A new report from the Wall Street Journal notes that Sony are looking to commercialize PlayStation VR by bringing the product to entertainment facilities. The company has set up a location based entertainment unit to do this.
PlayStation VR adoption has been strong among the core gamer crowd on PlayStation 4 with shipments exceeding 1 million units last month. This puts it ahead of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift combined but behind Mobile VR headsets such as Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Despite the lead in the high-end space, PlayStation VR is tracking behind many popular peripherals for prior consoles such as the Xbox Kinect, PlayStation Move and Wii Balance Board. This can mainly be attributed to the high price of the unit, lack of awareness around VR, no killer app, inability to demonstrate VR easily and the current state of VR as technology. The crowd buying into PlayStation VR right now is very much early adopters who likely purchased a PlayStation 4 at launch.
VR as a technology is held back due to its lack of plurality, meaning that you need to be 100% immersed in VR at all times. There are also other reasons why it has not reached mainstream adoption just yet, some of which I mentioned in the above paragraph. VR won’t go mainstream until those issues are solved and even then it’s hard to imagine VR devices being as ubiquitous as smartphones when augmented reality or mixed reality would be better suited to be the next big advance in mainstream technology. I’ve always believed that VR is much better suited to fixed location experiences, given that you can’t exactly walk down the street in a VR headset like you can with a mobile phone or other AR device.
VR as it is right now is still at the beginning of the s curve and current sales numbers are showing that it’s nowhere near mass market adoption, especially in the high end space. Therefore, it does make sense that Sony are looking at selling PS VR in to fixed location video game arcades in addition to the PlayStation 4 user base. We’ve seen HTC demonstrate this effectively with its Viveport Arcade solution and business edition Vive headsets.
PC based VR arcades have been popping up across many places in Asia and are starting to gain popularity in the West too. The Viveport Arcade software and custom solutions available to fixed location entertainment businesses means that HTC can install its solution across many different venues from video game arcades to cinemas and even standalone pop up stations. The idea of paying a few dollars for an already configured VR experience has grown in popularity recently and is much better for most consumers who don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on high end PC rig and VR headset.
Sony has a number of advantages in selling PS VR to fixed location entertainment businesses. The first is price. Sony’s PS VR headset is still considerably cheaper than the competition in the high-end space and the PlayStation 4 itself can be found for even less. Sony’s solution is also pre-configured and suited to the traditional arcade experience. Think of how Gran Turismo VR could simply replace any arcade racing station. HTC Vive requires additional space due to its room scale technology which many venues may not be able to cater to. Sony’s PlayStation brand is also well known globally and so businesses are more likely to take on a commercial solution from a brand that is already known to gamers. Sony has promised additional entertainment apps outside of the gaming space and this could be a solution for fixed location entertainment businesses that don’t necessarily deal in gaming.
Despite the above, there are also some disadvantages to Sony’s solution too. The first disadvantage is that Sony’s high end experience isn’t as high end as what HTC or Oculus offer. I’ve personally heard from gamers who have tried VR Arcades using a mobile or non HTC/Oculus solution who have walked away with a bad experience and no desire to return. The second issue is that Sony doesn’t have an equivalent of Viveport Arcade and so will be unable to provide that tailored experience that businesses are after. The third issue is that fixed location software on PS VR is limited, both on the game and non-game side. PS VR may struggle selling in to video game arcades without a strong software showcase. A game like Resident Evil 7 VR for example requires a huge investment in time to complete a level whereas these arcades are after short 30 minute experiences. Right now Sony doesn’t have many non gaming experiences on PS VR so that’s a detractor for non gaming businesses.
Overall Sony will continue to see PS VR sell in to the PlayStation 4 install base. It’s cheap, ready to go and already has many popular PlayStation IP’s on the system. The early adopter crowd is already buying PS VR for home use and as more software comes to the system, the price is lowered and VR awareness grows we’ll see home adoption take off. The fixed location segment is another opportunity for Sony to grow VR, albeit a smaller one than the consumer segment. It’s also a segment where VR is currently seeing strong growth as evidenced by HTC and acts as a way for VR to reach millions in a way that both high end VR and mobile VR isn’t doing right now.
This is a good move from Sony in my opinion and one that will strengthen the brand outside of the home, provide a new revenue stream for Sony and encourage home adoption of PS4 and PS VR sets. It’s up to Sony to address the disadvantages above and make the system a compelling purchase for fixed location entertainment businesses.