PlayStation made some pretty big waves in the virtual reality scene as of late with the announcement of an October 2016 release date and a $399 USD price point (that’s an RRP of $549.99 AUD) for PlayStation VR. With this announcement, we now know the release windows for the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and finally PS VR, with respective price points of over $1000, approximately $1400 and $549 (+ $89.95 for the PS camera if you don’t already own it). Regardless which system you opt for, virtual reality is certainly a significant investment.

But is also a significant investment for hardware manufacturers, publishers and game developers, and with that investment, comes a certain element of risk. The technology is somewhat unproven, meaning – whilst prototypes have been demoed for some years now – a consumer device has not really been shipped and the exact demand for the technology determined. If PS VR’s sold out pre-orders are anything to go by, the early adopters are certainly there and certainly share Oculus’, HTC’s and PlayStation’s faith and optimism, but virtual reality’s long-term adoption depends entirely on a rather contradictory phenomenon I’ve coined ‘the peripheral paradox’.

The HTC Vive & Oculus Rift are both vying for the PC audience

The HTC Vive & Oculus Rift are both vying for the PC audience

The peripheral paradox is a theory such that a peripheral – a piece of hardware designed to accompany something else, or even the initial hardware itself on occasions – will only be popular if it has support, and software manufacturers will only support it if it’s popular. That makes sense right? People may only buy into VR if there’s games for it, but why should developers produce games for it without first knowing there is a demand for their VR game.

This the problem Oculus, HTC and PlayStation have to overcome, and it’s nothing new. I would argue the Wii became so successful because of the great deal of first-party support on the behalf of Nintendo; Wii Sports, cleverly bundled with every console, was, I believe, a system seller. In the absence of overwhelming third-party support, Nintendo backed themselves and it paid dividends. The same feat could not be achieved by the PlayStation Move or Xbox’s Kinect; attempts from first-party seemed half-assed and subsequently the user base and third-party support never arrived.

Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood is an example of Sony bringing an established IP to VR.

Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood is an example of Sony bringing an established IP to VR.

To avoid history repeating itself for PlayStation they need to back themselves. They need to wholeheartedly commit themselves and their resources to the technology, develop that ‘killer-app’ and achieve mass appeal, then additional support will come in the way of third-party developed content. If PlayStation, Oculus and HTC support their tech – which I desperately hope they do – popularity and additional support with come.

Only with support comes popularity, and with popularity comes support. That’s the peripheral paradox.

  • Do you keep throwing money at it until it works or quit to minimise losses?

    I just can’t see VR being anything more than an occasional peripheral like steering wheels and HOTAS rigs.

    People don’t even want to put on passive glasses for a 3D experience at home.

    Even throwing all the support at them they can, I don’t see how any of them will make it mainstream.

    3D, Wii motion, kinect, voice control, amBX, Playstation Move, GoogleGlasses……….VR. It’ll be great for enthusiasts and hardcore gamers. But for most an awareness blocking peripheral just won’t work.

    Prediction : Sells like hotcakes in first year. PlayStation VR becomes most popular and supported of the three. Two years later they’re an occasional device and HTC and Facebook attempt to retool in educational markets as training aids.

    • You’re concerns are absolutely valid. However, if no one buys into a new technology because they’re worried it won’t succeed, guess what, it doesn’t succeed.

      There is of course an element of risk involved as there is in any investment, in either a R&D or a consumer purchase. Without a risk though, there is no reward.

      I’m still of the opinion that VR is more than a gimmick and I believe it has potential outside of gaming, as you’ve suggested. For VR to be successful in gaming however, it needs an initial gamble, an initial push of content, with the hope an audiences will come and reduce the risk of producing content in the future.