How High Expectations Are Preventing VR From Taking Off
JAN 14, 2018 22:58 PM
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How High Expectations Are Preventing VR From Taking Off

by Anna Johansson
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that could change how we live, but despite some major advancements in the past few years, it hasn’t taken off. This runs contrary to the opinions of major tech economists, including decision makers at some of the biggest tech companies in the world; for example, Facebook paid $2 billion to get its hands on VR frontrunner Oculus, and companies like Sony and Microsoft have scrambled to get their own VR tech online and in stores.
So what could be responsible for this VR stagnation? One of the most plausible explanations is the fact that user expectations are currently too high; because VR can’t possibly match what consumers expect it to be, they end up disappointed, and are unwilling to invest in the tech as it currently exists.
But why are expectations so high, and is this really the main reason VR hasn’t taken off? 
Other Possible Explanations
First, let’s look at some of the other motivating factors preventing VR from becoming a dominant form of new tech:
  • High costs. One of the biggest problems has been the high costs of setting up a VR system. Until recently, prices have ranged in the high-hundreds of dollars. On top of that, consumers needed a several-hundred-to-thousand-dollar computer to run the software necessary to make use of VR. This has made the technology somewhat inaccessible to anyone not ready to make that investment. 
  • Lack of diversity. Another part of the problem is that many consumers see VR as an exclusive tool for gamers to have more immersive experiences. Software applications aren’t diverse, and therefore only appeal to a minority of consumers. 
  • Impracticality. Our current generation of VR headsets are clunky, making it hard to move around, and are often seen as uncomfortable by those who haven’t tried them. 
  • Tangible fixations. Many consumers simply aren’t ready to leave behind the tangible world in favor of a digital one. Printed books, printed booklets, and other forms of tangible media are ridiculously inexpensive to produce, and provide consumers with a traditional sense of attachment to the experiences they have.
High Expectations
Though these secondary factors are influential, nothing is as powerful as the unrealistically high expectations that consumers have been given.
  •  Fictional depictions. We’ve been fantasizing about VR for decades, and nearly all our depictions in fictional media illustrate the portrait of a VR system that looks and feels exactly like the real world (such as Star Trek’s Holodeck). Though this is beyond the control of engineers and CEOs, it have set a powerful tone for consumer expectations of VR. 
  • Valuations. VR startups were gobbled up quickly throughout the 2010s, with purchase prices ranging from millions to billions of dollars. These insanely high valuations proved that big tech names were confident in the future utility of the technology, and made consumers dream about what VR could look like in the next few years. No pace of development could have matched those expectations, and while it remains to be seen how appropriate those valuations were, the current sales outlook would suggest they were inordinately high. 
  • Advertising and hype. VR company CEOs have capitalized on existing consumer hype by pushing it even further, advertising fantastical experiences and in-depth graphical detail for their immersive environments. And while VR tech is certainly impressive, this kind of exaggerated messaging has only made those high consumer expectations grow even higher in the past few years, resulting in the expectation gap we’re currently experiencing.
Consumers have been promised an experience that’s immersive, revolutionary, and practically indistinguishable from reality, so of course they’ve been disappointed by the current state of the technology. The bold promises and high expectations that major brands and media empires have set for VR has made the penetration of an otherwise impressive and useful technology slow to a relative crawl.
Thankfully, as consumer expectations gradually drift back toward the middle, and as VR tech continues getting even better, we’ll eventually see higher adoption rates and more consumer acceptance. Until then, don’t expect VR to “explode” overnight, and take any hype or advertising you hear with a grain of salt. 
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