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Just how ‘in trouble’ is VR?

You probably know already, but after a fairly hot start VR headset sales have stalled. Might this mean that virtual reality is already starting to bottom out, or can Sony stage a comeback?

Today is September 7th, and it’s gonna be a busy day. First, we’ve got the Apple presser hitting at around 1pm eastern time. And after that? Sony takes the field with an event that’ll likely outline the Neo and Slim… and the PlayStation VR. And that last part is where things get the most interesting.

The PSVR cometh

Sony hasn’t made all that many mistakes this generation. Matched up against the comparatively disastrous early days of the PS3, the PS4 era has been near flawless. Today, will test that. And so will the weeks to come. That’s when the PSVR (if not all three of today’s ‘reveals’) will hit the streets.

Unlike Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony has invested heavily in the virtual reality trend. They’re about as all-in was you can get, with a PS4-specific VR headset and even a new console that should take better advantage of it with the Neo. Personally, I’m excited, and I’m dying to see what Sony does with the technology. At the same time though, I have to admit that I’m reminded of gaming fads past.

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Remember motion controls? Sure they’re still around in some ways, but does anyone really make use of them on a regular basis? I know I don’t. Nintendo’s recent Star Fox Zero used motion controls, and it ended up being one of the biggest knocks against the title.

The whole VR thing is starting to make me nervous in a similar way. Nervous that a $400 USD headset will become as big of an afterthought as the Kinect and the PS Move (the first time around). The keys of course, to making sure that doesn’t happen, are games.

Thankfully that’s an area that Sony knows plenty about, which definitely gives me cause for optimism. I mean, I’m not canceling my pre-order, that’s for sure, not with the experiences that the PSVR is going to give in month one.

Not helping things though, is a recent report on VR sales. Figures show not only a decline since the Oculus and Vive launched for the PC earlier this year, but an almost total and complete stagnation.

Bottoming out

According to website VentureBeat, the virtual reality headset hubbub is all but done. Take July’s numbers for example (and you won’t want to, cause they ain’t pretty). Two months ago, a relatively short period of time after the headsets hit the market and just after they became widely available, users of the HTC Vive grew… wait for it… 0.3%. That’s not three percent, that’s point three percent. And that’s pretty much zero growth.

Oculus Rift dev kit 2

The Oculus Rift? The same. July showed an identical 0.3% growth for Facebook’s headset in the same month. But what did August hold? Was there a late-summer turnaround (for some miraculous reason)? Nope. Industry site MCV points out that the Rift showed an even worse number of 0.1% growth, and the Vive was “flat”.

So what’s the story here? Is the VR game DOA, or is there simply a lull in the early goings. Well, there are a few factors working against VR as it stands now, and some of those are based on the fact that it’s presently a PC-only game.

The pitfalls of PC

First of all, I have noting against the PC as a gaming platform. So I don’t want to hear about ‘PC Master Race’ or that I have ‘console bias’ or anything like that. I actually just got myself a new rig and I’m back to using it more than any of my consoles, which is something that I haven’t done since the late-90s.

But just because I’m a PC gamer, doesn’t mean that I can’t spot the potential issues that could crop up when it comes to something like VR. And it also doesn’t mean that I can’t be honest about them – especially when those pitfalls could be the reason that the virtual reality format hasn’t taken off.

Foremost, you need a pretty good computer to run VR headsets (either of them) effectively. A lot of gamers don’t have hardware at that level. Even in this age, it’s not cheap in any way to assemble yourself a PC that will make VR hardware sing. You’re talking around a grand at the very least.

HTC Vive

Second, you need a headset. Even if you have that workhorse of a PC, you’ll need to drop hundreds on a Rift, or nearly another thousand on a Vive. The tech is great, and capable of some awesome things, but that’s a lot of dough. Too much for many gamers.

And this is where the PSVR might change the game.

A Sony-led resurgence?

All the signs are there that the PSVR could be the chance that VR has to take off. The PS4 already has a massive install base, and the Neo isn’t totally necessary to run Sony’s VR headset. Then there’s the ace – there are some monster games coming in short order that’ll take advantage of the hardware.

All of that bodes extremely well for the PSVR. And yes, I understand that the Neo will probably make the thing run better, but the bottom line is that you don’t need it to get into Sony-branded VR. With the install base that the console already enjoys globally, there are a ton of people who could just go out and get a PSVR headset and start playing tomorrow.

PSVR

It’s also the cheapest of all the retail units available, coming in at $399.99 USD. Providing you have a PS4, one $400 investment (plus games of course) is way more tempting than the other options.

With the likes of Batman: Arkham VR, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and Star Wars Battlefront all offering VR experiences right out of the gate, the games will be there too. Sure some of these games will have just a level or two, but these are still monster franchises from publishers who are buying into the PSVR straightaway.

On the PC, while there are some legitimately good gaming experiences, there isn’t much that’s triple-A. Most everything is smaller, coming from indie studios. And while I hate to say it, those kinds of games usually don’t pull in the big numbers in terms of audience.

Wait and (virtually) see

None of this is a sure thing of course, and Sony might crash and burn with the PSVR just like it did with the PS Move. Or it might hit and be popular, and then wind down at breakneck speeds like the VR headsets on the PC. I realize I might be crazy, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

With the games there right at launch (even if they’re not ‘full’ games), the quite honestly stunning install base, and the price coming in lower than the competition, I think the PSVR has a solid chance. And hell, if it is a hit, I think it’s safe to say that PC gamers might take note and start looking into the Rift and Vive a little more. After all, a success on the PS4 could easily make more publishers see the value in going into VR in general, not just on PlayStation.

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With Microsoft already working with both Vive and Rift in different ways right now, maybe the Xbox One will even get into the act come Scorpio time next Fall. It’s exciting to think about just where this could all lead. First though, it has to lead to sales. We’ll find out more about that when the second wave of virtual reality starts today, with the Sony presser this afternoon in NYC.

If you’re an interested party, then you don’t want to miss it. The future of VR as a mass-market format just might depend on what happens with Sony’s latest baby in the next few months. Catch the stream right here at 3pm eastern time.

About Jason

Jason
Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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