I’m starting to wonder if VR will ever play a truly significant role at E3. We’ve seen a routinely strong showing for the tech at the games industry’s biggest event over the past few years, but it hasn’t yet truly dominated the conversation. We haven’t had the E3 where Sony doesn’t shut up about VR like it once did 3D, for example, nor the E3 where it seems like everyone and their mothers are making VR games like they once were mobile or motion controlled experiences.
I thought this year’s E3 would be the one for sure, but it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting.
Looking at the wider industry, E3 2017 hasn’t been the most memorable show. Press conferences have been light on jaw dropping announcements and games are running a little thin on originality and inspiration. In a creatively stagnant time for the games industry, VR provides the perfect opportunity to experience something completely fresh and exciting. Sadly, companies failed to really communicate that this week.
It was Microsoft that dropped the ball the hardest. Though its Sunday reveal of the Xbox One X had a pleasing number of games all souped up to 4K, the company chose to ignore one of the major talking points of its new console: VR support. This time last year Microsoft was telling us that the console, then codenamed Project Scorpio, would be capable of high-fidelity VR. Since then we’ve learned that feature won’t be available at launch later this year, but Xbox only served to muddy its message on those plans this week.
Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has been telling press that he doesn’t get a lot of requests for VR – or, in Microsoft’s puzzling dictionary, mixed reality – in the living room, with the company instead squarely focused on delivering the tech for PCs with its OEM partners right now. Wires, apparently, are stopping it from committing to VR on console. Xbox’s Larry ‘Major Nelson’ Hryb, meanwhile, would only say that it was “possible” that X would get headset support later down the line.
Really guys, is it that hard to figure out some positive statements about what your new console means for VR without confusing the message so much?
It’s very possible that some sort of wireless VR headset will show up for X next year, but Microsoft’s lack of conviction and commitment in this field is troubling to say the least. VR still needs to win plenty of hearts and minds, and displays of unsurety such as this do nothing to help the tech’s image. To the casual viewer, Microsoft may have just communicated that it doesn’t care about VR on consoles, or that it doesn’t think the tech’s good enough for mainstream adoption. That’s going to create some unforced confusion when it ends up revealing VR support next year.
This wearisome will-they won’t-they talk has gone on long enough, yet it was painfully apparent elsewhere in the week. For the third straight year in a row EA made an embarrassingly non-committal nod to VR, only stating yet again that it was looking into the tech with a new R&D group. We get it; two or so million PC and console-based devices isn’t enough to justify proper investment, but don’t continue to skirt around the topic if you don’t have anything new to say about it. Just don’t mention it.
It doesn’t help both that Oculus and HTC had next to none of their own announcements to share over the past few days, though the week isn’t over yet. Rift and Vive are still primarily gaming platforms, and there’s no better opportunity to sell gamers on your products than E3. Couldn’t we have had at least something in the way of new Oculus and Vive Studios games?
Thankfully there were other publishers that more than made up for the shortcomings of others. Ubisoft’s casual inclusion of new VR game Transference in its press conference was a welcome addition, as was the reveal of Space Junkies afterwards. Bethesda takes home the prize, though, having comfortably established what looks like a winning formula in taking existing IP and spending the proper time and resources to make them really fit VR. Fallout 4 promises to be VR’s biggest game yet and Doom VFR offers a level of polish rarely seen in the scene so far.
But it was the announcement of Skyrim VR for PlayStation VR (PSVR) that really hit home, both for Bethesda and Sony. The latter’s Monday night conference was easily the highlight of the show for VR followers, effortlessly shooting down fears that Sony might be ready to throw in the towel on supporting PSVR just as it did PlayStation Move and Vita in prior years.
Sony’s swift showcase of around six new VR games was just what the doctor ordered. Skyrim’s VR debut hit hard, delivering one of VR’s most requested games years before we thought we’d see it, and the company followed up with two promising new titles from Supermassive Games, the next project from the developer of Lucky’s Tale, and a charming new adventure game in Moss. It even had to squeeze in the news that a long requested PSVR port of Superhot VR was coming before the show even started.
For VR fans, this was a breath of fresh air; a set of games that promise full experiences as opposed to the flood of Early Access releases we’re used to seeing.
Still, for VR to really dominate E3 it needs more than 10 minutes at a Sony press conference. Adoption of the tech has come in faster than many would have anticipated, and yet that leaves us hungrier still for the year when everything clicks and the industry really makes a definitive statement about the future of this technology. That year may still come but, sadly, the stars didn’t align at E3 2017.