It seems like every year is billed as the one where virtual reality (VR) will finally go mainstream.

But hopes for VR to make this leap are fading fast with the general public still failing to become engaged by the technology, with a variety of reasons why this is the case.

Let’s examine why VR never made the breakthrough it has always promised was on the way.

Prohibitive cost of VR headsets

Perhaps the top reason why VR has failed to take off is that headsets are still expensive.

Usually, when a new technology enters the market, it takes some time for the price to come down to an amount that is reasonable for most interested people to be able to afford.

While early adopters got on board with VR, the inability to lower the cost of headsets significantly has proven to be one of the major barriers between it becoming a mainstream option.

Even though Sony’s PlayStation VR headset has sold more than five million units since its release a few years ago, this pales in comparison with traditional home consoles.

With the PlayStation 4 having sold well in excess of 100 million units around the world, it is clear that gamers have not turned to VR in a big way despite Sony pushing the technology hard.

Indeed, VR sets for the PS4 cost around the same as the console itself, showing just why it is not a realistic option for most casual players who may only use VR every now and again.

Lack of breakthrough in variety of sectors

It is not just in traditional home gaming where VR has not made a breakthrough. Different sectors have tried to bring VR to the mainstream and one of them, the iGaming industry, failed spectacularly when they introduced VR slots. 

For a long time, the online gambling industry appeared to be backing VR as the next big thing. It was easy to see the appeal. Playing an online poker tournament with a VR headset could be revolutionary, increasing the feeling of realism that has held online gambling back.

But even though 2020 was a banner year for the world of online gambling, VR did not take off at all. Some VR games are available at online casino sites, but they are rare and not particularly popular either. It would be no surprise were the industry to cut their losses on VR in the future. 

While around 10 million VR headsets are thought to be in circulation, VR remains quite niche. Among the reasons for this is the large amount of space needed in order to use VR properly.

The future of VR

It seems unlikely now that VR will ever be mainstream – but what are its future uses? Even though the BBC and Google are among the major organizations that appear to have given up on VR, it might still come in handy in some surprising ways.

Among the interesting applications of VR is that it is now being used in mental health treatment. At University College London, VR is being used as an alternative to face-to-face therapy for depression. Prof John King and Dr Emma Jayne Kilford are the team working on this.

In fact, VR has been used in mental health treatment since the 1990s, but it is only relatively recently that this has become a lot more common.

Some gaming developers might continue to focus on VR, but it seems unlikely that it will ever be a mainstream concern. Back in 2016, the hype surrounding Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission was huge but, nearly five years later, VR is still failing to take off.

VR has proven that no matter how much money is thrown at a new technology, it is never guaranteed to be a success. That neither Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S and Sony’s PlayStation 5 have thrown their lot in with VR is a sign the technology could be on the way.

If it remains too expensive, with further barriers such as a lack of titles to play, plus the need for lots of space to play in, VR could quickly become a thing of the past for gamers when for a long time it seemed certain to be the future.