VR Is STILL a Stupid Idea!

Posted on October 15, 2016 by TheSaint in Things that NEED to be said

The VR Hype just keeps getting dumber.  So this recently at Oculus Connect…


To which I have one thing to say;


Been here, done that, still a dumb idea, but 20 years later we should know better right?  Nope.  Way back in 1995 when my colleagues and I were designing the Direct3D API there was a lot of enthusiasm for emerging VR technology.  New head tracking technology and high resolution LCD displays had made it possible to make light weight VR glasses affordable to the masses.  I worked closely with really cool, really hot VR technology leader of that era, Virtual IO to define the DirectVR API.  At the time there were two really promising VR technologies entering the market.  Virtual IO like gear that was the early ancestor to the modern snorkel mask VR everybody is dying to wear for some reason and my personal favorite, shutter glasses.  I worked closely with Nvidia to support stereo shutter glasses early on and they have gone through several iterations of supporting and promoting them over the subsequent TWO DECADES.


Now I know there is a whole new generation of millennials who were born after the dark ages of VR tech who think that VR was just invented when the Oculus Rift was announced but the truth is that VR has been tried and failed repeatedly over the last two decades.  The reason VR consistently fails has nothing to do with the technology not being good enough, not having enough games or content support, not being cheap enough or any of that nonsense.  VR as we know it today is a bad idea and will continue to fail because of a persistent failure to understand how our minds generate our experience of reality and a failure to appreciate how lazy and lawsuit prone we are.

To help future technotards avoid the pitfalls of their ancient predecessors I have formulated a handy reference to the 8 Laws of VR failure to help future generations avoid wasting billions of VC dollars on the same dumb ideas over and over.

  1. Nobody wants to wear bulky shit strapped to their faces. They would rather have their eyeballs cut open with LASER BEAMS than wear glasses!
  2. Nobody wants their kids running around the house with an expensive device strapped to their faces chasing invisible goblins.
  3. It doesn’t matter how good the head tracking is, the moment a 3D scene moves while you are sitting down it’s a vomit ride. If you can’t simulate inertia, you’re not delivering VR, you’re delivering nausea!
  4. It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. The minute somebody falls down a flight of stairs or walks off a balcony wearing one of these things they will become as cool and exciting as the Samsung Galaxy 7 and Windows Vista.
  5. Nobody wants to hang around in social chat rooms in avatar bodies unless they are engaging in the most depraved sex, violence and debauchery conceivable. Trust me, it’s been tried MANY MANY times with the same result EVERY TIME.
  6. It’s creepy wearing VR devices alone in your house, or worse with your very funny friends around. It’s creepy trying to interact with people wearing them in public.  VR is creepy people!
  7. Nobody actually wants to exert themselves for fun, people want to engage in LESS movement not more.
  8. Pawing at the empty air to interact with objects you can’t feel is the opposite of realistic and faintly resembles exercise which is a no-no.

Now let’s review a brief list of famous VR technology fails against our Laws to see if we can figure out what went wrong?

  • 3D movies… fail… Violates Law 1 & 3
  • 3D television… fail… Violates Law 1 & 3
  • Microsoft Kinect… fail… Violates Law 4, 7 & 8
  • Google Glass… fail… Violates Law 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 & 8
  • Microsoft Sidewinder haptic feedback joystick… fail… Violates Law 4
  • com… fail… Violates Law 5
  • Second Life… fail… Violates Law 5
  • VirtualIO… fail… Violates Law 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 8
  • Shutter Glasses… fail… Violates Law 1, 3, 7 & 8

Notice that the VR and AR goggles hit the largest number of these points?  Ironically as an expert in gaming technology, the one application for VR that one might think had the biggest market opportunity… gaming, is the worst for VR devices.  Like Microsoft Kinect, Guitar Hero and the Wiimote they may have a brief novelty value for a truly original game but the negatives will wipe the market out as they always do the second the novelty wears off.  Let’s get real here.  Nobody is going to tolerate people playing AR games in public places, at work or in their cars.  No parent will pay for a device that enables their kids to crash around the house chasing invisible creatures.  You may be allowed to enjoy your VR scuba mask sitting in the comfort of your arm-chair pawing futilely at the air as long as you don’t swivel too much and bang your knee on the coffee table… and sue…  The lawyers kill these brilliant technology revolutions far quicker than the market does.

