The modern era of VR has been around in earnest for about three and a half years now. Though it has clearly demonstrated its potential and is slowly growing, adoption has remained niche compared to the broader mainstream gaming industry. While VR bubbles up here and there, the Half-Life: Alyx announcement and trailer has thrust VR into the spotlight of mainstream gaming; it’s release next year will be the medium’s next opportunity to prove itself.
Racking up more 10 million views across YouTube and Twitter in its first 24 hours, last week’s release of the Half-Life: Alyx trailer is likely the single fastest spreading exposure to VR of its kind (the trailer is now at 12.4 million views and counting).
While there are YouTube videos involving VR which have racked up tens of millions of views (like PewDiePie playing Beat Saber), such viral videos have succeeded on their standalone entertainment value rather than stimulating conversation among mainstream gamers and pundits. The trailer, on Valve’s official YouTube video alone, has generated nearly 60,000 comments. Links on Reddit have seen tens of thousands of additional comments.
The Half-Life: Alyx announcement also saw extensive press coverage compared to any other VR title before it; here’s a small sampling of gaming, general tech, and even major mainstream news publications which covered it:
Most of these publications covered even more than just the announcement trailer, including multiple op-eds and breakdowns of the info that Valve released on Thursday last week.
This is to be expected, of course. The Half-Life franchise is near-legendary, and clearly commands enough attention that even publications uninterested in VR itself felt that they must cover the news.
With Half-Life: Alyx, Valve has made VR something that the mainstream gaming-sphere can’t ignore any longer, says Denny Unger, the founder of Cloudhead Games, one of VR’s most seasoned developers. Beyond Pistol Whip and The Gallery Ep. 1 & Ep. 2, the studio has had a surprisingly close relationship with Valve, a company which rarely works with external partners; Cloudhead was one of a small handful of developers chosen to get access to Valve’s earliest VR dev kits (which would eventually become the HTC Vive) as well as the developer behind Aperture Hand Lab, a tech demo used to show off the unique hand-tracking capabilities of Index’s controllers.
“Up until now there has been an agenda to summarily ignore VR titles within the mainstream gaming press because it generally didn’t drive click-throughs,” Unger tells Road to VR. “With Half-Life:Alyx, it’s impossible to ignore the conversation. And at that point it is simultaneously impossible for flatscreen gamers to ignore VR. They will be forced recognize how the technology has changed, how much better it is than they might otherwise assume, and that VR isn’t simply a peripheral, it is its own medium.”
VR saw tremendous buzz when the first consumer VR headsets hit the market back in 2016, but the hype far exceeded actual adoption. In the time since then, VR hardware and software has improved significantly, but Unger says that it will have to overcome the lingering sentiment established at launch.
“Of course, the problem here is that we are still battling years worth of antiquated public understanding of where the tech currently sits. You still hear the same old tired arguments about why VR isn’t ready, yet the industry has solved a substantial bloat of issues both in terms of hardware friction and how we interface and interact with VR itself.”
Unger, who has worked closely with Valve over the years, thinks that Half-Life: Alyx, will be just the thing to show the world what VR really looks like in 2020, and even stands to be a proof-point other AAA studios.
“Half-Life: Alyx will smash through so many of the false assumptions & arguments that have blockaded mainstream coverage of VR in recent years. And in doing so, it will also force the AAA industry at large to shift focus. There’s no denying that a great VR experience, when coupled with great hardware, validates the entire medium,” he said. “My personal hope is that with Half-Life: Alyx, the general public and the gaming ecosystem at large will finally accept VR into the fold. Why endlessly spend money on a new monitor or peripheral when you can jump into a completely new medium? VR is ready for prime-time.”
For Unger’s enthusiasm, there’s plenty of mainstream gamers out there who believe that VR still isn’t ready. The word “gimmick” is notably prevalent among dissenting opinions in comment threads by mainstream gamers, though, so far, the overall tone appears to lean more toward excitement and renewed curiosity in VR than pessimism.
More of our Half-Life: Alyx News
One thing is certain: many mainstream gaming and tech publications which rarely (or effectively never) cover VR will be picking up the requisite headsets and hardware to take a good close look at the game when it launches; Half-Life: Alyx will be the biggest opportunity to date for VR to show mainstream gamers why it’s worthy of their attention. No pressure, Valve.