How the Vision Pro Could Become Apple’s Best Gaming Device
Apple’s push to be a force outside of the world of mobile gaming comes to a head with a computer that’s also a beautiful, resizable flat-screen TV.
After trying the Vision Pro in one of Apple’s 30-minute in-store demos, the thing that stood out to me about the cutting-edge headset wasn’t the weight, the external battery, or the passthrough cameras, it was how nice the screens were, and how great they seemed like they could be for playing games.
Since announcing the Vision Pro without a super clear sense of direction, Apple’s zeroed in on watching video, whether it’s spatial video, or movies and TV shows, as one of the best things to do with a headset on. It’s all over the company’s “Hello Vision Pro” marketing campaign, and it was a clear standout in Inverse’s review of the device. And as great as watching movies and TV can be in the Vision Pro, playing games could work just as well.
Apple makes the obligatory shoutout to Apple Arcade on the Vision Pro, but I’m talking about the more fully-featured games we play on consoles and other VR headsets. In-depth, immersive experiences that require more time, and aren’t necessarily built around Apple’s highly lucrative in-app purchase system. The types of titles, like the remake of Resident Evil 4, that are only just now coming to iPads and iPhones.
We know the Vision Pro is powerful enough to run these kinds of games; we know there’s a deep bench of virtual reality and mixed reality experiences that could be ported over; we know that Apple is taking a more active stance when it comes to gaming. With the right tweaks, the Vision Pro could become a great game console in a way Apple’s other devices haven’t been.
M2 Is Still Powerful
One instance where following Apple’s branding of the Vision Pro as a spatial computer makes sense is with the device’s processing power. The headset features both Apple’s M2 chip, and a new R1 chip that manages the Vision Pro’s elaborate system of cameras and other sensors. These are the same chips that are in the current iPad Pro, the MacBook Air, and even desktop computers like the Mac mini. It’s powerful enough to run games like Death Stranding: Director’s Cut, it should be able to do the same thing mounted on your face.
The catch, and it’s visible if you’re able to spend time using the Vision Pro, are those high-resolution, high-refresh-rate micro-OLED displays. Apple uses foveated rendering to give the M2 chip some wiggle room while overlaying digital objects on a crisp (if slightly dull) video feed of the world around you. That means the headset detects where you’re looking and only fully renders whatever you’re looking at, leaving the edges blurry and out of focus to save power. This is a totally normal technique that headsets like Sony’s PSVR 2 use, but it suggests that the M2 and R1 combo probably wouldn’t be able to do all of the computer stuff it's supposed to do and keep the display looking good.
That poses a potential problem for ports of graphically intensive AAA video games. Some of them just might not be able to run quite as well as they would on a gaming PC, a dedicated console, or even a Mac with the same chip. Not every game will be able to run on the first-generation Vision Pro.
VR Libraries Are Huge
The good part is there are plenty of VR and MR games that would work just as well and probably ask a lot less from the Vision Pro. Meta’s been making a consumer VR push for years now, since the release of the Quest 2 in 2020 if not earlier. There are hundreds of games in its store that could be ported, some that it funded, others that are multiplatform. There’s also SteamVR and its deep catalog of PC VR games that could make the jump.
All of this hinges on the Vision Pro catching on, and more importantly, games being able to be ported. Most VR games rely on dedicated motion controllers, and wouldn’t have an easy transition to hand and eye tracking. Apple currently offers support for third-party gamepads like the PlayStation DualSense or the Xbox Wireless Controller, but those are really meant for 2D games.
The best case scenario is Apple adding support for proper VR controllers, maybe by blessing a few existing ones or releasing APIs and frameworks that would make it easier for an accessory maker to build one that works with the Vision Pro’s camera system. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a motion controller to be added to Apple’s MFi Program. Until that happens though, workarounds are going to be developed to reverse engineer support for existing platforms and accessories.
Apple’s Stance on Gaming Is Changing
Besides telling developers no, Apple has appeared to take more of a backseat approach to gaming on the App Store, raking in its 30 percent fees and otherwise trying to find ways to prevent people from avoiding them. As of late, that’s seemed to change. The company made gaming a big part of the selling point for the M3 chip in the new MacBook Pros and the A17 Pro in the iPhone 15 Pro. Apple even suggested as much when asked. “Gaming was fundamentally part of the Apple silicon design,” Doug Brooks, a member of the Mac product marketing team shared with Inverse late last year.
The company has also opted to loosen its restrictions around game streaming apps, making it possible for a service like Nvidia GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud Gaming to exist on the App Store and sell subscriptions, provided they follow Apple’s age rating rules. That wasn’t a decision Apple made without threats of further scrutiny from the European Commission, but it is still an important change that will hopefully bear fruit for devices like the Vision Pro. We know the Quest 3 is a competent replacement for an Xbox and a TV with the right internet connection. The displays on Apple’s headset could make that experience even better.
These aren’t the kind of tweaks that happen overnight, and one of the biggest issues, the Vision Pro’s $3,500 price tag, likely won’t come down until a few revisions from now. There’s certainly time for the Vision Pro to become a better game console, and maybe by the time it is, it’ll be affordable and comfortable to wear too.
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