We write about a lot of experiences, be they virtual or augmented or mixed reality. We also, when we can, test out those experiences. It’s pretty common to find someone on the team wandering through the office with their phone held out in front of them and a quizzical, slightly distracted look on their face. Sometimes they collide with a coworker, but that’s human error, and thus not the point.
The point is: a disturbing number of these experiences simply don’t work.
We recently downloaded the Timberlake experience. A virtual forest shimmered into existence around us, growing as we moved our phone from side to side. But whatever was supposed to happen next? Simply didn’t. We tried clicking on trees, swiping through the air, screaming “Bring sexy back!” into the phone. Nothing worked. An app designed for completely non-tech-savvy consumers had foiled our greatest minds. Granted, it was our greatest writing minds, not our DevOps team, but the point stands.
Remember a few months ago, when we played Lemmings? We were overwhelmed with how incredible the potential of that game was, but as we played it more than one time, we noticed that the bugs we experienced the first time around were insurmountable to any kind of regular play. Even the slightest misplacement of your starting point would have Lemmings spawning directly into the ground. For all we know, there are holographic Lemmings still wandering through our concrete floor, or maybe falling into the aquarium store below our old offices.
Or how about that utterly glowing review of Superhot? We didn’t mention that a few times, the system completely lost tracking and our gun appeared two feet above where our hand was, completely incapable of firing. We died. We died so hard. It didn’t seem worth mentioning in the article because little tracking glitches like that are so common that all regular players (from which most of our readers number) already know about them. No point belabouring the point.
But as time goes on and these glitches become no less common, we have to wonder at what point technical difficulties start hurting the product. We still wouldn’t give VR to someone of a non-technical bent, because it frustrates members of our fairly highly trained team often enough that we know it might not go well. When we’re going to demo for someone, we always do a test run right before, because of how often troubleshooting comes up.
A good experience isn’t as important as a reliable one. That’s something the XR industry needs to learn. And they might want to do it quickly.
Written by Wren Handman for Hammer & Tusk.