Weighing Up The Issues
VR Sickness Blown Out of Proportion
For those who may still be on the fence, I can confirm that VR sickness is very real. It kicked in the most for me when playing Resident Evil 7 which offers fluid locomotion (which combined with VR fuzzy shadow effects can be rather nauseating). A feature in VR games that has become a very acquired taste for users depending on their susceptibility to nausea. It's essentially the same thing as sea sickness.
Many prospective VR buyers will undoubtedly do their research before making the investment and at the forefront of every one of those Google searches, the internet will waste no time warning of the possibility of wanting to dump your lunch on your real lap while the game world remains squeaky clean. Trippy.
Anybody who currently owns a VR headset will have made the leap to simply not giving a damn about it and taking the plunge regardless. For everybody else, the PlayStation VR (or any other headset) offers a value proposition to the kind people who are cautious of going to Australia because they’re scared of tarantulas. That’s me by the way, I’m terrified of them. Which makes this tricky kind of headset sell all the more understandable to me as people aren’t too big on throwing up and rightly so.
When we take a look at PlayStation VR headset sales performance since it arrived back in 2016, a picture of just how many chunder fearing potential buyers could be out there begins to take shape.
Selling Well But… Not Well Enough?
Just two days ago, Sony announced that, since the PlayStation VR’s arrival in October of 2016, 4.2 million PlayStation VR headsets have been bought. They also state that they are happy with this figure and for good reason. The PlayStation VR has turned out to be the most popular gaming headset on the market through easy accessibility and setup, as well as the obvious price point. The PlayStation VR has, at least this generation, won the VR race.
All of this sounds like a wonderful hobby affirming story but let’s all bear in mind the PS4 has sold almost 100 million units since it arrived. Each and every one of those console owners have the most popular VR headset available to them but only 4.2% of that audience has invested in one. This really puts things in perspective and actually shakes out to a worse sales margin than the well known but doomed PlayStation Vita.
Now place yourself in the shoes of a developer. If you make the decision to create a VR game exclusively for the PlayStation, you’re cutting off your project and your business’ ongoing success from 95.8% of your potential audience. These are early days and VR gaming will take time to grow and really find itself. But devs are up against it with VR in other ways too.
For VR Devs, It’s Like Learning To Walk All Over Again
The VR development community currently is like a toddler learning to walk compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie being the rest of the games industry. When we think of massive projects like Final Fantasy XV or Metal Gear V, some of us remember just how long they were being talked about for before they released. These games sometimes take up to a decade to create, in the case of FFXV – more than a decade!
The PlayStation VR has been around for just two and a half years. Any PSVR games we get now will not be the gargantuan works of art we’ve all gotten spoiled with in the AAA market. Of course this is first gen tech, so a lot of wrinkles have yet to be ironed out. But the gaming audience is often super critical of how games present themselves and to many, as I’m sure Sony is aware, the standard of VR gaming right now just isn’t good enough for them. There’s that tricky value proposition again.
From a game development perspective, most VR concepts are not that difficult to build. With the right tools and knowledge, most seasoned game developers could transition to building a VR title quite easily. The rest is a question of creative acumen and a sprinkling of originality. That originality has a much tougher time when the medium has only been around for a few years, meaning less golden boys are out there to draw inspiration from. Again, Sony knows this and is reminded all too well of those sceptical gamers who will “just wait until it all gets a bit better”.
Returning to the point however, the relatively easy transition in game design to VR makes for a good platform for budding development teams to get noticed in the VR space while it’s young and fresh. A lot of them are vying to make that stand-out title of the first generation that gets talked about decades later. As a result of this (and I say this reluctantly), there is a lot of crap on the PlayStation VR Marketplace. Thinking back to the potential buyer doing their research, curiosity could well lead them to that online market, and remind them that the VR library currently has an image issue. Seeing game after game hovering at around a third of typical asking price just gives off a “cheap” vibe. This can be quite disheartening to someone who just spent a wad of cash on a new headset. Admittedly, purchasing an unpopular “gem” of a VR game is like sifting through the trash to find the gold.
My Personal Journey With The PlayStation VR
I want to cover my personal experience as it lends to what Sony may think of their VR audience right now. It would explain why I keep getting emails from them along the lines of “you haven’t used your headset for a while. Can you tell us why”? Such an email inspired me to write a small essay to them. I covered the marketing problems VR has and how they’ve done a very poor job of making me aware of which titles I may want to buy. I basically covered all of the above points.
