With the last of the big 3 VR headsets announced and priced, I thought it fitting to discuss my thoughts on the one I see having the most potential to reach a wide market and aid adoption of VR as a whole, at least in the early stages of VR. And that headset would be the PSVR, which recently had a price announced and therefore has finally entered the arena with the other big two.
The PlayStation VR is the latest headset to wade into the fray, as the tech industry embraces its next fad and pushes it to see if it’s got a future. However, unlike 3D television or numerous other stupid gimmicks I actually believe VR has legs. I’ve tried google cardboard and the Samsung gear VR, and despite their low quality of resolution-one more so than the other-they are like nothing I have ever experienced. The closest analogous system is IMAX, and after trying one of these devices I did a 180 from my stance that VR was just a fad. This has the potential to be big for gaming, and this year is going to be the foundation of whether or not VR will indeed become a thing-with tech enthusiasts being the first line before more consumer and wallet friendly devices can be made.
With the Oculus coming in at around 600 dollars, and the Vive coming in at around 800 dollars-not counting a PC strong enough to run both of these systems well enough to actually be usable-the beginning of VR is looking to be expensive. That’s pretty unsurprising-HDTV's, 4KTV's, all of these things when new start out being insanely expensive and drop gradually to allow for consumer adoption and in response to better methods of manufacture. This year was never going to be the beginning of VR for the average person-it’s the beginning of VR for tech enthusiasts and people with money to burn, as is always the case. But with PlayStation VR, I made a prediction that has held up-more or less, that it would be the cheapest and perhaps most accessible VR headset from the word go. And at 400 dollars-with several caveats of its own-I was right.
Why did I think that? Well, a few reasons. First off, unlike PC which is highly variable and different in each instance, the PS4 is a static system with a set cost. The PSVR only needs be designed for that system, and its graphical output and power can be fine-tuned, as opposed to a competitors which have to deal with a wide variety of systems and configurations. Second, whatever the cost of the PSVR it was tied to a static system at 400 dollars. Price-wise, even figuring in the cost of the peripherals, tax and the cost of a PS4 the VR headset still comes in below the competition.
Now, this wouldn’t be a company trying to sell a product if they didn’t lie about the price to a degree. To use the PSVR, you’re going to need a move controller and PS camera. The camera comes in at 60 bucks, and the move at 28 bucks new. Both are required for the PSVR, and bring that price to around 488 before taxes and what not. Still below the competition, but still lying about the pricing schema to try and make it look better than it actually is-like putting 399.99 to trick your brain into thinking it falls into the 300 range rather than the 400 range. Additionally as opposed to selling the system at a loss per unit, Sony will actually be making a profit on the system, as opposed to the cost of the more expensive units. This means that while others are making a loss, Sony profits and doesn’t lose out too hard if it doesn’t sell very well at first-or at all. And seeing as PlayStation cameras are flying off the shelves, its clear the demand is there.
And finally, the system is obviously not going to be capable of graphics that are as good as the other two-but it hardly needs to be. The PS4 and included box are not going to be as strong as a PC is, but that’s less important than the actual experience of VR-which is so unique that consumers looking to just test a “gateway drug” of VR and happen to have a PS4/lots of disposable income won’t care as much about quality at first. If quality of graphics was the only thing that mattered, PC would be the only system people played on and no one would even give a shit about the PSVR, no matter its price. The experience is more intriguing than the quality of that experience to a point and I think that more than anyone else Sony is a prime position to get a chunk of the VR market while their competition still tries to work its way to lower prices and a more consumer friendly set up. Yes it only works on PS4, but now that’s another feather in the consoles cap and it’s already got a large amount of consoles in the wild-potentially putting it in prime position to help VR get established.
However, there is a problem with the PSVR that may prove insurmountable if past history is any indication. For while the hardware set up looks good, sleek and pretty and the software will probably be solid, there’s a gaping issue that needs be addressed before anyone considers investment into the PSVR or tries to declare its success prematurely.
And that problem? Sony itself.
I didn’t use to dislike Sony-heck, when given the option I went with a PS3 and loved it. I enjoyed my PSP, and some of the first party games Sony put out were amazing. I even went out and bought a Sony Vita day one…..and watched Sony run it into the ground. I’ve discussed that in a prior blog, but to be fair these systems aren’t the exact same. The handheld market is stagnating to a degree due to mobile games, and the VR market is about to begin and get big. So why compare the two? Because in that blog I linked above, I list other products that have failed due in no small part to Sony giving up on them. And what do those products tend to be? Niche products that lack huge widespread appeal and take time to get big enough to be worth continued investment that had solid hardware in most cases and were subsequently abandoned with haste after a small bevy of support dried up.
Sony is a company with a notorious predisposition towards giving up if something doesn’t do insanely well for them at first. They push strong at first, then as the system fails to live up to unreasonable expectations so they stop making first party games, stop talking about the system at all and give up on it silently. When the going gets rough, Sony tends to flounder and fumble any advantage their system may have-they also make stupid decisions with their systems, ala giving two big FPS franchises to the same inexperienced studio on Vita, releasing buggy classic re-releases then never patching them, and so on. They do things like that, and somehow expect everything to turn out well-and when they don’t, because of course they don’t, they give up on solid systems that could find an audience and move on to the next failure.
Will the PSVR be that next failure? Current indications and advantages seem to say no, but Sony’s long history of expensive niche products speak of the possibility. VR is the fad right now-but 3DTVs were the fad a while ago too, and it didn’t take long for their 3DTV to get quietly abandoned. While VR might actually have wind in its sails, trusting Sony implicitly to not mess this system up is to ignore their past history. I do hope I’m wrong-more good VR headsets mean VR has the best chance of ubiquity and evolving games and all tech to a degree. I’ve argued that Sony is in the best position here, but if they truly are to succeed they need to ensure that VR doesn’t suffer the same fate as many of their other niche products-and one wonders if they can pull that off.
But at the same time, even if this is a cheaper product than the other VR headsets, it’s still expensive and will no doubt be a niche system. So my best advice for it would be to wait and see-after a year or two, it should become apparent what the score is for that headset and by then, a cheaper better version might be available. But hopefully, all of the early systems are good enough and do well enough to help give VR the best chance it has to be the next big thing-if that is indeed what it becomes.