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Behind the Line: VR Roundup 2016

2016, the year the public finally started to experience VR en masse.

My friends, the great experiment, the Excelsior…. I mean VR!

 

VR, the great experiment, saddled with great expectations

This year, we greeted VR with enthusiasm and joy. One of the promises of the future was finally coming true! What would this give us? Turns out, mostly motion sickness.

In the case of the Oculus Rift, as Gizmodo reports, a lot of problems are starting to pile up. Hundreds of demo units have been taken down from Best Buy locations because no one was trying them. Retailers don’t want their space to be occupied by something that won’t be used, or profitable. So what does that mean about the market health of VR?

For a lot of reasons, sales didn’t hit the lofty expectations that were bandied about early in the year. The expectations were different depending on who you asked, but right now most people are saying that sales did not meet expectations.  As for the actual sales in 2016, UploadVR relayed a study from SuperData with sales figures:

The organization found that, by the end of 2016, the Oculus Rift is projected to sell 355,088 units; the HTC Vive will sell 420,108 units; Google Daydream will sell 450,083 units; and the PS VR will sell 2,602,307 units.

The Playstation VR seems to outsell all of its major competition added together twice over.

 

Why is the Playstation VR taking the lead?

Those numbers all tell us the what, but not the why. What makes the Playstation VR a more marketable, attractive option than the others. As with most questions of this nature, though, there’s more than one element to make up the answer.

First, the Playstation VR is reportedly one of the more physically comfortable options. For VR, where physical comfort is under constant threat due to potential motion sickness, having a physical fit that minimizes discomfort is remarkably important.

Second, effective marketing. Now, when I say this, I don’t mean ‘good commercials’. Marketing goes far beyond just advertisements. Playstation VR came out with a good variety of demos, presentation on the Playstation Store, an attractive look to the hardware, and it tied into the existing Move. This all went to demonstrate that the Playstation VR had a healthy lineup, good support, good functionality, and was a quality product. Giving this impression to people, through both subtle and overt means, makes them more comfortable as consumers to put up money for a new, risky product like this.

Third, and most importantly, price.

Price!?

This might sound strange, but hear me out. This’ll get a little counter-intuitive.

Normally when you want to sell something, you want as wide a consumer base as possible. You want as few restrictions that will prevent people from giving you their money as you can manage. That’s part of what makes Free to Play Mobile games a successful formula (when done properly), because everyone has a phone, and you don’t need to pay to get in, so there’s effectively zero barrier to entry, and the customer base is damn near everyone…

Thank you Gary…

So, you’d think more people have PC’s than Playstations, so an Oculus or Vive would have a wider potential customer base, right? Here’s the twist.

The big selling point for VR, at the moment at least, is games.  How many people who are hardcore consumers of games don’t have a PS4 already? A significant portion, sure, but a lot do have a PS4. How many don’t have a PC that would support a VR headset? Probably more than don’t have a PS4. For those who happen to have both, and really want a VR headset, would they have enough money for an $800 Vive or Oculus? Or, would a $400-$600 Playstation VR be more appealing (price dependent on if they already have a Move). Or, if you have nothing, but want VR, how much would it cost to go from Zero to VR? Playstation, around $1000. PC, around $2000 for a lower end setup. The only people for whom the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift makes better economic sense for are people with higher end gaming PCs that don’t already have a PS4.

Working into 2017

There’s still time for the other platforms to catch up, but it seems that the Oculus and Vive are stuck in a format war, which may in turn help the Playstation VR even more. It’s a Playstation peripheral, so it’s expected to he Playstation exclusive already anyway. There’s also the less expensive options, like Google Daydream and Samsung Gear. Less powerful, but also less than $100 each and able to run through the phone you already have.

VR has its work cut out for it in 2017. The motion sickness issue will not go away, and new techniques will need to be developed to handle that. The market viability is still in question as well. The PS VR, Vive and Oculus are all high end devices with high bars to entry. If they can’t sustain themselves, perhaps consumer VR will have to recede to the Daydreams and Gears that utilize existing hardware more efficiently.

…Only time will tell…

 


Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is written to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to kynetyk@enthusiacs.com

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