Up until the release of the PlayStation Pro and the PlayStation VR, Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide never usually shied away from releasing their realized sales. It’s plain to see that this division relishes in its achievement of 53.4 million PlayStation 4 units sold as of January 2017. Sony’s confidence, and it’s transparency towards its fan base, is a far cry from the hush-hush strategy that Microsoft utilizes. In 2016 the PlayStation 4 family branched out as three new siblings entered the market: the PlayStation 4 Pro, the PlayStation 4 Slim and the PlayStation VR. In early 2017 SIE CFO Yoshida Kenichiro commented on how the PlayStation Pro was outselling the PlayStation 4 Slim, but without any concrete figures to back it up it wasn’t difficult to detect the slightest sense of apprehension on Sony’s part. Flash-forward to February 2017 and we see the veil lifted; 915,000 PlayStation VR units sold within 4-months of its release.
While this might be the kick-start that VR technology needed, it’s not the figure that should stand out to the industry, it’s Sony’s surprise toward its own success. In a recent interview with the Times, Andrew Castle, chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide, admitted his, and the company’s, doubts surrounding the acceptance of VR in the mass gaming market. Sony projected 1-million units to be sold by mid-April, and it now looks like Sony will have smashed this target out of the park. This cautious optimism paints a picture of a company willing to explore the technological possibilities of its future, but one that might lack the conviction to see all these ideas through to their maximum potential.
You can bet that Microsoft’s Scorpio hardware will have left top Sony Execs with many a sleepless night, and Sony’s response, though bold, was a brave and risky venture. The 2016 release of the Slim, the Pro and PlayStation VR gave the players more choice than they ever actually needed, what with the Pro not being the upgrade many of us wanted. Its lack of a 4k Blu-ray player and its recommended requirements for the consumer to actually own a brand new 4K television to take advantage of the Pro’s capabilities all begged the question: with the core PlayStation 4 system exceeding all expectations, why does the consumer and Sony need this machine? Of course, while this was all happening Sony was hard at work devising its release campaign/schedule for the “next big thing” PlayStation VR.
It’s ironic, then, how in 2016 a company stretches its resources with the busy release of three new devices to sit alongside the original PlayStation 4, but then House confesses how the company didn’t feel like VR wouldn’t achieve what it has. Kudos to Andrew House as, once again, Sony refuses to keep its user-base and industry professionals in the dark. Sony’s inclination towards getting closer to its fans has certainly been paying off, but what does this frankness mean for companies who firmly back VR, and believe it is the future? What has this cautious optimism impacted on, and has it left a mark on the acceptance of VR as a viable platform amongst key developers?
Sony aren’t the only VR company to display restraint with its platform; Jason Rubin, Oculus’ head of content, mentioned in the recent DICE summit how “you have to separate the promise of VR and VR year-one sales.” Rubin goes on to mention how price, quality and content are the primary factors to consider when securing success for the platform. With this in mind, PlayStation VR is the most affordable of its three competitors coming in at £350 compared to Oculus with its £499 selling point and Vive’s price of £758.99. It also overrides the need for an expensive PC setup to run the hardware – with it’s pre-existing install base, PlayStation VR was always going to be the firm favourite for fastest VR adoption rate. However, it’s still pretty pricey when you can buy a standard PlayStation 4 500gb Slim (with a new game) for £269.99, and you can be sure Sony were fully aware of this.
PlayStation VR’s launch certainly attracted the right talent with varying degrees of success. Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham VR was the platforms highest selling VR game in the month of October, coming in at number 13. On the flipside RIGS Mechanized Combat League developer Guerilla Cambridge was closed after, what could be speculated as, poor sales. Resident Evil 7 developer Capcom ensured that players could play through the entirety of the game in PlayStation VR, and with this, Sony revealed how the critically-praised title doubled the average playtime in VR. A free DLC update for Battlefront owners acted as wish-fulfillment as it placed the player in a cockpit of an X-wing, and likewise Rise of the Tomb Raider added a bonus VR mission in which you could explore Lara Croft’s manor. While they might not be full game experiences, these gameplay additions to some of Playstation’s most popular franchises reinforce the early impressions towards virtual reality: they set up the foundations for bigger and better things for the future. These small inclusions may only have acted as experiments to nudge developers in the right direction, but they will prove crucial to the future PlayStation VR library.
It’s been a solid start for PlayStation VR, and with games like Gran Turismo Sport and Farpoint on the horizon, Sony continue to prove they’re the most committed and most accessible platform for VR titles on the market. With the technology still being relatively new and modest software sales, you could understand other AAA publishers and developers being wary of audience engagement with this nifty new device. Sony now need to attract more AAA developers if they’re to propel VR into the gaming zeitgeist, and, most importantly, Sony needs to have the faith in itself that it can produce full gaming experiences to its growing audience.