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Why is virtual reality taking so long to take off?

LOS ANGELES—At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, all seemed right for virtual reality. Players were waiting in snaking lines — some for up to seven hours — for a chance to step into fantasy worlds. Crowds watched as players wearing VR headsets over their eyes reached out to pick up objects or shoot enemies that only they could see.More than 125 VR exhibitors were at E3 this year, up 130 per cent from last year. Yet adoption of VR among consumers hasn’t really taken off in the three years since it created a buzz in the wider world. An estimated 6.3 million headsets have sold worldwide — indicating that, even among the world’s 2.6 billion gamers, few have picked one up.Experts point to several reasons behind the slow adoption — the technology can cause motion sickness and it is costly. It’s also been hard getting people to try it, developers said. And showing virtual reality experiences on flat screens doesn’t give people a good enough taste of how different the experience really is.“How do you advertise a colour TV on black-and-white televisions? It requires people walking down to main street and seeing it for themselves,” said Steve Bowler, president and co-founder at VR game developer CloudGate Studio.What virtual reality needs, experts say, is a killer app. And firms are pushing to find it, building up their own platforms and funding developers to bring games to their own headsets exclusively. But this kind of fragmentation has resulted in a confusing market and fewer games for players, thus giving them fewer reasons to spend their dollars on this young trend.Article Continued BelowMike Fischer, chair and co-founder of VR game developer CloudGate Studio, told a panel last year that platform fragmentation “keeps me up at night” after so many new companies jumped into the VR market — although he says that things have improved a little since then.Devoting extra resources to creating games for different devices can be particularly difficult for smaller studios, whose creativity drive much of the virtual reality market. In fact, some developers, such as Jeff Pobst from Hidden Path Entertainment, say they rely on funding from platforms such as Oculus to get their games made at all.These exclusive deals between developers and VR companies make it hard for consumers to know which expensive headset will get the game that they want to play — leading them to put off their decision, analysts said.

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