After all, why spend a bunch of money on marketing a product to your audience if you know only 4.2% of them are using it? This is where the VR experience begins to feel like it’s in a bit of a rut. To be clear, I don’t regret the investment. I’ve had a total blast with my headset playing Rush of Blood, Superhot, Moss and The London Heist. But, as someone who owns the hardware, I can say there is a distinct awareness of its library’s clear separation from the rest of the industry. Which is why I’ll be releasing a sequence of articles soon on unknown PSVR gems to help get the word out for them.
Most of all, one virtual character serves as a constant reminder of how much better storytelling can be handled in the VR space and how it could be the medium’s saving grace. Right now, it’s all about the gameplay innovation and the interactivity. But the sweary, angry and sometimes hilarious cockney, Micky, from The London Heist provided me with the best VR experience yet.
His character was part of what ultimately became a tech demo meme, otherwise known as VR Worlds. In the short twenty minutes of The London Heist, Micky rooted himself in my mind as one of the most memorable characters in my gaming career so far. There I was with him all the way as he bellowed profanities at me for pointing my gun at him. This kind of cleverness in VR storytelling is, bafflingly, nowhere to be found (please let me know in the comments if that’s not true).
There is a ray of hope on the horizon with the same developers, London Studio, soon to release Blood and Truth. Comments below the trailer like “time to dust off my headset” say it all, really.
A Freshly Tough Value Proposition For The PS5
Many optimists out there (myself included until recently) liked to think the next logical step for Sony was to bundle in a VR headset for the PS5. They would look back on the Xbox 360 Kinect’s success leading to a compulsory bundled package for the Xbox One and well… assume. But like all things in this capitalist world, everything revolves around money and a VR headset is no mere fancy camera.
The Xbox One’s compulsory addition of the Kinekt meant that it lost the price war to Sony in an instant. Perhaps that’s the seed of what doomed it this time around. If the PS5 implemented a VR headset in this way, the day one purchase price would be close to $1,000. If a headset was sold separately, the PlayStation VR market would be in the same sticky wicket it’s in now.
Everything discussed so far makes the immediate market for a stronger VR offering from Sony look pretty bleak. These are the growing pains of first gen tech in gaming. A unique period of time that very few of us will have witnessed before, as everything else is so established. The looming shadow of the rest of games media being so firmly placed after decades of evolution only serves to show just how “up against it” VR is right now. Especially so for PlayStation as, unlike their competitors, their audience has to invest twice for access. Whereas your average PC master race rig will likely handle a VR arrival after just the one purchase.
There Is Cause For Hope
With the rumour mill on the PlayStation 5 now in full swing, we have recently learned from a patent that it could have backwards compatibility. Finally, jeez.
If this rule of thumb becomes a reality and rolls on to VR, it could solve a lot of problems for Sony. As it stands, PSVR owners are at risk of being left out in the cold when the PS5 rolls around without any adaption for the old headset. If all the ports are there, and backwards compatibility functions with the PS4 headset, VR gamers’ libraries won’t suddenly feel so redundant. Older VR games already on their library may even run better (as far the headset itself could allow). In the event of this not being a possibility, we return to the devs who now, on top everything else, have to consider if they’ll be selling a game that will only be played for the next few years.
Backwards compatibility is clearly the answer as it means Sony can go on selling this model of headset to interested parties and the gamers can go on gaming. That said, patents have been unearthed from Sony before, like the “VR Glove” which never came to the surface. So – pinch of salt, people.
PlayStation VR Is King of The Hill
While it’s no secret that the PSVR is not the most high end headset on the market, it is the most popular. The last full fledged study on VR headset sales was carried out by Superdata in December last year. In that year alone, the PlayStation VR sold 1.3 million units. Of the two and half years it’s been available, that’s a great year for the headset as it’s total is currently at 4.2 million.
As I mentioned earlier, Sony is content with these figures but at the same time, reaching 4.2% of its audience isn’t exactly blowing their skirts up. Still, it’s official – the PlayStation VR has won the gaming VR race which certainly stands it in good stead going forward. If anything, it helps us to realise just how much the PC headsets are suffering right now.
The Support Is Out There
It’s nice to see VR support springing up in games, often free. No Man’s Sky is about to add a VR option of play which will be a pretty big game changer for the much maligned title. That added immersion could work wonders for what is usually referred to as a boring game. Rise of The Tomb Raider allowed us to explore Croft Manor in VR and it’s clear to see many devs are keen to dive in and see what they can do with the tech and what it can bring to their game. Moss, while exclusively a VR title, rose to a surprising prominence for such a small development team and worked wonders for amplifying PSVR’s presence in the market. Surprising what an adorable little mouse can do for your business, eh?
Did you invest in a PlayStation VR? If so, we’d love to hear your angle. How has the VR life been for you and what more would you like out of it?