Let’s face it, the state of virtual reality gaming isn’t looking so great these days. Though the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive managed to sell out rather quickly upon each of their respective releases, sales of the two devices have pretty much flatlined. The initial hype got early adopters to jump on board and buy units in droves, but the current sales numbers tell us that consumers just aren’t interested in VR gaming. Some believed this technology would usher in a new era of innovation for games, but it appears that VR is turning out to be the fad most (myself included) said it would be.
Is it lights out for VR gaming? Not exactly. Sony is set to launch its PlayStation VRperipheral next month. This VR add-on may not be as technologically impressive as the Vive or Rift, but it still gets the job done when it comes to delivering a true VR experience. Not only that, but it is priced much more reasonably than the aforementioned devices. PlayStation VR could inevitably meet the same fate as the Oculus and Vive, but it also has the best chance of giving this fledgling technology the mass market appeal it so desperately needs.
This is what came to mind last week when I attended an event hosted by Oasis Games where they showed off some of their upcoming PSVR titles. The games were: Ace Banana, Pixel Gear, Dying Reborn, and Weeping Doll. I wasn’t expecting to see anything revolutionary, but I went in with an open mind regardless. The first two games I played (Pixel Gear and Ace Banana) were arcade-style, on-rail shooters. The other two (Dying Reborn and Weeping Doll) were heavily inspired by the survival horror genre. None of these games were blockbusters by any means, but they were all enjoyable experiences that showed what the technology is capable of.
As I said before, I’m not exactly a proponent of VR, but I left the event feeling rather optimistic about the future of this technology when it comes to gaming. I was able to play PSVR without being too weirded out. Yes, I had an odd contraption strapped to my head, but despite that, it felt like I was just playing games as normal. This is important since you want people to forget they are using a VR headset and just have fun playing games, especially if you want to convince them VR is a viable means of gaming.
I haveused a DK2 Oculus Rift at other events, but this was my first time with a PSVR. I previously had chances to try out PSVR during the last two E3s and at this year’s PAX East. However, since I’m not a fan of waiting in lines, I didn’t bother. Colleagues who braved the lines (and risked getting pink eye!) told me how much fun they had with PSVR and, most importantly, how comfortable the headset was compared to the Oculus Rift. I was able to confirm this myself when I had Sony’s peripheral adorning my head without any discomfort. It was disorientating at first since I was visually cut off from the world, but after a couple of minutes it strangely felt natural — as if I wasn’t wearing anything at all.
My experience with PSVR wasn’t mind blowing, but it did let me see how the peripheral can help revive interest in VR. It won’t be easy since this technology isn’t something that regular folks are familiar with and the device is very hard to market, but if anything has a shot of making it into (potentially) millions of homes, it is PlayStation VR. Even someone like me who is skeptical about the whole VR endeavor sees the potential of Sony’s upcoming PS4 add-on.
Gamers spend countless hours indulging in their favorite hobby so being able to use an unobtrusive VR headset for long stretches of time is essential. The Oculus Rift isn’t uncomfortable to use, but it does have noticeable weight to it, whereas the PSVR is extremely light. Though it does feel like a plastic toy when you are putting it on, you can forgive that since the device is practically weightless. If you’re going to spend a few hours a night playing with PSVR, the last thing you want is to get any bad neck cramps from using it.
Outside of PlayStation consoles, Sony has had a bad record of supporting its gaming devices. Right now though, it seems to be giving PSVR the backing it needs. There will be over 50 titles coming out for the peripheral by the end of the year. PSVR will have its fair share of casual, party-type games, but it will also have more demanding titles likeRigs, EVE Valkyrie, and Farpoint. The sheer amount of games coming out for PSVR is something that cannot be ignored. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive only had (and have) a handful of games, but the PSVR will be fully loaded at launch and by year’s end. Anyone who buys a PSVR won’t be begging for something to play.
VR is notoriously hard to market since the only way to convince anyone about the potential of VR is to let them have some hands-on (or heads-on) time with a VR headset. Wisely, Sony has initiated a cross country tour where folks will have an opportunity to try VR for themselves. The peripheral can also be played at a number of select retailers. Having individuals play PSVR is great on its own, but when those same people tell all of their friends and family about the experience and urge them to see for themselves, it creates free press for Sony’s device that is more effective than a standard ad.
The biggest advantage that PSVR has over the competition is its price. At launch, the PlayStation VR will cost $399.99. That is $200 less than an Oculus Rift and $400 less than an HTC Vive. Let’s not forget the fact that in order to use these two VR headsets you’ll need a beefy (i.e. very expensive) PC capable of rendering VR graphics. For PSVR, all one needs is a PlayStation 4. Even if one doesn’t already own a PS4, buying a PSVR with a PS4 Pro (and the necessary accessories) is still the cheapest option available. The price alone could make PSVR extremely appealing to the masses.
Technology buffs, early adopters, and the PlayStation faithful will ensure PlayStation VR’s early success. Given how many games will be released for the system it should stay afloat at least until the second quarter of 2017. But what happens after that? The peripheral has the best chance of making VR gaming viable to the masses, but it could also be the last shot this technology will get. However, if Sony sticks with PSVR for the long haul and continues to support the system with good games and clever advertising, it could indeed become the next big thing. If not, at least Sony can say they made a better VR add-on than Nintendo did with the Virtual Boy.