Sales of VR hardware are contracting, but there is a good reason for that.
The ‘Console Generation’ model has been around since at least the 1990s. We have all become familiar with it as a way to model the ins and outs of when companies are likely to announce new products, and even roughly what can be expected from a new cycle. Modern virtual reality (VR) has not yet been around long enough to establish its own cycle, so can the console generation model be used as a basis for comparison?
Analysts have noted that the sales of virtual reality hardware has dwindled lately, particularly for the main three high-end devices, the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. Of course, this signaled the inevitable ‘VR is Dying’ crowd to get out their sandwich boards and stand on street corners declaring the end is nigh.
This can partially be explained by the new diversity in the market, with the likes of Oculus Go and Windows Mixed Reality devices taking market share. However, another explanation also makes itself known – namely, that you can expect a dip in sales at the end of a console generation.
The era of modern VR is usually pinpointed as starting with the release of the Oculus DK1 headset. This was a developer version, but since it was crowdfunded, it ended up in the hands of quite a lot of consumers, who were eager to see what this new form of VR could do. That was way back in September 2012.
The Oculus Rift in the form we know it now was released in March 2016, but still strongly resembled the hardware from the DK1 and DK2 versions, with some improvements and tweaks, demonstrated by the fact that some apps made for the Oculus Rift still mostly work on the DK1.
The PlayStation 4 launched on November 2013, over a year after the Oculus DK1. The PlayStation 4 Pro was launched in September 2016, boasting a few improvements over the baseline model, but the two consoles both play the same videogames, one is just flashier.
Also note that rumours are already swirling about the ‘PlayStation 5’, despite no word on this from Sony. Meanwhile, Microsoft have confirmed that they will be showcasing a new version of the Xbox hardware at Gamescom.
Meanwhile, Oculus showed off the ‘half-dome’ concept at F8 earlier this year, and Sony and Samsung are both reported to be interested in new display technologies for use in VR displays. This added to Sony’s patent for new motion controllers and the release of the ‘Knuckles’ HTC Vive controllers would appear to parallel the lead up to the start of a new console generation.
As a console generation draws to a close, its natural that the sales slip – consumers are waiting for that shiny new kit, after all. The timescales and figures appear to offer a fairly clear comparison, so no reason for anyone to run around panicking just yet.
This is the end, but the moment has been prepared for.