VR Sickness Should Be Mostly Solved In 5 Years

The sickness adoption hurdle. The timing of most tech adoption curves can be anticipated by a combination of cost and utility. The lower the cost, the higher the utility, the faster the adoption. We define mass adoption as 500m or more monthly users. We estimate monthly VR users to be about 25m today. It’s still very early. In addition to the standard tech adoption factors of cost and utility, VR has a third factor: sickness. In order for VR to go mainstream, simulation sickness is a problem that needs to be solved. We expect that over the next 5 years, technology will solve most VR sickness.  It’s important to understand why we get sick in VR and what can be done to reduce VR nausea. We visited a VR arcade to further investigate the issue.

Why do we get sick in VR? Users primarily experience sickness in virtual reality simulations due to the imbalance of inputs in their vestibular and visual systems. This sensory imbalance is related to motion sickness. In a common example of motion sickness, a passenger on a boat may become sick when the visual inputs to their body appear as if they are not moving, but their vestibular inputs give their body the perception that they are moving. In this example, motion is not seen by the user, but is felt by the vestibular system. Virtual reality can cause a type of motion sickness, where motion is seen by the visual systems but not felt by the vestibular systems. The most common theory posits that the imbalance of sensory inputs causes the brain to incorrectly believe that a user is hallucinating due to poison, and will attempt to induce vomiting.

In addition to sensory and visual conflict, virtual reality sickness can also be caused between the lag in head movement and simulation refresh rate. If the simulation refresh rate can be brought down to within 5 to 10 milliseconds of our body’s movement (from on average 18 to 22 milliseconds today), sickness from refresh rate will be reduced or eliminated.

Potential fixes. As mentioned, one solution to address VR sickness is to decrease the latency, or the time between a user’s head movement and the updated display content reaching a user’s eyes, to a level between 5 to 10 milliseconds. Improving latency inside VR is challenging, but achievable, notably through the introduction of eye tracking and foveated rendering. Eye tracking is when a VR headset has the ability to identify the specific area of the screen that a user is looking at. Foveated rendering is the process of rendering the specific area of the screen a user is looking at with a higher resolution. Areas outside of focus are rendered at a lower resolution. As such, foveated rendering is dependent upon a quality eye tracking system. Foveated rendering takes stress off of the GPUs, reducing the bandwidth necessary and potentially decreasing the latency.

When it comes to sensory imbalance, there is still a lot of work to be done. There have been some VR applications that try to mimic movement in VR to limit the sensory imbalance, such as walking on a gaming treadmill. A less appealing, non-technological solution is for users to develop a tolerance for simulations and VR, slowly acclimating their sensory system to a simulated environment. Using VR more often for short periods of time can normalize one’s senses to the discrepancy between sensory inputs. We believe that over the next 5 years, technology will solve the vast majority of VR sickness.

Measuring for VR sickness, our visit to VR game location. Madeleine Winges, an intern at Loup Ventures, visited Smaaash, a VR game location at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Madeleine’s not a gamer, which made her the right person to do the testing. Here’s her report:

A great experience, even thought I felt slightly nauseous.  Overall, I had a great experience at Smaaash.  It was my first time in a high definition VR headset, and I would recommend it to anyone, especially those curious about the world of virtual reality.  I did get slightly nauseous (average of 3.6 on my 0-10 nausea scale) in the hour I tested the different VR experiences, and the nauseous feeling lasted for 45 minutes after I left.  One complaint about the particular location-based VR experience: Players need to wait for an attendant to set up the game for you, compared to the simplicity of a classic, walk-up arcade. While I am not likely to return due to my lack of interest in gaming,  I can see why groups of people would enjoy this unique experience.

Game details.  There were a wide variety of games for all ages, and I tried out seven of them with the HTC Vive:

  • Extreme Drone Racing.  In this game, you sit on a stationary flying craft that is replicated in VR.  Similar to Mario Cart, you race the person next to you on a designated course using controllers on the craft.  The game was enjoyable and realistic, complete with tilt and a fan in front mimicking wind during the race.  The only aspect missing from this game was a stomach drop when going off of a steep cliff.
    • Game time: 6 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 3; after 2 minutes
    • Recovery time: 2 minutes
  • Jurassic Escape.  Imagine a prehistoric world in first person from the front seat of a Jeep.  Once you put on the Vive, you are thrown into the world of Jurassic Park, being chased by a T-Rex on a bumpy ride.  The graphics were very realistic. I’m embarrassed to report I let out a slight scream at one point during the ride.
    • Game time: 3 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 0
    • Recovery time: NA
  • Nitro Wheelie.  This game had a unique setup in which the player is mounted on a stationary motorcycle that moves in coordination with steering while in VR.  The player can accelerate, brake, and even pop a wheelie.  It feels like you are actually inside of a race with the VR display showing a replicant of a real-life racing track.  The only aspect missing from the ride was the feeling one would expect when hitting a wall, which, I suppose, is a good thing.
    • Game time: 4 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 1; after 3 minutes
    • Recovery time: 2 minutes
  • Flymax.  This was by far the most intense game I played while at Smaaash. (see photo above)  The player puts on a vest and leg straps and is hooked to cords on the machine that allow suspension over a platform.  The player then holds onto a floating bar, while still in suspension, and the attendant places the Vive on them, throwing them into a hand-gliding simulation.  I expected this game to be easy to handle, but I was proven wrong when the hand-glider took me on upside down loops over buildings and mountains.
    • Game time: 4 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 8; within 1 minute
    • Recovery time: 10 minutes
  • World Moto Jump Championship.  This was my least favorite game due to unrealistic graphics and excessive jerkiness during the simulation.  The experience is meant to mimic extreme drag racing in the desert.  The player is not in control of the simulation, so no matter how annoying the stop-and-go is to you, there is no way to avoid the feeling.
    • Game time: 4 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 6; after 1 minute
    • Recovery time: 7 minutes
  • Finger Coaster.  Despite poor graphics, this game was enjoyable. Before putting on the VR headset, the player gets to create their roller coaster with their finger on a touch screen connected to the ride.  It was set on a beach similar to that of the Casino Pier on the Jersey Shore.  Similar to other games, the stomach drop sensation was noticeably missing.
    • Game time: 3 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 4; after 2 minutes
    • Recovery time: 3 minutes
  • Exterminator.  Based off of the Terminator movie series, this is a two-player VR simulation that encompasses world-end graphics in which players compete to destroy the most Terminator bots.  The greatest appeal to this game was the point system, allowing gamers’ competitive nature to shine through.  The player can move the large “gun” in all directions to get ahead of a competitor and terminate the Terminators.
    • Game time: 6 minutes
    • Nausea scale: 3; after 4 minutes
    • Recovery time: 3 minutes
Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.