VR – is it for the payers?

The owner of London’s video game caf Loading Bar James Danceshares his thoughts on the new virtual reality headsets and whether they will have mainstream success…

Recently I heard about Sony’s VR headset which stole the show at GDC courtesy of Develop’s ‘An Audience With…’ series. It answered some of the questions that always come up when VR is mentioned and were met well.

Movement issues were dismissed with developers perhaps focusing on new styles of gameplay tailored to the system rather than ports of triple-A games.

Solitary experiences tweaked with a social screen mode allowing living room audiences a conventional image – a massive step up on the current videos showing picture-in-picture of Oculus and its ‘bugs eye’ output. There’s even demos courtesy of Sony London offering asynchronous gameplay with armchair viewers able to affect actions on screen.

The recurring theme of the talk and the subsequent Q&A was how content will be king. The most interesting thing from my perspective is how they will push this hardware to consumers? Facebook acquiring Oculus may have done it some huge favours as it helped push the tech into mainstream news and public debate. But with a large portion of our audience still unsure as to whether next-gen consoles are even backwards compatible, it’s going to require a serious PR push to get VR to the masses.

Sony has a great track record of pushing products into the mainstream. The first PlayStation launched with a marketing blitz that saw it position the console as a ‘must have’ item to previously untapped customer bases. They’ve also released peripherals with very little support and been happy to pull support for them quickly.

When I was younger I persuaded my family to buy a PS2 because it also played DVDs. Convincing a parent to purchase a headset over, say, an iPad sounds difficult without functionality in other areas like education.

Then there’s price. To enjoy the full Morpheus experience Sony is asking people to shell out for a headset, camera, Move remote and maybe even a Vita for the multiplayer aspect. And that’s on top of 350 already spent on the PS4. More needs to be done to convince consumers to upgrade beyond watching people sampling the kit on YouTube or playing it at shows or in-store.

As someone that thought Skylanders would tank, I’ve been proved wrong spectacularly before, but I’m not the only one.

Because, of course, Sony was touting a ‘headset that will revolutionise gaming’ back in 2011 – but the two letters preceding those words were 3D, not VR.

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