Virtual reality has been touted as the next big thing for a decade or more, but new figures suggest that the technology is struggling to get anywhere close to mainstream adoption.
Figures released by gaming service Steam reveal that fewer than one in 50 users connected a VR headset to their computer during the month of April – and even that represented a massive spike in VR headset usage, prompted by the release of Half Life:Alyx. Before April, the number of connected headsets had never peaked above 1.5%.
The poor take-up figures will certainly go a long way to explaining why Steam has quietly dropped VR support for Mac owners. A brief post on Steam’s update page at the end of last week announced that Steam was ending Mac support so that “our team can focus on Windows and Linux”.
Given that only around 4% of Steam users access the gaming service from a Mac, VR on Mac was a niche within a niche, making it difficult to devote developer resources to a tiny audience.
VR headsets also often require powerful graphics hardware, something that certainly can’t be taken for granted on the majority of Macs, which often rely on integrated graphics.
Indeed, the fact that many VR headsets still need to be connected to a powerful PC is doubtless one of the factors holding the technology back. If there is a grain of hope for the VR industry, it’s that the Oculus Quest came out of nowhere to claim 6% of all VR headset usage on Steam during April. The Oculus Quest is a standalone headset that doesn’t need to be connected to a PC at all, something that is likely to make VR much more attractive to mainstream gamers.
The Steam figures don’t take into account VR headsets designed for smartphones or games consoles, but that market looks equally bleak. Oculus last year said it was ending support for its smartphone-based headset, Gear VR, while Google also discontinued its Daydream View headset.
The most popular form of smartphone VR is much more rudimentary: strapping the phone into a cardboard headset.