What does the future hold?
In terms of tantalizing 2017 hardware, much of the video game industry’s attention is on the upcoming Nintendo Switch. Its combination of home-console gaming and quality experiences on the go is something we haven’t seen before in the console market. What seems to be slowly being forgotten, however, is another piece of hardware, introduced to the public last October, that also offers something we hadn’t seen before in the console space: Sony’s PlayStation VR.
Some people are worried that PSVR is drifting into the realm of being a brief fad that shows initial promise but quickly becomes an unnecessary addition that garners limited support from developers and publishers, in the mould of Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s own Vita. Many early adopters have a different opinion, however. They maintain that PlayStation VR is a unique and vital addition to the gaming world; something that offers incredible experiences now and shows unimaginable possibilities for the future of video games. One thing that is for sure, any concern is not down to the device itself but rather down to the way it is being marketed by its creator and supported by developers – not that Sony themselves appear concerned.
In a financial report released a month after PlayStation VR’s October 2016 release, Sony said that sales were “on track”, yet any quick search for sales figures brings up evidence of estimates and sales hopes being slashed. Not long after PSVR’s release, research group SuperData cut their estimate of PSVR units sold by the end of 2016 from 2.6 million to 750,000, citing supply issues and limited marketing as reasons for the revised figures. However, we have not had any word on official sales figures from Sony at any point since release. They were happy to boast about the 50 million combined total of PS4 and PS4 Pro sales, yet there was no mention of PlayStation VR. It may be reading too much into it, but considering Sony’s recent trend of announcing sales figures at every possible milestone, it suggests that PSVR isn’t selling quite as well as they might have hoped.
What makes the vague sales information less worrying are the reasons for the expected low figures. Even before launch, it was extremely tough to get your hands on a PSVR unit. When pre-orders went live back in March 2016, online retailers such as Amazon sold out in minutes, with very few additional units being made available before the October release. In the run up to Christmas (a time when people might be hoping to spend big bucks on hardware) a new unit was almost impossible to find. Even now, more than three months since release, a purchasable PSVR is difficult to find. At the time of writing, Amazon, Best Buy, and Target have all sold out.
The rumored reason for the manufacturing issues is that the OLED screens are proving tough to produce in mass, slowing the rate at which Sony can release them. The shortage doesn’t mean the PlayStation VR is struggling, however. With Sony doing “all that they can to meet demand,” PSVR is selling as well as it can. The worry, though, is that the longer this shortage lasts, the more likely people waiting for one are going to change their minds. As we move away from the excitement that comes with a launch, into a time with few tentpole releases, those that waited may no longer see the appeal.
The post-launch release schedule for PlayStation VR games could also be a turn off to people yet to pick up the headset. We only know the release dates for two big releases in 2017, and the rest have been given vague release windows or no release information at all. This week sees the launch of Resident Evil 7, a triple A game that wasn’t built for VR, and Star Trek: Bridge Crew will release on March 14. These titles will show off the power and potential of PlayStation VR, but beyond them, there isn’t much to be really excited about. Looking at all the PSVR releases in 2017, most are smaller downloadable titles that we know very little about. It was also disappointing to hear very little about virtual reality at PlayStation Experience, and now we have to hope Sony has more planned for E3 in June.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t much to play for people that have, or are picking up a PlayStation VR unit, now. The launch lineup was so extensive that you should have plenty to play for months to come. Batman: Arkham VR, Thumper, REZ: Infinite, Job Simulator, and EVE: Valkyrie are must play titles, among many others that offer unique experiences. Just this week I picked up Super Hyper Cube in the PlayStation Store sale, and it is a fantastic puzzle game that showcases why PlayStation VR is such a promising piece of technology. However, sales will be vital to seeing more in the near future. RIGS didn’t chart in the top 10 PlayStation VR games during the system’s launch month or any month since. Earlier this month, Sony announced the closure of developer Guerilla Cambridge.
With the release of Resident Evil 7, this week should be a great one for PlayStation VR owners and it has been a good three months, generally. We’ve experienced some excellent games, the potential is there, and it is doing fine for now. But if Sony doesn’t find some way to overcome the production and stock issues, and set out a clear software release schedule for the months ahead, they may find interest in PlayStation VR beginning to peter out, a failure that will have nothing to do with the quality of the product itself.