Everyone is buzzing over the Nintendo Switch right now, but I wanted to cast my attention backwards to a piece of hardware that came out just a few months ago, Sony’s PlayStation VR. Despite debuting in October 2016, the first console-based VR headset seems to have almost disappeared completely from conversation in the industry.
Sony themselves certainly isn’t talking about it much. Despite being more than happy to boast about how PS4 and PS4 Pro have now amassed over 50 million sales, they have yet to publicly comment on how many units PSVR has sold. Sony has previously said that sales for PSVR are “on track,” but will not explain what that means, exactly.
Later, Sony’s Kaz Hirai elaborated a bit more to Daily Star Online: “We've always said it's going to be a slow start, unfortunately, we did produce a lot of units but we ran out of stock in some retailers, but I think based on reports coming out of the holiday season, we're actually happy with the numbers.
"One of the reasons we're not talking about the numbers so much is because we don't want the numbers to take a life of their own."
The “life of their own” the numbers would take on is presumably a story about how PSVR is not exactly tearing down the house when it comes to sales. SuperData Research previously revised their estimates for 2016 sales of PSVR from 2.6 million to 750,000, which is still more than Oculus and HTC, but obviously nothing to brag about, given Sony’s silence.
But as we head into 2017, even if Sony was predicting a slow start for PSVR, it’s hard to know exactly what happens now. Almost no one is talking about the system presently, and it’s unclear what’s going to change that fact going forward.
I can only pin down two specific dates for PSVR releases in 2017: January 24th for Resident Evil, and March 14th for Ubisoft’s Star Trek Bridge Crew. Everything else, another 14-15 upcoming games (and arguably none as big as these two), are assigned to either quarters or the year in general with no firm dates. Googling “upcoming PSVR games” yields outdated lists and no official results from Sony. On Sony’s own site, of the many PSVR games it has listed, almost all of them are already out with just a few upcoming in 2017.
My question now is how is this current situation turned around? Is there a game out there that’s going to make people start buzzing about PSVR again? Resident Evil, the game that was making people sick in demos last year? Bridge Crew, which is cross-platform across all VR? It’s hard to know which games could really break out for PSVR at this point.
Furthermore, Sony is in a tough position because at launch, the advantage the headset had was that it was cheap, and it would run off a PS4 you probably already owned. But in order for that to be possible, the PSVR is in fact the “bargain” VR set, where the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the more powerful, more technically advanced units. The more time passes, the more outdated PSVR will appear as VR tech continues to evolve. So what happens then? PSVR 2.0, when the first one didn’t really even prove its case? Microsoft can tell you how well that went for Kinect.
I do not think that Sony is going to pull a Kinect with PSVR, at least not this year. I am sure that we will see some PSVR stuff shown off at E3 2017, albeit a bit less enthusiastically than we’ve seen previously. But if things don’t turn around? Yes, it is easy to imagine Sony washing their hands of the peripheral. They’ve done it before, and they can easily do it again. One of the greatest fears about PSVR in the first place was that if it wasn’t a big hit from the outset, that Sony would effectively abandon it. While that hasn’t happened, it’s hard to say that we’re not on that road either.
I don’t know what the future holds for PSVR, or really, all consumer VR in general, which frankly doesn’t seem to be in a great spot right now. The tech is exciting, but it has obviously not caught on fire outside of specific niches. For as much pressure as I’m putting on PSVR, we’re certainly not hearing loads about the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive these days either. But I think PSVR is in a unique spot where it exists as the one device that Sony is struggling to sell, and a prime example that even if VR is cheaper and easier to access, that still may not be enough in the current market.
Maybe Sony has some grand 2.0 master plan in their pocket, or maybe there will be a breakout title or two for the PSVR this year. But for now, it’s mostly silence, and it’s hard to know how exactly that’s going to change over the course of the next year as the tech continues to age and its games line-up fails to excite.