E3 Reflections: has Sony Playstation VR already won the VR war?

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As you are all very well aware of by now, VR Source is on the ground in LA checking out all the latest VR related developments at E3 2016. While what you mostly see is the video coverage from guys like John or Josh, there’s certainly a lot of other things going on in the background.

As a Managing Editor (I prefer the title Overlord, but can’t get anyone to use it…), my job has been to make sure we’re covering what we should be, both on the news and video front. I also make sure that we are making appointments on time, and that we do our very best to create kick ass content for our readers and viewers. During my time at the show, I’ve been able to see a lot of E3 as I’ve meandered my way through the crowd between West Hall, South Hall, Concourse — you name it. I’ve seen a lot of games, played a lot of games, spoken with a lot of reps from VR game companies, and heard a lot of people talking and one thing seems certain: VR is the talk of the town right now.

Sure, there’s plenty of epic “traditional gaming” announcements at E3 2016 including Battlefield 1, Final Fantasy XV, Days Gone, the new God of War, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Gear of War 4, and the list goes on. But we’re also finally starting to see the first big name games in VR as well.

Up until now, VR has been mostly an indie thing. For good reason: AAA games cost millions and millions to make, and publishers don’t want to spend that kind of money if the audience isn’t there. Thankfully, the buzz at E3 suggests that the gaming community is beginning to warm up to VR in a big way. In comparison, at last year’s E3, VR wasn’t too much more than a blip on the radar; an enticing promise at what the future would be.

At E3 2016, VR seems to be a much hotter and hyped up topic. At the center of much of this hype is largely the Sony Playstation VR. Sure, there are a ton of great HTC Vive and Oculus Rift games on demo at the trade show, but none of them have quite the momentum behind them that we’re finding with the PSVR. That begs the question, has Playstation already won the VR war?

Sony Playstation VR is in the best position right now

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I’ve heard a number of comments from other E3 attendees that Sony has all but won the VR war with its E3 2016 unveiling. I won’t necessarily go that far, but I will concede there are several reasons why Sony is in the best position for awing would-be VR buyers right now.

The first reason why the PSVR shows such much promise begins with the games themselves. Despite arriving significantly later than the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, the Sony Playstation VR already has one of the most impressive game line-ups we’ve seen. Sure, not all the most compelling games will be ready from day one in October, but we still can’t help but be impressed.

See also – Best Oculus Rift games

It’s some of the bigger name titles that are really drawing the crowd in at E3 2016, games like the new Batman: Arkham VR, Resident Evil 7, and even the VR experience found inside of the next Final Fantasy. That said, even some of their more indie-type games like Battle Zone are pretty polished and a ton of fun to play (which I experienced first hand).

It’s also amazing how varied the experiences found on the PSVR are. I’m not just talking about the genres, but even the way you interact with them. There’s the standard controller, the move controllers, and even that gun controller that’s showcased in Farpoint. It looks like Sony understands that in order to be a success in the VR market, they have to be willing to provide a diverse range of gaming experiences, and so far I like what I’m seeing.

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Another big part of why Sony seems so well set up is the pricing and barrier of entry required for the PlayStation VR.

HTC and Oculus aren’t gaming consoles, no matter how hard they try to be. Sure they have content delivery platforms (though Steam isn’t exactly Vive exclusive), but at the end of the day they require a PC. Not just any PC, a pricey rig that at the lowest end is around $800 but is more likely to be around $1000 to $1400+ for an optimal VR experience. Then you add another $600 for the Rift, or $800 for the Vive.

In contrast, the Sony Playstation 4 can be had for just $350 new, and somewhere around $275 – $300 used (trying buying a used high-end gaming machine.…). The Playstation VR and the required camera/move controllers add on another $500 to the mix. That’s a total price of as little as $775 or as much as $850 – depending on whether you buy new or used. Let’s also not forget that there are over 40 million PS4 owners across the globe right now, giving the PSVR a much larger pool of potential buyers. While it’s pretty much impossible to figure out how many people have VR-capable PC rigs right now, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say it is much less than 40 million.

Are the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift doomed then?

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Hell no, VR PC gaming isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the more success that the Sony Playstation VR has, the better things could look for the Vive and Rift. For several years now, the PC and console gaming market have been closely intermingled thanks to the rise of cross-platform gaming. And if Sony can woo in more VR game developers, you can bet this means more cross-platform VR games in the future that look all the more lovely with the advanced hardware and capabilities found on the Vive and Rift.

Bottom-line, there will always be a place for high-end PC-based VR. Solutions like the HTC Vive will remain the BMWs of the VR world, while the Playstation VR is more like a Honda: dependable, as well as more affordable. That said, I can’t deny that if any VR platform on the market right now has the power to take VR mainstream, it’s the PSVR.

Can Microsoft catch up?

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When I waited in anticipation for Microsoft’s E3 pre-briefing to begin this Monday, I hoped that VR would be a big part of it. We’d heard rumors it might be, but they seemed kind of muted as E3 drew closer, and so the realist in me knew that Microsoft would probably do nothing more than tease its VR plans. And that’s exactly what happened. Project Scorpio appears to be built with VR in mind, offering a more powerful experience that supports the same Xbox One ecosystem we already know and (maybe?) love, but adds enough oomph to make VR happen. It’s Holiday 2017 release is a long ways away though.

I’ve heard some people say that Microsoft waited too long to get into VR, and it’s certainly possible. That said, it really comes down to the strategy they take. Microsoft has pretty much confirmed they aren’t building their own headset, which probably means they are partnering with someone. With Fallout 4 VR said to be coming to the Xbox One, and also the HTC Vive, some have suggested that HTC could be that partner. Then again, they have a history of working with Oculus and porting the Oculus library over to the Xbox One.

Odds are, Microsoft is taking an approach where they are simply ensuring the hardware and software are VR ready, while allowing VR headset makers to do most of the legwork required to get their headsets running and their games properly ported. If true, this could give the Xbox One the advantage of running both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, as well as many games and experiences already on these platforms. Basically, the Xbox One would instantly catch up to the PSVR in terms of the amount of games and content available.

Yes, I realize there could be technical barriers to say porting over the entire Oculus Store, but considering how much the Xbox One and a regular Windows PC already share in common, I’m all but willing to guarantee this bond will grow even closer with Scorpio.

Chicken, and eggs – don’t count em’ yet

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VR is really just getting started, and the leaders of this space could shift significantly over the next few years. Oculus might have the honor of being ‘first’, HTC might have the best tech, and Sony Playstation has the most aggressive pricing for ‘higher-end VR’, but it will really come down to the type of games, movies, and experiences that each platform offers, and how effectively they are marketed and showcased.

Right now my money is on Sony being the king of “console/PC” VR, at least for the next year or two. On the mobile VR front, Google seems posed to dominant with its Daydream platform. But so early into the game, anything can happen. Samsung is rumored to be working on its own VR headset that doesn’t rely on a phone for brains, AMD and Sulon are working on their own all-in-one VR solution.

There’s one thing I’m certain of though: consumers will be the real winners of the VR wars. As competition increases, VR headset makers will be forced to find ways to stand out from the crowd, either by aggressive pricing, stand out features like HTC room-scale, or by offering a wide range of peripherals like we are starting to see with the Sony Playstation VR. I’m really excited for the future of VR. What about you? Who do you think has the best chance of sparking a mainstream VR revolution? Conversely, do you feel that VR will remain a super niche category into the foreseeable future?

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