Virtual reality (VR) gaming offers full immersion, surround sound, 360-degree vision and increased realism to the modern-day gamer. To fight for competitiveness, PlayStation released in 2016 their version of virtual reality (PS VR) – but does it risk creating issues in the tech industry so early on in developments?
The tech industry is one of the most intense and least static global industries: firms are constantly accelerating research and development in the bid to produce innovative products faster than their competitors. This led to PlayStation’s release of the PS VR in 2016 – an attempt to boost sales of PlayStation’s recent console (PS4) by attracting new consumers to the PlayStation market. For PlayStation, the move was successful – they have had their VR headsets on sale for almost a year, while Xbox show no sign of their equivalent even being in development: a strong competitive advantage for PlayStation, which is now currently the only mainstream console to have a corresponding VR headset. PlayStation have already sold more than 1 million headsets worldwide – sales their competitors have obviously not achieved.
However, what may have been a competitive move for PlayStation, does not necessarily mean benefits for consumers. First and foremost, the VR headset retails at over £300; that’s more than the the recent PS4! Not only does this exclude a large proportion of the consumer market from purchasing the VR headset in the first place, but it also risks causing other complications.
One such problem is that, as only a small proportion of gamers will be using the VR headset, game developers face a situation where they either choose to make a game suitable for both normal use and VR use or focus purely on normal use, (choosing only to target the VR market would be highly unlikely because of the likeliness of sales, with so few having VR headsets, being too low to allow for profit margins to be obtained). Either decision taken by game developers will create complications in the tech industry. If game developers choose to maximise the potential market by producing games suitable for both normal and VR use, they will face higher production costs – to programme the games for both uses – unlikely to be offset by a marginal increase in sales by VR users.
This would be likely to inflate prices in the industry as firms account for the higher prices. The introduction of VR therefore has financial repercussions even on those not consuming it – they will face high prices when purchasing new games. If game developers choose alternatively to avoid higher costs and continue to develop games only for normal use, then this creates different complications; it would mean that those with VR headsets would be unable to use the headsets for most games, reducing the desirability of VR headsets (their value for money will fall), potentially causing the VR market to stagnate as people move away from VR after the initial excitement, realising the limited number of games. This would not only be bad for PlayStation as they see their product’s popularity fall, but also for consumers who will be faced with a confusing market situation: VR available but not all games available in VR.
Until the price of VR headsets falls, the majority of consumers are unlikely to transfer to VR gaming. The complications, such as higher game prices or games not tailored for both uses, will therefore remain until developments in VR technology permits lower prices to attract more consumers, allowing VR to become more mainstream and therefore making developing VR exclusive games more feasible because of the larger VR market, which would please VR consumers who want the VR games, as well as non-VR consumers, who will no longer face higher game prices as a result of games for normal use having the extra development for VR.
Virtual reality therefore, while impressive, is currently too expensive to seamlessly transform the tech market. It is possible however that, with potential future VR alternatives (Xbox have implied that one day they will produce a VR headset), prices will fall through competition and further technological developments.
Gaming may then potentially become VR dominated and forever transformed…