It’s when I think back to previous years of VR gaming and the effort it used to take just to play 30 minutes of Beat Saber that I realize how much VR has improved over the years.
In his weekly column, Nick Sutrich, senior content producer for Android Central, delves into all things VR, from new hardware to new games, upcoming technologies and so much more.
Thank goodness for VR consoles like the Meta Quest 3 because playing VR games these days is usually as simple as putting on the headset and moving your arms. I don’t have to struggle with audio issues, wireless streaming latency, driver updates, or the usual random issues I have with PC gaming every time I turn on my PC.
And it makes me wonder: what might 2024 have in store for VR headsets like the Quest 3? Heaven knows what Meta’s monthly update schedule can bring, but I have a few wishes I’d like to see come true in the new year.
Wider audience appeal
I recently spoke with Andrew Eiche, CEO of Owlchemy Labs – the company responsible for hit games like Job Simulator, Vacation Simulator and Cosmonious High. My goal was to get a handle on what makes games like Job Simulator so universally likable, and I came away with quite an epiphany.
Games like Job Simulator aren’t just great games for new VR gamers; they also have lasting power. Eiche tells me that “a very surprising number of people come back and play” Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator repeatedly.
Some of the big appeals of these games are the excellent game design that is easy to understand and doesn’t make people motion sick. But Eiche has another theory that makes a lot of sense, and it’s one that he says “all extreme endurance VR games” implement.
The top selling games on Quest are made up of surprisingly diverse games. Games like Beat Saber and Job Simulator are simple, easy to understand and fun for all types of players. On the other side of the spectrum, games like Bonelab and Blade & Sorcery push the limits of virtual movement and can make even the most experienced VR players a little nauseous at times.
So what can these two different groups of games have in common? They all allow you to be the character you want to be without forcing tons of backstory or story on the player.
It’s funny because this seems to be the opposite theory to what makes traditional AAA games popular on consoles and PC. Games that sell well or make waves on these systems are ones that involve heavy stories or well-known characters – think God of War, The Last of Us, Halo, Call of Duty, The Legend of Zelda, etc.
So, does that mean most VR games have to be sandbox-style adventures? Not necessarily, but it seems that designing games around this concept tends to work well in VR. Ultimately, VR games that sell best in the long run are the ones that “let you fulfill a specific fantasy,” as Eiche puts it.
Universal comfort settings
But no matter how a game is played or a story told, no one will want to play it if they are constantly uncomfortable.
And this is where I ask for help from Meta. When the PS5 launched, it was the first time I’d ever seen system-wide settings that would apply to every game you played.
I prefer an inverted Y axis camera when looking around in a first or third person game when using a controller, so I applied this setting in my PS5 system settings. Now, when I start a new game, I don’t have to go into options and change this setting every time. It is automatically applied in every game. The PS5 also supports many other similar settings that are automatically applied to games, and I want to see Meta do this on the Quest.
More specifically, I’m referring to comfort settings. The meta must both define and prescribe specific comfort controls that players can choose and use in any game. The problem right now isn’t just that each game handles comfort controls differently, although that is very confusing in itself. It’s that there’s no real standard for how comfort features look or work outside of loosely accepted concepts like tunneling or vignetting.
Ideally, Meta needs to define movement and comfort options at the system level and require developers to support the basics of each category. People who can only play VR games with teleporting movements, for example, should never be put in a situation that forces smooth movement and could therefore cause someone to feel motion sickness.
Similarly, Meta needs to define comfort ratings on its store page more broadly. Right now it’s simply green for ‘comfortable’, yellow for ‘moderate’ and red for ‘intense’. This is not good enough.
“Back in the day, green, yellow and sense…(but) these comfort ratings have been around for, you know, close to a decade now,” Eiche noted. The meta needs to add much more detailed definitions of what comfort options a game contains. As Eiche puts it, VR customers are more savvy. “It’s time to become more aware of (these ratings).”
I’d also love to see widespread use of Meta’s new upper-body tracking feature, which promises to put an end to VR motion sickness altogether.
I’m aware that games like Assassin’s Creed Nexus and Asgard’s Wrath 2 take years of development, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping we can see some massive releases like this pop up in 2024!
Currently, however, the list of potential AAA-quality VR games is very short. This isn’t particularly unusual around the New Year for any system, as developers tend to wait until the spring to announce new projects, and some of the biggest releases won’t be announced until the summer. Remember, Asgard’s Wrath 2 wasn’t even revealed until June 1st, and it turned out to be VR’s biggest and best game.
So what do we expect at this point? Early 2024 should see the release of the anime-inspired Attack on Titan: Unbreakable, the time-traveling narrative-heavy Wanderer: The Fragments of Fate, and the mech fighter UNDERDOGS.
And later in the year we expect a giant game in Behemoth (pun intended). This is a new open world Skyrim-like game from the developers of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.
And who knows, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to finally see Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas release on the Meta Quest platform now that GTA VI has been revealed.
As for PSVR 2, I hope Sony goes all out for the system in 2024. We only saw three first-party Sony-published titles in 2023: Gran Turismo 7 and Horizon Call of the Mountain, both of which arrived at the same time PSVR 2 launched, and Firewall Ultra , which arrived last fall.
Heck, Capcom contributed almost as many releases as Sony, releasing two massive Resident Evil VR games.
But this isn’t just a PSVR 2 issue. Sony hasn’t exactly been on point with its first-party portfolio on the PS5 either. We get another remaster of a game that doesn’t need a remaster (The Last of Us Part 2). We also know that Insomniac is working on Wolverine, but it’s likely that the game won’t arrive until 2026 at this point. On top of that, the list of Sony-published first-party games for PS5 2024 as well is basically empty right now.
In other words, just because we know little does not mean there is little to hope for.
Stop breaking things
Meta updates its Quest headsets every month by adding features, tweaking designs and fixing bugs. While the company has drastically improved the design and overall experience over the years, there have been more than a few times when a feature was clearly rushed and resulted in more than a few unwanted bugs.
I understand that a monthly update schedule looks good on paper, but having this kind of cadence isn’t good if it just introduces bugs. With the release of the Apple Vision Pro on the horizon, the little mistakes the Meta keeps making will only look worse, along with what that obnoxiously expensive headset can do.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that iOS and other Apple products can be very buggy on their own, but many of Meta’s mistakes on the Quest feel like they could be fixed with a little more testing before they push out a software update to every headset in existence.
A happy New Year
Although I could go on for a while, this list sums up my biggest wishes for VR in 2024. This year was arguably the best year VR has ever seen, with huge adoption numbers during the holiday sales period and more new players than ever.
I’m very happy to see more people getting to experience VR than ever before, especially now that the industry is so much more mature than in years past. Headsets like the Meta Quest 3 are more comfortable to use, offer important features like mixed reality, and offer significantly better tracking and visual fidelity than previous generations.
It’s going to be a very bright year for VR, and I can’t wait to play more VR games than ever!
This next generation VR console makes it easy and fun to play VR games anytime, anywhere and with anyone. You get great graphics, great games and full color video so you can see your surroundings.