When I first started writing about VR, I very much expected it to be like the VR device I got to use when I was a child. I was around five or six years old when I walked down the toy aisle of Walmart. I wish it was as advanced as the Vue VR. This was back in the day when such a small child could wander off on their own without a parent becoming very worried about where there child went.
In this toy aisle was a big bulky headset that promised that I would be launched into a virtual reality where I could use my hands on controls to box. Looking back on it, it was a simple headset with one game in it and a motion sensor on the controllers. It was very basic, but I wasn’t intelligent enough to realize that if I moved, at all, the character in the headset would punch at full force. As a kid, I was enthralled with this device but, much to my dismay, I was told no when I asked for it.
Fast forward to the moment when VR first started coming out again. I thought we were all going to enjoy that 8-bit love on our heads. I was quickly doused in reality as I watched some of the very first games coming out for the system being depicted on Developer Keynote screens. Keynotes are like Christmas for developers and we’re told what comes in the presents we’re going to get. It absolutely blew my mind that we had come far enough to start mixing panorama views with motion sensor technology to provide a full and very real Virtual Reality experience.
The little child in me had its mind blown because I was going to get to be the character in the RPG video games I had always wanted to be. The developer in me had its mind blown because of the possible amount of sheer raw data that needed to come through the cables that was needed to achieve this. We’re talking about some of the biggest and fastest transfers I had ever seen at the time and I had just started getting into game development.
Fast forward to just a few months ago, where I was given the opportunity to write about such topics as VR, I got to look at VR from a different aspect. I was a big man, weighing in at 358lbs at 6’3″ and it didn’t look like it was going to improve any time soon. The job was to cover VR games, but nothing was really mentioned upfront about the fact that it would include fitness. My very first topic was to cover specific VR based games and provide a rating on how well they performed overall while incorporating fitness.
That’s around the time that I found KatWalk, a system that was, what I thought to be, the first giant leap forward in VR control. KatWalk didn’t do very well primarily because it’s a system built before the time was right and it wasn’t a cheap model either. However, there was a Kickstarter and it was overwhelmingly “kicked” into production. There’s not been a lot of news about them, but there certainly has been some news about a device that is almost exactly designed to the tooth the same way as KatWalk.
There’s Just Enough to Get Away With It
The primary method of delivery is very sneaky and they both do almost the same thing. The Vue VR Treadmill allows you to use custom made shoes, from their company, to move on the treadmill. The shoes need to be custom made because they have to be low friction on the bottom of the shoe. However, the key fact is that they produce a whole shoe rather than a device that goes on a shoe, which is what KatWalk was planning to do. Once again, the shoes are made to be low friction but KatWalk just makes an adjustable shoe accessory that transforms your current shoes into low friction shoes.
The KatWalk had only one strap to hold you to the machine, along with two more for leg support, while the Vue VR Treadmill has two straps and, seemingly, no leg support. The rest literally looks like a rip off product, casting Vue VR Treadmill into the rip off light. The Vue VR Treadmill has an adjustable piston at the top, which moves up and down with you. The actual frame is not adjustable and it is just a block of material going from the base to the piston on top. Meanwhile, the KatWalk looked like a much more finished product that adjusted the area of where the piston would go from the back of the machine instead of a block of material. While the average person would look at the machines and conclude they work almost exactly the same, there’s just enough of a difference that they aren’t likely breaking any laws.
Why KatWalk failed and why Vue VR Treadmill might succeed?
Well, here’s the thing, KatWalk is still a thing but not in America. See, in Asia, the VR movement has absolutely exploded and there are even VR Arcades where you can play VR without needing to purchase all the equipment yourself. As a person who is able to speak Mandarin and Japanese (Thank you Otaku life and hatred for subtitles), the new KatVR website features a very nice (and very expensive) device that has to be invoiced for purchase but it seems it is only available to those in China. It looks like a device out of Tron and it just looks so cool (and awesome, and I freaking want it, just take my money!). However, that is not available in America.
America hasn’t really caught fire as much as the Asian culture has, but this is not surprising considering how much the media attempts to demonize all forms of gaming. The Vue VR Treadmill is different for a few reasons. First, it’s far cheaper in comparison to the KatWalk within the range of a couple grand, but since the KatWalk screen is Explosion Proof it’s easily understandable why. Secondly, it’s commercially available, as in you can go hit the purchase button from their website and it will be on your doorstep within a short time. These combinations make it a viable option in America, where the VR gear is still usually owned by the person rather than an Arcade company, which seems to be slowly changing.
Many countries are hurting for jobs, not just America. This might seem like it’s coming off from a different direction, but this has a lot to do with fitness. America has a huge stake in the fitness industry, a $21 billion stake to be exact with more than 50 million people attending a gym regularly. The world as a whole also has a huge interest in video games, reaching nearly $100 billion dollars in the last year. The world spent $75 trillion on gyms though and there’s a key point in this pile of numbers that could open the biggest job market the world has ever seen.
A VR arcade is a gym but better in that not only do you get exercise but you also get to play video games. Now, there are people who don’t want to play games but the number of people who do play games has never shrunk. If the world can catch on to what Asia seems to have already caught on to, the opening of VR arcades could mean billions of people could have access to both video games and exercise in the same stride while also providing millions (if not billions) of people with new work in these locations. Mixing this with the increasing mobile VR market would mean that not only would places have VR games of their own, but people could go to a VR arcade to play VR mobile games with their friends and not have to worry about buying their own system. Combine this with the new cheaper Vue VR Treadmill and you have all the tools needed to make this happen.
We saw a similar explosion when games themselves first started coming out in America. We didn’t always have consoles to entertain us. Instead, we had arcades and we had a lot of them. The market was so massive that companies literally drowned the market in video games and it took years for it to crash. It didn’t crash because it was a dying fad, it crashed because gaming companies made bad games. If VR Arcades become a reality in the rest of the world, we will see a similar market explosion.