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Virtual Reality Is Gaming’s Next Great Gamble

William Worrall
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:19 PM
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  • Virtual reality is still big news these days.
  • Xbox and Sony have chosen opposite approaches to the tech.
  • This means that VR could end up defining the next generation.

Virtual reality has been big news for the past few years. Aside from a disastrous stint in the 90s , it has always seemed like the realm of science fiction. These days, virtual reality is actually pretty attainable. You can purchase a starter set for the PlayStation 4 for under $200 on sale, not including PlayStation Move.

For the upcoming generation of consoles, Sony and Microsoft have chosen two different paths. Microsoft has made it clear that they will not be focusing on VR , while Sony has doubled down on the VR headsets. Whichever proves to be the correct path will probably define the ‘winner’ of the generation.


Next-Gen May Be Defined by Virtual Reality

So far PSVR has been at least partially successful. Some 4.2 million headsets have sold, but that’s not even 5% of the 100 million PS4 units sold . To a certain degree, this rate of adoption is to be expected – partially because that 100 million unit figure doesn’t take into account non-active PS4 consoles and partially because VR has several usability problems.

Even reducing the cost down to its current level hasn’t been enough to prompt the mass adoption of PSVR . The main issue behind it is that plenty of people experience pretty severe nausea with virtual reality, limiting the sorts of games that can be made for the system and discouraging buyers.

If virtual reality hopes to become a technology with staying power, it has several hurdles to get past. Both cost and usability problems will need to be solved to keep VR technology improving. No one wants a machine that makes 50% of its users sick.

Virtual Reality - PSVR
No amount of immersion makes up for motion sickness. | Source: PlayStation 

The Real Gamble of Virtual Reality

Both Sony and Microsoft have a lot to gain during the next console generation. If Sony can come out on top again, they will cement their lead on Microsoft. On the other hand, Microsoft is almost certainly looking to gain back supremacy over the market they held in the first half of the last generation.

Microsoft has chosen to focus entirely on their game streaming and subscriptions. Sony is plumbing for a more varied, if less focused, strategy of relying on exclusives to keep things afloat while they keep producing VR and secondary services such as PSNow and PS+.

Sony’s approach might seem more flexible but it also spreads the company’s resources thin. While that isn’t an issue right now thanks to their strong sales lead, it might be more of a problem after bankrolling a lot of new hardware. Microsoft, on the other hand, is seemingly focusing on the areas they’re strongest in, namely Game Pass and xCloud.

Virtual Reality - HTC Vive
Sets like the HTC Vive are too expensive to have mass appeal. | Source: Amazon

Predicting the Outcome

Trying to predict an outcome, in this case, is very difficult. The jury is still out on whether or not virtual reality is a passing fad . If it turns out to be the former, then PlayStation could find themselves in a massive R&D and manufacturing money hole.

In many ways, I’d put my money on PlayStation. Their strategy is certainly riskier, as it might end in ruination. But if it works out, it’ll give them another strong lead. Being a company with slightly more experience in gaming hardware should also give them a fair chance of spotting trouble with VR early enough to jump ship.

Then again Xbox isn’t to be counted out. Game pass is still an amazing service, and if xCloud can beat Stadia it’ll be a massive boon. These side projects may define the next generation, but a solid lineup of games is always the bread-and-butter of gaming.