Gaming Industry Pushes Virtual Reality, But Content Lags : All Tech Considered Developers are showcasing immersive virtual reality games at the E3 expo. But aside from VR headsets and demos, there isn't much software available yet to take advantage of the new technology.

Gaming Industry Pushes Virtual Reality, But Content Lags

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Videogame makers have taken their latest releases to Los Angeles this week for E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Along with updates of big franchises, like "Tom Raider," they're also showcasing immersive virtual reality games. But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, virtual reality may not inspire love at first sight when it starts hitting the market.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Let's say there's a new video game that's just come out. It's likely I could describe it to you pretty vividly because you've played other video games. But virtual reality - there isn't much out there yet to try. The most I can do is describe an experience while I'm having it, like drinking a virtual soda.

It doesn't taste like anything...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Laughter).

SYDELL: ...But I can pick up a can and put to my mouth and put it down.

Or I can share how excited I was to land on a virtual planet and shoot virtual spiders.

(Laughter).

It's cool because you can put on these goggles, and no matter which way you turn, even if you look up, you're in this 3-D world. But me getting a thrill may not be enough for you to go out and drop real money on a virtual reality headset, says Tony Christopher, who is CEO of Landmark Entertainment Group.

TONY CHRISTOPHER: You're in a store. Here's all the head-mounted displays. It's cost $200 or $300. Why would you ever buy it when you don't know why you're buying it? You wouldn't.

SYDELL: Christopher says this as someone who's really interested in virtual reality. He designs entertainment experiences for theme parks, and he thinks virtual reality would be a great addition. But to get consumers interested, there's got to be something good to do with it. Christopher says it's like the early days of TV. At first, no one was buying.

CHRISTOPHER: Because it was like the radio. It really wasn't anything exciting. And then Milton Berle - "Uncle Miltie" - created the show and put it on television.

SYDELL: "Uncle Miltie" turned Texaco Star Theater into the first must-see TV and got more people to buy televisions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNCLE MILTIE")

MILTON BERLE: (As Uncle Miltie) You're all invited to the farewell surprise party that I'm throwing for myself tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) You're throwing a party. Where's the surprise?

BERLE: (As Uncle Miltie) I'm paying for it.

(APPLAUSE)

SYDELL: Well, there are a lot of people here at this year's video game expo, called E3, hoping they will make the equivalent of "Uncle Miltie" for virtual reality. Raymond Wong is an analyst for the online tech magazine Mashable, and he's tried a lot of games on display here. And, well...

RAYMOND WONG: We need a lot more content. Everything I've seen so far on any VR headset is basically a tech demo, and tech demos are not finished products.

SYDELL: But the pressure is on. Facebook spent $2 billion buying the Oculus Rift headset, and venture capitalists have spent tens of millions of dollars investing in virtual reality. Yet, the first virtual reality headsets are set to hit the market as early as the end of this year, and there's still a lot to work out. For example, some of what was shown of lends itself to standing up and moving around, but with your head in goggles, immersed in another world, this can be a problem. Kate Kessler works for Oculus Rift, which makes a virtual reality headset. Kessler says they tell game developers to try and keep players in their seats.

KATE KESSLER: Because you really feel like you're there, so you want to move around. And if you're not seated, it could be a dangerous thing.

SYDELL: And game developers are still working it out. Dan Herd, with the game company Playful, says among the discoveries they've made is that virtual reality can be so real, it can get scarier a lot faster than it regular game.

DAN HERD: Some people might want that extreme experience, but I wouldn't default that to somebody putting on the Rift for the first time. That would make them feel gross. And then they'd come away and say it's all about shock, and it's OK, but I don't really want to play that a lot.

SYDELL: Herd admits this is one of many discoveries they're making as they learn how to create virtual reality experiences. And when the first headsets hit the market, consumers may not want to be virtual reality lab rats. Laura Sydell, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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