Saturday, April 16, 2016

Similarities between VR and the PlayStation Vita

I have noticed that there are almost eerie similarities between the brand-new VR headsets, and the PlayStation Vita, in terms of things that could potentially affect the success of the former. I have been thinking that this might be an early warning sign that, perhaps, VR will not become successful after all.

The PlayStation Vita had impressive specs, but Sony got greedy with its launch price, making it significantly more expensive than the competing products (different versions of the Vita ranged from $250 to $300). What's worse, there were deceptive hidden expenses. Namely, the unit did not come with a big-enough memory card to download any purchased games, and you had to purchase one separately. (And, quite greedily, the memory cards were twice as expensive as standard memory cards of the same size.)

The triple-A game library for the Vita at launch was abysmal. It didn't get much better later, as developers seemed to have no interest in making games for it. The poor adoption rates of the device led to a vicious cycle: Poor adoption rates led to a poor triple-A game library, which only aggravated the poor adoption rate... and so on and so forth. The Vita was a complete failure.

Now consider VR. The devices are astonishingly expensive at launch, there are hidden costs involved (in the form of most people needing to upgrade their PC's to meet the minimum specs), the library of launch titles is abysmal, and there appears to be a general disinterest among big-name developers in adding support.

That last assertion might sound controversial, given how much big-name companies have shown interest in VR over the last couple of years. However, I have the feeling (although admittedly it's only a hunch), that they have somehow lost interest. There are a few reasons for why I think this.

Firstly, game developers have literally had over three years to add VR support to their games (the first devkit of the Oculus Rift came in late 2012), and many companies announced support for many of their existing titles. (The list of titles that have promised support is relatively extensive.)

So where are they? Where are all these games with VR support patched into them? The developers had over three years to do it, and they had all the tools necessary to have support right when the devices launched, yet they are nowhere to be seen.

I get the impression that these companies have actually lost interest. In fact, some of them have officially announced that VR support has been abandoned or cancelled. Maybe it turned out that VR was not what it initially appeared to be. Maybe they found out that VR did not, in fact, turn out to be a generic display device for basically any 3D game. (You know, because of the motion sickness problem, which the VR device developers have taken really seriously.)

Secondly, it doesn't exactly help that, at least so far, it seems that HTC/Valve are promoting complete and absolute segregation between traditional games and VR games. Complete incompatibility between the two. VR games are made for "room-scale" VR and the specialized controllers only, traditional games do not have VR support. Or that seems to be what they are implying with all their promotions.

If VR adoption is effectively "sabotaged" by its own launch price, and if the trend seems to be a complete segregation between VR and traditional games (which means that you make a game for either one of them, not both), and if developers have lost interest, then what do you think will happen? Will we see another PlayStation Vita phenomenon? Impressive specs, but poor adoption rates and abysmal triple-A library leading to a vicious circle of failure?

Of course this is only speculation at this point. I may well be wrong. I hope I'm wrong.

I am, however, seeing at least one glimmer of hope. Perhaps somewhat ironically, it might come from PlayStation VR. It seems that, perhaps learning from their Vita fiasco, this time Sony is understanding what gamers really want about VR, and how to make it successful. The launch price of the PS VR, while still a bit high, will be significantly lower than the ones of the Vive or even the Rift. (Heck, when it launches, you will probably be able to buy a PS4, the PS VR, the PS camera and the motion controllers in a bundle for cheaper than the Vive, perhaps even the Rift.) And while there will be exclusive games, it's looking like the general trend on the PlayStation side will be for the majority of games being more traditional; in other words, playable with or without the VR visor.

If this ends up happening, and if the PS VR becomes successful enough, maybe it will affect the Rift and the Vive in a similar manner, indirectly. Maybe they, too, will start aiming for the mainstream gamer market, rather than the fringe 1%. (Although, admittedly, the Rift is already doing more of that than the Vive is. At least the Rift does not seem to be promoting a total segregation between VR and traditional games.)

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