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VR isn't isolating, and it could be a perfect fit for the Xbox ecosystem

Xbox One S
Xbox One S (Image credit: Daniel Rubino | Windows Central)

Microsoft's Xbox head Phil Spencer recently shared his thoughts on VR and the Xbox One. While stating that VR would not be the focus of upcoming Project Scarlett, Spencer made some comments about VR that I think show a misunderstanding of the medium. Spencer called VR isolating, and added that "nobody's asking for VR" on the Xbox platform. These comments, especially when put into context with his comments comparing VR to tech demos, raise several concerns.

Spencer states that "[VR is] isolating and [he thinks] of games as a communal, kind of together experience." Gaming can be a tremendously social experience, but that's determined largely by the player, not the platform. A PC gamer could play in a guild with his or her best friends or alone without talking to a soul. A console gamer could game all night with friends or take on a challenging solo campaign.

Similarly, a VR gamer can play a social game like Arizona Sunshine, which supports co-op multiplayer; bring Beat Saber to a party while casting their headset to a TV; or spend hours alone in a VR dojo with a lightsaber. If someone wants to be social while gaming they'll find a way. Look at the hoops people went through to use voice chat on the Nintendo Switch.

I know that some people are passionate about their stance that VR is a gimmick or lacks a killer app. I disagree and think VR has turned a corner and that VR is trending into a viable gaming platform. I don't know if Half-Life: Alyx will revolutionize VR, but it shows that major developers are interested.

HP Reverb Windows Mixed Reality headset

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'd love to see Microsoft push VR onto the Xbox platform. Microsoft is already familiar with VR hardware and software and could take advantage of Project Scarlett's processing power to make a solid VR experience. The company also has some unique IP that could be a killer app for VR.

A large factor in why Project Scarlett won't focus on VR could be money. Spencer stated that the Xbox team is in touch with customers and that "nobody's asking for VR" on the Xbox platform. He also added that "nobody's selling millions and millions" of VR unit.

Spencer has a fair point, since even Playstation VR has only sold 4.2 million headsets as of March 2019, but I don't view Xbox as a platform for just the mainstream. Xbox is the platform that supports backward compatibility going all the way back to some original Xbox games. It's the platform that made an Elite Controller for passionate gamers and an Adaptive Controller to increase accessibility. I've viewed Xbox as "for the players" more than any other console for a long time.

I have doubts that "nobody" is asking for VR on the Xbox. Instead, I think it's probably a subset of passionate gamers that want to explore a new way to experience gaming. To me, that fits in perfectly with the Xbox ecosystem.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

