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VR vs. Getting Antsy

As VRFocus staff get attacked by ants, Kevin E wonders what Microsoft are so worried about.

“Are you guys also having insects fly all over the place at you?”

As work questions go I wasn’t really expecting that one. I looked around my little bedroom office for any invading insect hordes I’d, in my work focused state, neglected to see. But there were no armies at the gate. No cartoon picnics being carried off into the night.

“Can’t say I am.” I typed back in reply. The response came fast.

“THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!” Nina insisted, “I kid you not – it’s an infestation.”

“Flying ants?” Asked Peter, newly arriving onto the scene to start his working day.

“YES.” Nina confirmed. “And baby flying insects. In my hair. In my clothes. On my arms. On my screen. On my legs. Crawling everywhere.” How very Linkin Park.

A discussion on what exactly Nina could do followed which revolved around getting bug spray. Peter suggested an old schoolyard remedy.

“Just get any can of spray and a lighter, that’ll kill them. Although don’t point it at anything flammable!”

“I believe tradition dictates a can of Lynx deodorant.” I added, remembering the usual secondary school post-gym activity of avoiding whatever idiot was setting the benches on fire following a good spray down.

“Bug spray might be more expensive.” Said Peter sagely, “And Eva’s spot on with the Lynx suggestion.”

“What do you guys think I AM?” Nina thundered. “A man that smokes?”

Chuckling I left them all to their highly geotargeted insect apocalypse, and instead mulled over a few topics for discussion this week. Flicking through Friday to Sunday’s posts after a satisfying three-day weekend and it seems Nina wasn’t the only one getting antsy. It seems that Microsoft are too, in that they know they want to do something in virtual reality (VR) they just don’t quite know what that something is.

E3 was very much about Microsoft’s reveal of what Project Scorpio would be, and things seemed geared up for a possible VR announcement as a part of that. When the time came and what ended up being the Xbox One X was revealed it seemed that VR was on the backburner for the console. Or was it? In the hours following the announcement we got conflicting interviews from Xbox personnel on where VR stood on console. Going from on one hand Phil Spencer somewhat unsubtly turning all of the BBC’s questions about VR support to answers about how Microsoft is making all these mixed reality (MR) headsets and isn’t that great. To Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson) revealing that the Xbox One X can certainly handle VR. The only common mantra being the industry get out of jail free card that “we’re not sharing any details today”, which still lends itself far more to “we’ll tell you later” than “no”. After all its far easier to just say no – it’s the end of the discussion then.

So, a hint of promise with a dash of confusion and a slight air of discomfort. Not totally unsurprising really. Video game companies despite what their carefully crafted marketing image might lead you to believe are just like any other company. Full of overtaxed staff like you or I, desperately trying to make it through another day without succumbing to the madness. Silently loathing the next department over for causing more work and the other continental branches for their failings. Indeed, scrape away the veneer and you’ll like as not find an organisation one email away from anarchy and one broken coffee machine away from everyone collectively setting the photocopiers on fire. The printers having long been doomed to run out of toner thanks to either Derek or Janice in the finance department printing out a thirty page marketing report they need exactly three pages from, and have done so in the wrong paper orientation. Resulting in a whole forest being consumed in the subsequent three-hundred pages. Oh and they wanted two copies? Ahhh damnit…

Now though, through another voice – that of Dave McCarthy – we hear that Microsoft are focusing on VR for PC and not for Xbox at all. Again, not a strict no necessarily, but definitely a ‘we don’t care about this at the moment’ response. This is a tad surprising as it’s not like Microsoft haven’t had the time to think about VR on Xbox One X and they’ve already confirmed it can be done. So why wouldn’t you want to make those forthcoming Windows 10 VR HMDs doubly sellable by having them work on both PC and console? Seems a heck of a selling point to me.

Which is of course what you want as a marketeer for a product you want a unique selling point – a USP. Equally, although you’ll never see this in any marketing textbook, you want if possible to take a USP away from the competition. At the moment PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro has that USP in that you can play VR games on the system. I remember reading comments on N4G at the time of E3 and seeing one that proudly proclaimed “PlayStation is the juggernaut of console VR!” Of course it is rather easy to be the juggernaut of something when you’re the only party associated with something. It’s a bit like saying triangles are the juggernauts of three sided shapes. Nor would I say it is Microsoft shooting themselves in the foot as one commenter said, after all I’m not sure you can really say that when you have a vested interest in the other foot too.

At the end of the day Microsoft need to get on the same page and be clear about how they go forward. Being hesitant about VR on console is only going to strengthen Sony’s hand. VR on consoles sells. There are people out there who are picking the PlayStation 4 Pro over considering the Xbox One X. They need to be determined, less unsure, less antsy when questioned about it. If you’ve said it can do it no problem, what exactly is stopping you apart from the courage of your convictions.

I wonder if anyone thought to actually close the window to stop those flying ants…


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