This time it’s different, right? Unlike the virtual-reality fad that fizzled 15 years ago, boosters say today’s version of VR tech—backed by the likes of Facebook (FB, -0.37%), Google (GOOGL, +0.52%), and Samsung—is going to be big.
Well, maybe not. Sales figures for 2016 are in, and they’re not exciting: The VR industry shipped 6.3 million devices and pulled in $1.8 billion in revenue, according to research firm Super Data.That’s below expectations, though analysts say it isn’t terrible for an emerging technology.
What’s more telling is who’s buying. Though VR has promise for business, most customers now are gamers. They love it—VR game users reportedly engage in 40 sessions a month on average. But such hard-core fans aside, most people lack a compelling reason to shell out for the gear. Research firm Magid says that while interest in music and virtual travel is growing, there’s a “lack of clear value proposition besides early adopter enthusiasm.”
One field that could drive sales? Porn, which has been a catalyst for other early Internet technologies. But VR may be out of luck there too. Early users have found the depiction of virtual partners “strange and almost grotesque,” says Super Data’s Stephanie Llamas. “And the content is still limited.”