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 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.
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.