Sony has been on a bit of a hot streak lately. The company recently announced two big milestones; over 500 million PlayStation consoles have been sold thus far, and the PlayStation VR headset has sold over 3 million units since it launched back in 2016. It’s the latter achievement that surprises me the most since I was never expecting the PSVR to really take off.
Virtual Reality technology has been making its rounds in the gaming industry for several years now, but in recent times it seems to have hit a level of popularity higher than ever. At this point, things have kind of cooled off, but there’s still active progress being made. The PlayStation VR arrived back in late 2016 when the new wave of hype surrounding the tech was still quite high. Since then, a variety of games have come to the platform from developers both big and small.
While there has yet to be a title that’s made me want to run out and pick up a headset, there have been a few experiences that caught my eye like Driveclub VR and Gran Turismo Sport’s VR mode. Still, when I look at the wider selection of titles, the majority of them come off to me as being polished tech demos for the most part. Yet, it’s been enough to convince 4% of the PS4’s userbase to go out and buy a headset. But, how?
I believe it’s the power behind the PlayStation brand itself that has really helped the PSVR along. Since the PS1, the PlayStation name has carried a high level of pedigree in the industry, hence the reason why it has continuously been the most successful platform since then (minus the harder days of the PS3). Had Microsoft made a similar VR headset for the Xbox One, I doubt it would’ve caught on as much simply due to PlayStation being far more popular. On that note, it also definitely helps that PSVR is an accessory to the PS4, which has been selling incredibly well worldwide ever since it launched back in 2013. In addition to all of this, the PSVR also hits a nice sweet spot.
At this point, there’s basically two types of VR: the type that appeals to casual consumers, and the type that targets gamers. The main piece of casual VR tech is the goggles that center around stuff like watching movies and going on virtual tours (like through the depths of the ocean, outer space, and historical sites). When it comes to gaming VR, there are still casual experiences like basic VR headsets for phones which have simple apps, and there’s the ‘real’ stuff for PCs. The PSVR falls more in-line with the latter category, but it’s still managed to carve out its own little mini section due to being the only console-based VR headset so far, which is something I’ve mentioned in the past.
PlayStation VR is certainly better than the casual solutions offered for mobile devices, but there still aren’t that many full-scale experiences.
However, PSVR isn’t as basic as phone-based VR tech and it’s not as expensive as PC headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Nintendo and Microsoft have acknowledged virtual reality’s newfound presence in the gaming industry, but neither side has made any serious strides to bring it to their console platforms. After observing the success of PSVR, perhaps this might inspire them to make a move after all. But, there’s no good in “counting your eggs before they hatch”.
What I mean by that is that while PSVR has done reasonably well, I’m still not totally convinced that this will result in an industry-wide shift towards adopting virtual reality technology. Again, PSVR’s main hook is that it’s attached to the PlayStation brand name and that it’s an accessory to an already-popular system. Even so, there still aren’t that many awe-inspiring experiences being offered on the platform. Perhaps this is due to technological limitations, though. Serious virtual reality projects are quite taxing on hardware, so perhaps the reason why we haven’t seen studios take things too far (aside from still being fairly new to all this) is because they’re waiting for the next generation of hardware to come about. If the arrival of a PS5 and PSVR v2 really did bring about a new level of VR experiences though, I still wonder if that would be enough to catapult the tech into a truly mainstream market.
Virtual reality is certainly better than it’s ever been and clearly has the room to get even better, but my overall sentiments haven’t changed all that much from how they’ve been since the aforementioned hype first began to kick up. That is, I still can’t stop looking at this as being more than a fad. Motion controls were the “new hotness” throughout the seventh-generation, and although they’re still around today, they aren’t utilized nearly as much when it comes to the vast majority of core titles. In fact, most gamers tend to loathe them. To me, virtual reality is still pretty much in the same boat. It has its fans, and there are clearly projects out there built to make use of the tech as much as possible, but it still hasn’t hit a level of adoption to where it can be rightfully considered as the next big pillar of the industry.
It’s still unclear if VR is just another fad, or the true “next big thing” in the gaming industry.
Nevertheless, I still need to hand it to Sony. It took a gamble with PlayStation VR, and despite my feelings on the matter, I can’t say it’s been a complete failure. Even if its sales numbers are directly related to it having a series of fortunate circumstances surrounding it, this has still been a good show of Sony’s expertise. If anything, I want them to continue to improve and expand on the concept in order to keep pushing the industry. Nintendo has essentially been doing this with its various takes on abstract concepts like dual-screen systems, and now a hybrid console. In like manner, if Sony does stick to PSVR, this may very well encourage studios to keep going and eventually we could get to a point where the majority of big new games are taking full advantage of VR technology, rather than just incorporating it to a small degree or ignoring it altogether. However, only time will tell.