When Facebook acquired Oculus back in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg referred to it as the next great platform. Since hitting the market, though, it seems VR has received less interest from the general public. The company recently announced that 200 of their 500 Oculus virtual reality demo stations at Best Buy were closing due to a lack of interest in the technology. Now it’s time to wonder: is the VR craze all hype and no substance?
A lack of interest from the general public is certainly troubling, and it is something that each of the most prominent VR companies had to deal with in 2016. HTC has yet to turn a profit on their Vive headset, and PlayStation VR saw their sales estimations slashed from the millions down to the hundred thousands. So why isn’t the market blowing up like we all thought it would?
With any new tech device, the matter of accessibility often directly correlates to the rate of adoption by the public. In 2016, VR headsets were expensive—too expensive to warrant the high rate of sales that were initially expected.
The Oculus Rift with Touch controllers sold for $800 at retail price, and the HTC Vive is priced at $700. That is an extremely high price point for a product that lacks the reputation of the latest iPhone. These products also required a desktop computer approaching $1,000 or more just to run, meaning that only niche PC gamers even had the necessary compatible system. You can’t expect casual gamers and tech junkies to invest that much in a product they don’t even have much use for yet.
For this reason, it should be no surprise that Google Cardboard ultimately dominated VR sales in 2016. That headset is far cheaper, easier to adopt, and requires less investment than any other on the market. While it might not have the same power or potential as some of the more expensive and hardcore tech out there, it represents an affordable alternative for curious consumers.
Not Enough Value
What the industry should have learned this past year was that consumers are not ready to invest heavily in a product that does not have the content to match the price point. Zuckerberg once promised a platform that could provide exclusive access, immersive experiences, and authentic connections. In 2016, the industry dabbled in some of that, but nothing close to what he envisioned came to fruition.
These things, of course, take time, but the consumer isn’t going to buy into a product based on faith of future value. They will wait until it’s worth the investment. There will need to be a better balance of price vs. content before consumers commit. Google Cardboard did a great job doing this and should be looked at as a source for inspiration and leadership in the coming years.
Right now, the industry is in a bit of a holding pattern as headset makers attempt to bring in high-profile developers. However, most developers prefer to take their business where lots of players will be paying for their games, and those players want to invest in the platforms with the best content. While VR is the Next Big Thing, it still doesn’t have the loyal following that will unlock the industry’s potential. All it could take is for one blockbuster game to get through before the dominoes fall.
While 2016 could be looked at as a major disappointment, it appears that some in the industry are simply trying to balance expectations with the reality of first generation tech. It could be awhile before these systems are capable of fulfilling what they first promised, so companies like Sony are trying to prevent VR burnout until then.
They decided to release Playstation VR and Playstation 4 Pro around the same time and at the same price point, while also doing very little to advertise their virtual reality system. This was done on purpose because they knew the technology would only be used by hardcore gamers and early adopters. Instead of spending millions advertising a product that casual consumers were not ready to invest in, they held back from spending too much too quickly.
The future remains bright, but 2016 proved that the industry simply needs to slow down and get ready for the long haul. It could be some time before we see Zuckerberg’s vision become reality, but it won’t be long before we start seeing real progress toward that end goal.