • Mane Vr

        u do know that none of those r to replace the rift right. and as for me I don’t want any new pc connected hmd for another 3 yrs. the games got a long ways to go most of them r still boring as hell and there is still games being release with not enough locomotion options. so one thing at a time before racing for new hmd.

        • Justos

          Absolutely agree. We need a few things that aren’t a new HMD.

          1) More people using current gen VR – cheaper headset and hardware. (time is needed)

          2) More/better games. If you compare games from year one to year two, there is a drastic difference in quality, length, and just use of the medium. Year 3 (in theory) should be even better.

          This will make anyone gadget happy (like myself) sad, but its the truth. Theres little point to better VR hardware without significant improvements (eye tracking, fov rendering, etc) and that could potentially lock out millions of users without the new fancy headset. Gen 1 needs more time. Would you really drop 500$ again for a 20% resolution bump? I wouldn’t.

          • Eddie Barsh

            Well said..

          • Mane Vr

            I 100% agree with all u had to say. I always said we should really focus content and a standard with game options like locomotion before they start worrying about new hardware

    • Ted Joseph

      I am with you. Getting the go and waiting to see what the Santa Cruz offers and what the competition does as well for 6deg freedom.. great to be alive!!!

    • mirak

      Portable theater should not use VR but use the same technic as the Sony HMZ that just used all available pixels just for the video.
      This would help to have true 1080p.

  • gothicvillas

    I am not excited for standalones at all. Can I play Fallout type of games there? Nope.Then ffs what I can do on it? Watch youtube? No thanks. What I really want from Oculus and HTC is to revise existing CV1s and make next one with larger FOV. If they can up a resolution to 1440p that would be great too.
    FOV and resolution are 2 biggest minuses of the current headsets. I can live with the wired options for now.

    • Doctor Bambi

      Well it won’t be able to run Fallout 4 specifically, but there’s no reason an open world shooter RPG couldn’t work on Santa Cruz. Especially one built from the ground up for VR.

  • repayfaktor

    PSVR IS VR, period. The PC side are too busy focusing on tech that nobody can ever afford while Sony are determined to deliver the best games that are designed around the PSVR’s capabilities. PC elitists once again feel left out as consumers flock to the PSVR.

    • Eddie Barsh

      Xbox gamer here. Literally just sold my xbox for a PS4 pro and VR since xbox is bullshittin… Been a xbox fan my whole life but VR is only available at the console level by Sony. Case closed for me. I agree w your comment