Aaaand Oculus may have just killed VR before it even started with its $600 price tag. 🙁
— Michael Schroeder (@TheSchroeder) January 6, 2016
An Oculus Rift VR headset can transport you to unbelievable fictional worlds, like a world were people will spend $599 on an Oculus Rift
— CEO Kaz Hirai (@KazHiraiCEO) January 6, 2016
Okay, so people aren’t too fond of the price, and rightfully so. The idea of a mainstream VR gaming platform was a tough sell to begin with, even more now with what they’re charging. Palmer Luckey, Oculus founder and inventor, wants people to look past the price tag, assuring folks that it’s far more reasonable than it appears:
To reiterate, we are not making money on Rift hardware. High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is. — Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) January 6, 2016
This contradicts previous statements that Luckey has made, but I digress. At this point, the reasoning behind the price doesn’t matter, because Oculus left the door wide open for a threatening competitor: PlayStation VR. Oculus has been the name on the frontier of VR gaming for the last couple of years, but with today’s developments, there are a few reasons why Sony is poised to snatch that spot away with their upcoming VR initiative.
Games and install base
Oculus Rift will launch with two games: Eve Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale. Over 100 titles will be made available by the conclusion of 2016. But two games at launch is unprecedented in modern gaming. Granted, the Oculus’ upcoming library is great, with upcoming titles like a VR version of Minecraft, and the amount of modded and non-gaming experiences possible with the Oculus Rift is worth salivating over. But why not give us more of these titles as options before asking for folks to fork over $600? The initial launch catalog is disappointing and indicative of a preemptive release.
Sony, platform launch veterans, will without a doubt provide more attractive launch options with PlayStation VR. Titles like Rigs, Ace Combat 7, Playroom VR, 100ft Robot Golf, and more have either appeared at conventions with playable builds, or been shown in some capacity during PlayStation’s press conferences. Sony has a clear idea of what types of games they want to make for PlayStation VR, and have been diligently marketing them out in front of the hardware.
Aside from the fact that PlayStation brings over 20 years of market experience and a slew of partners to the table (and the fact that the PS4 is currently the most accessible gaming platform), Sony’s biggest advantage is the PS4’s large install base. This is the most attractive video game platform for developers looking to get their works discovered right now. That in mind, I expect PlayStation VR’s launch offerings and beyond to be far more robust and engaging than that of Oculus’ first SKU.
When the PlayStation 3 launched in 2006, Sony felt the consequences of lofty pricing. Even though the $600 PS3 SKU had much to offer, it saw dismal sales and waves of negative feedback, forcing Sony to cut the price and refocus the console’s marketing strategy. It didn’t help that their adverts included a creepy crying baby doll either.
Sony learned then that you can offer the most powerful piece of gaming tech known to man, but if it’s not competitively priced and affordable, you’re not going to sell it. This has been a proverb in video games (see Dreamcast) since their inception. The idea is to focus your costs on building hardware that is both advanced and conveniently priced. Not an easy task by any means, but it’s become one of Sony’s strengths, and the reason why the PlayStation brand is successful.
Though PlayStation lost brand loyalty to Xbox during the PS3 era, they’ve since flipped things around with effective pricing and tactful pro-consumer messaging. The Oculus price feels like a recounting of Sony’s previous mistake. Yes, it is a marvelous contraption, but your average consumer will never look beyond its enormous price tag. With the Oculus’ $600 price out in the wild, Sony has the perfect opportunity to undercut them at anywhere between $300-$400. Though I expect the price to fall into that window anyway.
The Overall Package
Sure, the Oculus is a $600 standalone, but what about when you factor in the high-end PC that you’ll need to utilize it? Even with Oculus/PC bundles starting at $1499, most folks looking to get a bang for their buck will end up forking out around $1,000 for a capable rig. If only the general consumer had arms and legs to spare. I didn’t even mention the many Oculus peripherals like the Delta Six Gun ($350), the Oculus Touch Controller (TBD), and the Virtuix Omnidirectional treadmill ($700). A full package could be well over $2,000.
Priced at $349, the PS4 is a far more affordable option for anyone looking to get a taste of VR, especially if Sony decides to go with a competitive PlayStation VR price point. Simply put, PlayStation is poised to completely outpace Oculus and its competitors by getting a substantial sales lead early on in the VR gaming era.
How can PlayStation lead the VR charge? The simple answer is price, but this is the commencement of the VR gaming age — a time where no standard has been set and experiences will be nearly indistinguishable to the average consumer. Now is the time to be competitive, and the PlayStation brand is clearly in the most advantageous position to do that. Your move, Sony!
Which VR unit do you think you’ll get your hands on first? Share your thought with us in the comments below.
Malik Forté is the Gaming Editor of Nerdist and the fearless leader of the White Pants Illuminati. Find his ramblings on Twitter @Malik4play.