There were a couple moments during Sony’s VR event today where I just knew the PlayStation VR was going to “win” the VR space in 2016. Sony came out swinging with some key talking points that show not only that they are a company that can make cool products, but that they are a company that is really tapped into the gaming market as it exists in 2016.
Star Wars Should Not be Underestimated
First up, there is going to be an exclusive Star Wars game coming to the PlatStation VR soon. No we’re not talking about the tech specs here folks, it’s all about the games. I’m a game lover in who lives his online life in the tech world, and it blows me away hoe many people don’t get specs don’t sell products, software does. Smartphones sell by having interesting software features and strong third party apps, and game systems sell based on having the best games.
Sony gets games and has seen incredible success over recent years by tapping into what people want. They have put the time and effort into figuring out what people want to play, and they’ve made sure that the best, and most desirable games1 are on their platform. Getting an exclusive Star Wars game, this one based on last year’s extremely successful Battlefront title, is a big freaking deal!
Yeah, the other VR headsets have games lined up to release at or soon after their launches, but most of them are tech demos or small games that no one has heard of. But Star Wars? Everyone knows Star Wars, most people love Star Wars, and you better believe that if people are choosing between the VR set that has a big Star Wars game and one that doesn’t, that’s going to be a deciding factor for many.
And hey, if Star Wars isn’t your thing, Sony says there will be 50 games available at launch with 160 total in the pipeline. If even half of those come out in a reasonable timeframe, there’s going to be a lot to do with your shiny new headset.
The second thing that got me excited was the price point for the PlayStation VR. $399 for the headset feels expensive because…well, it is. It will actually cost more to buy the PlayStation VR than it costs to buy the PlayStation 4 that it needs to run! But when you compare the $399 price (+$50 for a PlayStation Camera, if you dobt already have one) against the completion hitting store shelves this year, it looks pretty darn good.
The Oculus Rift will be launching at $599, $200 more than the PS VR. And if that wasn’t rich enough for you, the HTC Vive is coming out at an incredibly
stupid bold price of $799. You could buy a PlayStation VR for yourself and your wife who thinks “you look ridiculous in that thing” for the price of just one Vive.
Now I know that price isn’t everything, but when you’re a new technology and you’re coming in at a dramatically lower price point than the other players AND you have more name recognition than both of them combined, that’s a nice place to be sitting.
The Best Installed Base
Sony is making good moves when it comes to getting games and the price where they need to be, but an essential part of Sony’s potential success in virtual reality is their huge installed base of PlayStation 4 owners. Sony has sold just shy of 40 million PS4s, and each one of those console owners is a potential VR customer.
The other VR contenders are made for gaming PCs, and not to say anything bad about people who have those rigs, but they’re typically not your average consumers. How many people do you know with a desktop as their computer, let alone a $1,000+ one that can play the latest games2? I know there are millions of them out there, but PC gamers are still a niche group that can’t popularize a new technology for the mainstream audience.
Gaming in general is not niche anymore, it’s not just teenagers in their bedrooms playing games. The average gamer is 35 and is just as likely to be a man as a woman. It’s a diverse market, with mobile games skewing the most casual and most mainstream and PC gaming skewing the most hardcore and the most niche. Console games fall right in the middle. They’re generally average people who have an extra affinity for games and they’re willing to spend a couple hundred bucks every few years to play them. Whether VR is a dud or is in fact “the next big thing,” I think they’re the best audience for a new technology like this.
Sony is positioning themselves well in the burgeoning VR race. They walk into the fight with the best addressable market, have been able to hit an aggressive price point, and haven’t forgotten that people are buying these things to play games. We’re still in the very early days of VR, and don’t believe anyone that tells you “2016 is the year of VR.” It’s not.
But momentum matters, and if Sony can become the face of VR up front, it will help them in the future when the technology improves, prices drop, and headsets can get smaller and more acceptable to average people. We’ll see if this whole VR thing pans out, but I’d put my chips on Sony.