When it's released on March 23, Half-Life: Alyx will be a notable moment in the timeline of VR gaming – perhaps the medium's first true blockbuster. It's led to a rush of first-time VR buyers, eager to play the first full Half-Life game in 16 years. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus) has led to production shortages of several of the compatible headsets you'll need to actually play it.
With under a month until release, we looked into each of the major VR headset manufacturers – Oculus, HTC, and developer Valve itself – and what the status of their production is ahead of HL: Alyx's release date, to get a sense of which units may be available to buy if you don't already have one.
Before we get going, of course there are more important things than games, and factory shutdowns have been a major means of protecting lives in the wake of a virus that has already killed thousands – these are necessary means, not inconveniences.
Valve's Index headset was already sold out practically worldwide following the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx, with Valve proactively working to supply more for those who hadn't secured a pre-order. In a statement, however, the developer confirmed that coronavirus-related factory shutdowns meant there would be "far fewer units" available on release than planned:
"With Half-Life: Alyx coming March 23rd, we are working hard to meet demand for the Valve Index and want to reassure everyone that Index systems will be available for purchase prior to the game's launch. However, the global Coronavirus health crisis has impacted our production schedules so we will have far fewer units for sale during the coming months compared to the volumes we originally planned. Our entire team is working hard right now to maximize availability."
It's unclear at time of writing how many will be made available at release, but it may well be that Index is in short supply, at best, come March 23.
Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S
Oculus Quest, considered a popular entry-level device for VR, is in a similar position. Facebook (which owns Oculus) has also announced that the standalone VR headset has been selling out in many regions, and remains unavailable to buy in the UK and US at time of writing. It too, has seen an impact on replenishing those stocks because of coronoavirus.
A spokesperson told us, "like other companies we’re expecting some additional impact to our hardware production due to the Coronavirus. We’re taking precautions to ensure the safety of our employees, manufacturing partners and customers, and are monitoring the situation closely. We are working to restore availability as soon as possible.”
Facebook wouldn't comment on the effect of production shutdowns on its other headset model, the Oculus Rift S but, given it too is made in China, it seems likely to have been hit by factory shutdowns as well. The Rift S is also currently unavailable to buy in the US or Australia, with no indication of when stock might be replenished.
It remains to be seen how many units of either Oculus headset will be released in the next month but, again, it feels unlikely to meet demand.
Of the three main manufacturers, HTC is the only company seemingly untouched by production problems, and its Vive headsets seem to be the surest bet for availability come launch day.
In a statement, a spokesperson said, "As our Vive VR products are assembled and built in Taiwan, our supply chain has been relatively unaffected by COVID-19. In addition to having our Cosmos headset in stock, the newly announced Cosmos Elite began preorders on February 24 and will ship to those who preordered on or around the on-sale date of March 18 [...] We look forward to allowing customers to experience Half-Life: Alyx on our headsets as soon as it is released."
Of course, Vive remains a relatively expensive way to play HL: Alyx – requiring a powerful PC as well as a headset that comes in at $499 USD / £499 / $939 AUD. However, with no production problems, it may be the easiest route to playing as Alyx on March 23.