If you want to get a good gaming discussion going just mention virtual reality (VR). It is a topic that tends to split people into two camps. Those that love it and see the technology as gaming’s potential future and those that don’t understand why you’d want to spend hours with a device strapped to your head. However, one thing is still universal, the acknowledgement that VR is still niche. But VR gaming shouldn’t be afraid to have this moniker.
As soon as you mention the word “niche” in a commercial sense companies tend to scarper. It means fewer customers, lower sales and therefore decreased profitability. If something is “mainstream” those parameters tend to turn the other way, mostly.
On the other hand, niche communities can be more engaged, and more passionate about the subject. Far more willing to put in the time and effort needed to make it grow. And that’s exactly what VR has had for years.
If you were around in the early years of its resurgence (pre-2016), then you’ll remember the giddy visions evangelists had for the technology. As is the way of things, many of those ideas didn’t flourish, but those that did have settled into the industry we know today. This year has already seen the launch of Sony’s PlayStation VR 2 and later Meta Quest 3.
Perpetuating the niche moniker
So why are we talking about VR still being niche now? Because the former president of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aimé recently shared some stats calculated by Statista. In it, the online business platform said that only 1.3 percent of global users will own VR hardware this year. And that’ll increase to only 1.7 percent in the next four years.
In comparison, traditional videogames will go from 45 percent to 51.3 percent in the same time period. Those figures aren’t seemingly great for VR until you factor in the videogame market covers, consoles, PC and mobile devices, and technology people are already familiar with and have in their pockets.
Or let’s look at it another way. If 1.3 percent of the world’s population owns a VR headset in 2023 that equates to just over 100 million people. Not too bad considering VR is niche.
VR will always have the issue of trying to persuade people that strapping a computer to your face will offer a game-changing experience. Additionally, you then have detractors like Fils-Aimé who continue to insist that VR doesn’t have a “must-play” experience. From his time at Nintendo, he has been a vocal critic of VR using his clout to disparage the technology.
If you want a killer app look towards Half-Life: Alyx, Resident Evil Biohazard, Beat Saber or Population: One for example. These all take standard videogame ideas and improve upon them, making them more immersive and interactive.
There’s no denying VR has mainstream challenges to overcome. From accessibility to affordability (PSVR 2 and a PlayStation 5 together cost nearly £1000 GBP) it won’t be an easy ride to mass adoption. In the meantime, VR gaming shouldn’t be afraid to be niche, flying that flag with pride.