6a00d8341bf74053ef00e54f7b8e378834-800wiConsumers had amazing haptic input devices available to them in the 1990’s, lawyers killed them!  Consumers had amazing VR scuba goggles available to them back when most TV’s were still in tubes, nobody likes wearing heavy crap on their faces!  People made amazing VR open world MMOG’s with open economies and they immediately turned into the most violent depraved communities on the Internet.  Second Life was my personal favorite because it was funded by the Valley’s most prestigious VC’s.  The game got nothing but glowing media coverage about how amazing virtual economies were and people making millions on virtual real-estate but anybody who actually played the thing knew it was basically a 24/7 virtual orgy site and anybody entering the world for the first time was generally bombarded with flying penises.  As Facebook prominently demonstrated the only way to get people to behave in a somewhat civilized manner in online communities was to force them to use their real-identities and link them to their mothers… which is kind of the opposite of what people want from a virtual experience.  MMOG’s are the only examples of truly successful large-scale commercial virtual worlds, of course these games impose stringent controls on the range of social dynamics they tolerate from their communities and generally require enormous moderator staffs to supervise them.  So the only “successful” examples of virtual communities allow you to assume a fantasy persona of your choice as long as you accept police state like supervision of your social interactions with others and confine your online relationships to those approved by the game operator.

Think about the demo we actually just saw from Facebook this week.  You can wear a mask to hide your identity and precisely control your expressed emotions preventing the other participants in the community from knowing who you really are or if you are expressing yourself honestly.  You can interact with one another in what might look like a beautiful virtual world as long as you actually stay put and don’t move around at all costs.  If you ACTUALLY move naturally you risk hurting yourself and if you move virtually, it’s a vomit ride.  The VR communities’ consumer promise to us is that in a few years this bad experience will look more realistic.

UPDATE:  I can’t make this stuff up;


For those of you new to my blog, here are links to a few of the many VR related stories I’ve told over the years.

Announcing the Octopus-VR

Microsoft announces the Obnoculus ONE VR headset at CGDC

Snow Crashed

XBOX Dis-Kinected?

How is this a good idea?

XBOX ONE Revisionist Nonsense

Microsoft Multimedia “Retreat”

Ultima Online and DirectX

Secret Stuff


Talisman pt. 2

The Advent of Web 3D

WinDoom Kicks Back

The Nvidia Story




  1. As usual your opinion is mostly correct however too extreme – Sans a few remaining technical hurdles to jump (wireless, setup time, cost) the VR goggles in their various forms will more or less stick around as a more niche kind of entertainment just like the world is happy to have mobile > console > PC hardware forms of entertainment. People who say it’ll take over the industry are of course idiots. But I put people who condemn it in the same group – If nothing else there is a dead clear market for the millions of people who fly on planes every year – Fuck back-of-seat movie watching, put your mobile phone into the VR goggle and stream the movie straight from the on-board entertainment system on to your own personal cinema. There is also a clear market for a new kind of arcade ala laser tag in the form of cheap wireless headsets. I’ve already been on a group-based VR ride at a very popular theme park in the UK – It worked.

    • I agree, VR will be the Segway of this decade, MASSIVELY over hyped and over funded but will find a few useful niches for fat mall cops and tourists… in the case of VR, it may be useful for avoiding travel eventually… although I’ll believe that AFTER somebody invents simple video conferencing that actually works well. It has it’s applications, just not many. If there were many, some vestige of the 1990’s wave of this BS would have stuck around, but nothing survived which suggests those niches are pretty hard to mine.

