Even Gabe Newell Thinks VR Might Be a Failure

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Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Even Gabe Newell Thinks VR Might Be a Failure

Hearing Gabe Newell describe virtual reality (VR) as a possible "failure" is like hearing Henry Ford suggest that the car could be completely useless against the longer-lived slower pace of horses. Yet Newell has a point here, and it's one he made recently.

Valve has been putting a lot of time and resources--read: money--into the SteamVR project as well as the HTC Vive headset, and to acknowledge that such efforts could be largely in vain is about as unnerving as it is, well, accurate.

Though Newell described himself and his company as "optimistic," noting that VR itself was "going great" and "...in a way that's consistent with our expectations", Newell also noted that the company was prepared for a catastrophic failure, noting that "We're also pretty comfortable with the idea that it will turn out to be a complete failure."

Newell took predictions like former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe's, which expected "north of a million sales" for the first release of the Oculus Rift, and ramping that up to "hopefully many millions" for the second-generation version, with a clear grain of salt easily the size of a baby's head. The major problems with the concept are just in place now as they ever were.

VR requires some pretty impressive muscle in order to operate, which means a hefty expense out the door before one even gets hands on a VR system. Worse, the purchase is almost speculative in nature, because the content has yet to really emerge that would make this a worthwhile buy. Just to top it off, the content may not actually emerge at all until there's a sufficiently sizable user base in place for such content; no one's releasing movies on Betamax any more for a good reason.

Newell might have the right of this one here; there's a lot at stake, and too much of VR in its present state really can't come together to produce value until other parts of the system do. It will either take a leap of faith that the markets will be there, or the whole loop will fall apart until something external changes.

VR indeed might be a failure, but perhaps only in the short term. We have to remember that those muscle machines that can run VR today won't be high-priced forever; wait about two, three years, and those high-end systems will likely be the bargain basement fodder any kid with a paper route can afford. Still, in the end, the long-awaited appearance of VR is a potential flop in the making, and that's the kind of thing that can unnerve anyone.

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