29 Comments
  • I suspect they want to have Scarlett be all about console gaming and their planned exclusives. No other distractions like VR or entertainment, etc. Games and consoles. They can push VR once it can be wireless like Quest, but higher fidelity
  • Distraction? It just adds to the game library and option to gamers. Isn't having more option and bigger library a good thing?
  • I personally agree with you, but suspect they want a console and core game launch experience aka not like the Xbox One launch
  • A bigger library no one plays. Microsoft hasn't sold as many consoles as Sony, it's definitely not a smart financial decision.
  • Here we go again with the blanket statement that "nobody" or "noone" does something. How about stating something more accurately like "not many people play" or in the case of MS "we don't have many people asking for VR"?
  • Just like puppets repeat what the puppet master said.
  • This discussion would be for next-generation in which both companies have sold zero consoles. They have certainly sold enough this generation to be profitable. However, I agree with not supporting it after they got burned so bad by Kinect 2.0 this generation. Not to mention PSVR really doesn't have killer games... just shovel-ware games not really helping the adoption rate.
  • Xbox is not the place for VR gimmicks. There are other platforms for that.
  • I suspect that Microsoft is, given their support in VR in Windows, uniquely positioned to understand who is using VR and how often. Just because X number of people purchased, say, Sony's PSVR headset, that gives you absolutely no indication on how much the headset it used, the volume of games purchases for same, etc. People really need to learn to apply some critical thinking skills before trotting out some meaningless number as proof their feels on the matter are relevant or accurate.
  • Great points. Perhaps that will be the mid-generation add-on for Scarlett. Personally, I game socially, not because it's more fun for me, but because it's my only option: My wife and kids like to watch me play. If they didn't, I'm pretty sure that would mean I would have to give it up altogether. I'm not sure what % of the population is in that same boat, but I can imagine there are a lot of people who live with families who can only game if they can make it a family affair.
  • From my understanding, it looks like Microsoft is working on a wireless Xbox VR headset. Something like Oculus Quest.
  • Oh so I guess the opinion of Spencer and his fanboys will change again when that comes along?
  • Glad Phil listens to the gamers and not internet tech writers. They have plenty to focus on with a new console, a bunch of new developers, xCloud and pushing Gamepass. VR is nothing more than an expensive gimmick. Half Life Alyx does not show “major developer” interest. It’s made by Valve who are pushing their own very expensive VR system. Phil knows what he’s doing.
  • What advantage would there be to it though? Microsoft already supports VR through Windows Mixed Reality. What would putting VR on Xbox bring to the table that isn't already being done better on PC? Console gaming is all about mass market, with the lowest possible barrier to entry. VR is still very niche, complicated, confusing, and expensive. It would take a lot of resources away from the hardware and software development of Scarlet to get VR going on Xbox, and they'd end up with a device that isn't as good as what you can get on PC, and that 90% of console gamers wouldn't care about anyway. Not to mention that they'd also be segmenting the already relatively small Xbox player base. Look at HL: Alyx. Valve is effectively alienating a large portion of the Half-life fan base by putting out a game that most (including myself) will never be able to play. This would be a terrible mistake for Microsoft, especially since they're already coming into the next generation as the underdog. And don't forget that Microsoft tried last generation to push a $150 accessory with the Xbox and look how that went for them. Do you think pushing a $400 accessory is going to go any better?
  • I can agree with most of what you said, but considering Xbox relatively small user base? Compared to what, exactly. As of 2016, the numbers was reported being around 48 million active players. I doubt those numbers have dropped over the last three going to
    four years
  • Relative to PS4, which is estimated to have outsold Xbox One by somewhere around 2:1.
  • @Vincent
    Active XBL monthly users include a whole bunch of people. Not just XB1 players. It includes win10, some android, iOS, steam and even Switch players.
    There is a reason MS stop talking about console sales numbers and "active" XBL numbers.
  • It seems like "technological conservatism" is the biggest hindrance here. I still remember when VR started to arrive around 1991 and could see the clear benefits back then. I would say that the introduction of first person perspective in games also meant an obvious transition to VR. When you view the game "from the eyes of the player" - why not take it a step further, which is where VR comes in? I don't think VR needs this or that platform, i.e. that a PC would be "better" or "worse" for that matter. It is a logical thing to offer where there are "first person perspective content" available. It would be great to have VR accessories for Scarlett. The only thing I don't like with current VR headsets (some of them) is the "binocular view" - bigger screens covering the whole field of vision is needed. I wouldn't argue against the concept because of imperfections since the benefits and potential is too obvious. Arguing against VR, calling it a "fad" and so on is more of a technological conservatism indicator than anything else. It is a technology with a lot of usefulness, far beyond games (I am talking about education, design, development, on-the-job training, medical aspects and so forth).
  • I think it needs to be an option. Whether I'm looking at a TV or wearing a HMD has no impact in the online social aspect of gaming (I'll give that it does impact "Same couch" multiplayer). Also, much like Windows Phone had a chicken/egg problem with apps, I think VR faces similar issues. What kills me is that Microsoft has some amazing IP that could leverage the nature of VR to make amazing experiences. Imagine Forza Motorsport with VR. Seeing in 3D allows drivers to better understand how far away turns and other cars happen to be. Being able to turn one's head to look in the rear view or side view mirrors creates a new immersive experience. The new Flight Simulator offers similar benefits. Given the extent in which they're going to basically map the world and recreate cockpits, it seems like the perfect opportunity to leverage 3D and using the head for movement. Hopefully they'll at least offer VR for the PC version. As with everything, it's about the right tool for the job. For some jobs, I don't think VR is the right fit. For others though, it opens amazing doors.
  • As far as I'm aware there is only a PC version of Flight Simulator. And no intention of making it an Xbox game.
  • Simple, if they hold off on VR they'll have another console they can sell you in four years time.
  • 1st of all, love the dark mode, guys. 1) I think Microsoft is trying to not do too many things at the same time with Scarlett, as they did with the original X1 release
    2) Have you seen a PSVR unit actually being used in the wild? I certainly haven't. I don't even know anyone who owns one
  • After being shouted down in the comments for the original article, I have reconsidered my position there is no VR killer app and I humbly stand corrected... https://www.pcmag.com/news/372213/need-your-cows-to-produce-more-milk-tr...
  • Please please please don't waste money on R&D for VR. For the very small 4 million people who actually care about VR, let Sony cater for them. Honestly woukd be massively upset if millions of pounds was spent designing a product that only 4 million gamers are interested in. Just use that money for more studios and more Exclusives. Thanks MS.
  • Consoles are always the same, there's not much to R&D, let's be honest.
  • No the R&D for VR headsets. It cost millions. Facebook about a year ago pulled back on VR because it wasn't taking off and costs so much to continually develop. Then there is sacrificing studios to making VR games. Like they did with Rare and Kinect. No thanks. If PS VF sold 30 million in 3 years maybe. But 4 million in 3 years?? It's a niche of a niche at this point.
  • "No one will ever need more than 640k of RAM" -- Bill Gates 1981. Sony sold more than 4 million of system that is utter crap. 10 years from now when Microsoft finds itself hopelessly behind in VR, they will say "we always knew VR was going to be big but we didn't think it was going to happen until years from now"
  • Saying VR is isolating is like laughing at the iPhone back in 2007.
    VR can be social, used at partys, an experience to share with other people and introduce them to a new dimension, etc. And to be honest, sitting in front of a screen transfixed in a videogame is not very far from the concept of "isolating" yourself. Trust me, look at a teenager playing anything. So no excuses, really. Bring VR to the masses. They don't know what they want but once they try it they'll love it.
  • VR + Forza, yes.
    VR + flight sim, yes.
    VR + arcade style rail shooter, yes.
    VR + Halo, Control, Witcher, Starwars, BF, FF, COD, Gears, Fable, DMC, 2d/3d platformers, fighting games? And then you have 100m PS4 vs 4m PSVR... also, look at AAA dev support...
    Current-gen VR hype comes from dreamers and businessmen.