  2. so if oculus-like stuff was already available decades ago, what is available today that nobody knows and that will be hip in 20 years?

    • I like the way you think BrunoB. Obviously VR will come around again, maybe this time with optic nerve implants. To be fair VR was just as hyped in the 1990’s as it is today, it just got washed out by internet hype and then after the dotcom bust that generation of crazy vanished into ignominy. I’m going to go with;
      -Self-driving cars
      -Digital assistants
      -I think the world has more great MMOG’s to come
      -Personal jet packs/flight
      -AI that doesn’t really work
      …just for starters

      • Hey, I’ve been thinking about the MMOG thing too. How long do you think it’ll be before someone cobbles together semi-convincing modern AI with an RPG to make procedurally generated stories where you can actually do whatever you want without it falling apart immediately?

        • You know the problem is actually modern 3D engines. They’re not really 3D, what you see on screen is a bunch of hollow skins surrounding nothing. Game characters are marionettes that require a tremendous volume of hand authoring to create and the physics in marionette game worlds is also hand crafted because the world actually has no physical properties. It will be a loooong time before the computational resources to create truly 3D physics driven worlds becomes practical, the first place it will emerge is in cloud based game engines where vast computing resources can be pooled to simulate the kind of physics it will take to make fully dynamic worlds. On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of fun over the years working on self-authoring games based on less rich worlds.

          If you look at games on WildTangent.com like Fate and Penguins you will see some interesting examples of emergent content based games. A game I always wanted to make but never got around to was a murder mystery game that used graph theory to generate an infinite range of logically valid murder mystery stories out of a finite set of characters and resources. Sort of Clue on AI. The game engine could automatically generate mysteries of whatever logical sophistication the player could handle. I think there are many of those kinds of game ideas that are fun and practical today but may not see wild commercial success because they’re slightly more intellectually challenging to grasp than the bottomless sea of witless mind-candy games you find in app-stores today.

          • Ehh, I’d argue that the biggest drain on computational resources is stupidly pointless 3D fancy-shit.

            Like depth of field… some idiot gets the idea that because something occurs with a camera, it makes sense for it to occur with a video game. Your eyes do not work that way… same goes with motion blur, bloom effects, and just about all the “it makes it look good” nonsense we’re spending every cent of computational power on.

            That we spend more processing power on graphics than gameplay is rather abysmal in my mind. Has gameplay become so utterly hollow that you need VR goggles to actually make it GOOD? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

            We all know what VR is really about. The same thing Google Glass was really about. Augmented Reality, also known as large amounts of advertising being poured directly into our brains. It’s the same idiots who think QR codes are cool that open spam emails thinking there might be something good inside. The same idiots who like near field communication because it is hip and modern… the same idiots that have been following the hype train since 1995.

            Of course, if VR becomes a success, the only solution is to start demanding the idiots go get neural augmentations (which we’re doing in many ways and forms) because VR (which really is obsolete technology) is last years toy.

  3. I did have a LOT of fun with Ping Pong on Kinect, like all games that wore out a bit. And I still think that if they could have come up with a “snap to” technology that would make your on screen “hand” snap to an element like a volume control or fist for scrolling around a website on screen, I might still be using gestures on Kinect. Of all the fail videos that Microsoft ever put out, that video of everyone sitting on the couch using a steering wheel in mid air to drive an on screen game still haunts me, because it never materialized.

    For now Kinect is just a great camera and mic for Skyping from the couch; which I do a LOT, and Cortana is actually coming along on Xbox One, so the mic is getting used more and more. But gestures are done from my routine.

    I’m intrigued by HoloLens but every time I see someone poking their finger in the air to try and click something, it just looks like a pain in the ass.

