VR classic Job Simulator is the latest virtual reality title to hit the one million mark following the roaring success of Beat Saber. Development studio Owlchemy

Why is VR gaming not bigger? While it’s true that it has enough people to not be called a niche, it does not have enough people to catch the attention of big game developers.

Well, you have already answered the question by yourself. The reason is exactly that, it still “does not have enough people to catch the attention of big game developers”. VR headsets are still quite expensive, considering that the headset itself will cost you at least $300-$500 (these prices were even higher back in 2017, something like $500-$700) and in order to play most of games you’ll need an above-average PC rig which will cost something between $500-$1000 additional bucks. So adding all this its sums a total of $800-$1500 which may be more than what most people is willing to pay to try this “new” (not so) technology. There are only between 2–3 millions high-end VR headsets in the hands of consumers (taking also into account PSVR devices), so yeah, it’s a pretty small market yet compared with the whole gaming landscape.

It’s true that most gamers may already have a PC/console with the needed processing power to move a VR game so lowering the price barrier, but in those cases there still exist some additional issues related to technical details of the VR headsets themselves which may stop some of them of investing in a VR system:

  • Headset’s displays are still very far from retina resolutions so you will perceive the virtual world quite blurry and pixelated in comparison with playing in a monitor. That’s because of the displays not being high pixel density enough and given the fact that the headset’s lenses further zoom the display area. Even in those headsets donning high pixel density displays (Pimax 8K, StarVR and a few others) you still will be able to see the pixels, leading to a not-so-pleasant effect called Screen Door Effect (SDE) which gives the illusion of being watching the virtual world behind a mosquito net. This is one of the most common reasons for which hardcore gamers complains.
  • Display resolutions are growing at a fast rate, but with it, it also grows the processing power needed to pull all those pixels. So that’s a solution which doesn’t scale quite well. To mitigate this kind of issues some solutions are starting to slowly arise. One of these is called Foveated Rendering, which allows to render the virtual world with very high resolution only in the user’s fovea (a few degress to the sides from where the user is looking at), while all the rest is rendered in lower resolution. This allows to perceive very high resolutions when needed without the requirement of high-processing power and it also allows to better simulate how the human eye works. But it has the drawback that it requires a eye-tracking module so the VR system is able to know where the user is gazing at.
  • Last but not least, with most modern VR headsets you are still wired to your PC/console, which probably doesn’t give gamers the freedom they would expect for a high-quality gaming session. This is also starting to change thanks to advances in video compression techniques plus wireless adaptaders which sends the video signal wiressly from the computer to the headset, as well as extremelly fast wireless transmission protocols such as 5G, which will allow transmission latencies as low as 1–2ms (20ms tends to be the maximum allowed motion-to-photon latency in order to avoid motion sickness and other related issues). This will also enable new rendering paradigms such as Cloud Rendering, aimed to cut the need of a computer by rendering the virtual world in a rendering farm on the cloud and send it back frame after frame with very little latency to the VR system. But we are still a bit far from that scenario.

And that’s it to name a few of the reasons, but take into account that there are even more factors which may inferfere at the moment of investing in a VR headset nowadays (comfort? proper interaction? smell, haptics and stimulating other senses? etc) all of which are being researched right now and which solutions/products will probably hit the consumer market in the not-so-far future given the pace with which the field is moving.

That being said, I wouldn’t say that VR gaming is a failure or something similar. Even with all the mentioned limitations there are multiple examples of succesful VR games, AAA games such as Bethesda’s Fallout 4 sold more than 100K copies at quote high price, and even lower budget games such as Raw Data, SUPERHOT VR and Job Simulator have had a relatively high profit for the game studios.

The VR field is growing slow but still growing at the end, and in the future when prices decrease even more and the aforementioned technical details are solved, VR will gain much more traction in a lot of different markets and, in particular, VR gaming will start replacing the plain old way of playing videogame. Although I think it won’t completely replace it… (who doesn’t like to have some fun while comfortably sitting on the couch? :P)