The killer app for the Oculus Rift has yet to be written. And when it is, I don’t think it will be a game in the traditional sense.
I received my Rift in early July, a few days before the wife and kids left for Nova Scotia for a month. Their departure meant I was able to spend a lot of time with the device in a short amount of time without ignoring family duties. I logged many hours in Lunar Lander, Tuscany+Hydra, Qbeh, and whatever else I could download. Life wasn’t too stressful at that point, so I put myself into somewhat stressful games like Lunar Lander as an escape.
Then I accepted a job at LinkedIn and began the process of moving our family from Florida to California. Stress was at an all-time high, free time was few and far between, and Rift went into a box for a few months.
Life in a new state at a new job wasn’t any less stressful, but at least I was able to pull the Rift out of storage and play periodically. This time, however, I favored relaxing games over Half Life 2 and Lunar Lander. I’d sit back and explore the solar system in Titans of Space. Or I’d play a rampaging elephant in Dumpy. Or I’d climb up to the second floor of my Tuscan mansion, don the headphones, and soak in the sights and sounds while standing on my virtual balcony. Games like Half Life 2 are a fantastic escape, but so is Tuscany, in a different way.
I blinked awake last night at 1am (as I am sometimes wont to do) and my brain started spinning. I pondered the psychiatric applications of a Rift. Could it be prescribed to help someone with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia or depression? What would the software applications look like that aid with various afflictions? How long would someone need to be in the Rift before seeing results? Would the experience be mainly visual, or would audio play an important part? And so on.
From there, I considered what it would take to make the Rift widely accessible. For mass adoption, it has to 1) provide a compelling visual experience, 2) make it simple to set up initially, 3) make it simple to configure for each player’s vision and IPD, and 4) make it simple to choose and launch applications. Right now it’s an intimidating collection of cords, lenses, and utilities. I’m not faulting Oculus here; after all, what I have is clearly advertised as a development kit (which is a fantastic dev kit, for the record).
It basically boils down to whether or not the Rift could pass the “grandma test”. There are a lot of moving parts to the grandma test. I believe the following would need to occur for my subject grandma, my wife’s grandmother Joy, to use a Rift… and she’s actually pretty decent with the computer.
A cooperative operating system
High(er) resolution display
Headset that automatically calibrates position
Headset that automatically scans and adjusts lenses for vision correction (20/20, near-sighted, far-sighted)
Headset that automatically scans and adapts to different IPD’s
Simple Rift connections (though USB and HDMI are pretty fool-proof)
Simple application discovery
Simple application launching
Simple application updating
Less jarring transition from desktop to Rift and back
Support for an augmented reality mode, which would let you wear the headset but see your environment so you can grab your STEM controllers, headphones, XBOX controller, etc.
Karl Krantz has a fantastic head start on simple application launching with VR Launchpad. If it was expanded to include app discovery and updating, it would be the go to app for simple Rifting. Oculus has the ball on most of the other items; we can only wait for the consumer version to see how polished it is. Beyond that it’s up to application developers to think beyond the normal into the surreal, bizarre, and awe-inspiring.
Along those lines, if you’re a developer who is creating content specifically for the Rift, I’d like to speak with you. I’m looking to invest financially in this growing space, and can offer feedback as well. I can be reached at email@example.com.