  4. Some of the biggest boundaries keeping me from VR are the price and gimmick level of most games. None of your 8 rules concern me, video games aren’t played in public after all. Trustworthy reviewers say movement is not vomit inducing if you get used to it but it probably depends wholly on the person (similar to vertigo or seasickness). Games that allow movement are rare and shallow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS3Vi4Cipgk
    But in the end I ask myself what I want from videogames, and the answer is complex expressive movement, so VR isn’t for me.

    You’re probably right about the lawsuit thing http://www.gamespot.com/articles/nintendo-sued-over-wii-wrist-straps/1100-6163421/

    • Actually you just agreed that one of the rules is stopping you… you won’t spend the money if you’re not sure the experience is any good first and you’re not sure the seasick factor won’t apply to you AND you want to be able to move around. Another way of saying “gimmicky games” is that nobody can think of a FUN game that needs VR. VR is a solution to a problem nobody has.

    • I’ve played around with an Oculus DK2 (as a developer) and tried all kinds of motion. Not only did the sickness not go away, I feel like I’m a little *more* sensitive now than I was before. The reason I stopped was that with these constraints I couldn’t come up with anything I would personally find enticing.

      If you look at what games are being developed right now, most of it is rather stationary. I don’t think that’s what people expect out of VR. The hype definitely isn’t justified from my POV.

  5. With this I actually fully agree with what you said. Another thing I think you failed to mention is how hard is to get the thing running. You have to have a computer that meets the minimum system requirements, you need to have a game that supports VR, you need to have latest drivers etc. I was watching some guy on youtube getting himself ready for a ‘VR session’ and I was thinking to myself: Damn, getting that on your head, set it up correctly, all the cables all that shit… It’s easier to go back to coding to that C++ project. If I want to play a game and it takes me 5 minutes to get myself ready to start playing you’ve lost me.

    I want to game now for like 30 minutes maybe one hour, if the first 10 minutes are spent with me searching for the headset, the headphones and all that shit to get up and running you’ve lost me. I need to be able to get going in less than 10 seconds.

    Plus, you look ridiculous with those things on. Like, completely retarded. In a way it saddens me to see guys like John Carmack and Michael Abrash in this thing. It is interesting as a problem to solve for an engineer (and there were a lot of money involved for these guys in the Oculus thing), but as a consumer I just don’t see the need.

    Playing a horror game like Alien: Isolation and somebody comes in the room and taps you on the shoulder, talk about heart attack 🙂

    • Granted, the futurists would reasonably say… that stuff will be resolved eventually.. like Windows finally got stable and elegant by version 10! …er… maybe when Apple makes one. But yes I agree, can you see all the horror movies that will be made about people playing VR games when a home intruder breaks in? All 100 of them will be very original.

  6. Scuba diving… success! Violates Law 1, 4, 6, 7

  7. I’ve given up on waiting for smartphone manufacturers, telco companies, entertainment companies, and/or VCs to finish the backroom conversation about who is going to subsidize really viable VR applications and services. Do they think we are that dumb … I’ve been reading for a decade that over “the decade” VR is a mult- billion dollar industry … Not holding my breath … at least I got to experiece authentic VR with “VIEW MASTER” and “VIEW MASTER REELS” … I miss my “Fred Flinstone” reel


    • Yeah I actually think there could be a billion dollar industry for VR IF it really enabled me to avoid traveling for meetings and conferences. IF I could really feel like I was there actually talking with people in person. To avoid travel I would wear the scuba mask!

  8. Wait for harnesses. First at game rooms then in homes.

  9. Too funny! Love it – discovered your blog while searching for Octopus anatomy. Can’t remember why I was searching for octopus anatomy.

    • I used to be the top keyword search for Balloons on Google because one of my blogs contained an iconic balloon photo. Somebody seems to have surpassed my balloon relevance recently but I’m pleased to know that I own octopus anatomy for the time being.


  1. VR Is STILL a Stupid Idea! – The SaintThe Saint – Witti blockt

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