Virtual Reality became an actual thing in 2016 with multiple headsets hitting the market for the first time, bringing the dream we’ve all had since the 80’s to life in our living rooms. The Oculus Rift was the first consumer product out of the gate in March of 2016 but sported a hefty price tag of $599 and a need for a pricey gaming grade PC. HTC followed suit in the middle of the year with the HTC Vive carrying an even heftier price tag of $799 but with better tech inside; yet the need for a beefy PC was still present. Sony walks into the Holiday season with their cheaper alternative, the Playstation VR headset, at a cheaper price of $399 and the need for a Playstation 4 console and a $60 camera accessory. Each product has their pros and cons, but all three still share the same common issues: the headsets are too expensive for the standard American household and the library of games are not as strong as most consumers need them to be. What about those early adopters though? Pleasing current owners of VR hardware will be very important to the growth of the platform and at the moment I feel as if we’re not being fed the content we desperately crave.
I personally jumped on-board the VR hype train with the Playstation VR. Initially, I was floored at how awesome the technology was, but also disappointed with the lower quality visuals compared to its PC counterparts. Regardless, I immensely enjoyed my time with the games I purchased for the headset and was convinced that VR was the future of gaming. Playing through Resident Evil VII this year solidified that opinion for me, which is easily the best VR experience anyone could have. Now that we’re almost halfway through 2017 and the headset has been on the market for seven months, I find that my PSVR headset is starting to collect a lot of dust due to the infrequency of interesting titles hitting the platform.
Sure, little games such as Polybius, VR Invaders and Starblood Arena have trickled into the Playstation Store recently, but all of those games are small experiences that seem to rehash the same types of experiences we’ve already seen this platform littered with. Where are the Resident Evil VIIs at? Where are the Batman Arkham VRs? We are in desperate need of some larger titles to keep PSVR owners engaged and we’re just not getting it. What’s most concerning is that Sony has been incredibly tight-lipped about everything, with their own Playstation Experience event back in December making little to no announcements for VR games. Sony suits are claiming that plenty of games are in development, but we’re already hitting a dry spell only seven months in with little to look forward to on the horizon. The first person shooter Farpoint is en-route in June but besides that, what is left?
Sony isn’t the only one having this issue. Both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have software issues too, but not as bad as PSVR. The PC platform has been receiving a lot of integrated, post-release implementation of VR features to games such as Superhot, Narcosis and Fallout 4 while smaller charming games such as Rock Band VR and Rick & Morty’s Virtual Rick-ality have hit the web too. Still, none of these games are large, hardware pushing titles that are built from the ground up for VR like Resident Evil VII. Also, many of these games are multiplatform yet lack VR features on Sony’s headset. Why? Now we have Oculus struggling with lawsuits and employee turnover while HTC retains that outrageous price tag that make both feel like they have come to a standstill. PSVR has sold around a million units so far, which is stronger than the other two for sure, but even sales of Sony’s headset have stalled and I believe software is the biggest issue here.
If VR hardware manufacturers want VR to thrive, software and affordable prices need to meet a happy middle ground. Oculus did start including their pricey motion controllers in with the package, beating out HTC by $200, but that simply isn’t enough. However, one way Oculus, Sony and HTC could successfully push hardware sales is by simply helping fund and deliver the solid gameplay experiences and innovation we need. Given, the install bases are small at the moment and prevent large developers from pumping resources into developing games that won’t reach a mass audience, but the one thing that will drive sales is simply giving early adopters compelling software to show off to their friends and family.
One of the biggest joys I received from my Playstation VR headset was from bringing it over to my friends’ homes and watching my group of buddies pass the headset around in awe at the technology. Watching someone place that headset on for the first time and seeing their jaw drop to the floor is always exciting to me. I have sold many people on VR simply by feeding their curiosity of the platform by allowing them to try mine out. I was able to convince many people how awesome a platformer can be in VR with Playroom VR, or how terrifying a horror game can be with Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and Resident Evil VII. This sort of interaction is what will ultimately convince people to take the VR plunge, but failing to release compelling games frequently will force VR owners to keep that headset in their closets and not on the heads of others who are potential customers.
Am I regretting my PSVR purchase? Yes and no. The experience has been unforgettable and I believe in the technology, but the lack of games have made that pricey purchase more regrettable for me. I’m really hoping that all three VR companies will give us a strong E3 and push a lot of content to VR in June because the early adopters are growing tired of having little to play and nothing substantial aside from a few walking simulators and space shooters. Getting owners to talk about these games and their experiences will totally entice others to want to give it a try, which leads to more demonstrations to friends and family and more sales. Virtual reality is a technology that needs to be experienced in order to fully understand its potential, but if the experiences stop coming, so will the interest from others. Here’s hoping for some good news coming out of the VR space this E3.