It wasn't more than an hour after the PlayStation 4 Pro's release date reveal that the question began to go around Twitter: What about the PlayStation VR?
@The_Katbot Now existing customers have to choose between VR and upgrade. Most will upgrade. Also VR got basically no show in at the event.— Ian Stokes (@IanVanCheese) September 7, 2016
PS4 Pro is delivering its hardest kick in the nuts to PSVR, I think. And kinda third parties. Hardware sales eat into software at holiday.— Arthur Gies (@aegies) September 7, 2016
This morning, our own fearless leader asked the pertinent question of whether it's a good idea to ask gamers to drop $800 on new hardware in one holiday season, writing, "More concerning, however, is the fact that Pro arrives a mere month after PlayStation VR. That's $800 of new hardware Sony is putting out in the span of a month — one effectively a new platform (despite being dependent on other hardware), the other more of a quality-of-life upgrade that inevitably seems likely to create a divided experience for the PS4 Pro haves and the original PS4 have-nots.
So has Sony accidentally killed the PSVR's momentum? I'm not sure.
As I said on our flagship podcast, the idea that the PSVR and PS4 Pro is competing in the same market doesn't quite hold water for me. That's because I think the PSVR has the potential to be far more mass market than the PlayStation 4 Pro, which is already suffering from messaging problems about its actual benefits. With the PS4 Pro, people are already asking questions like, "So is 4K really that much better?" and "Why can't this thing play Ultra HD Blu-rays?" It's an incremental upgrade targeted squarely at a tiny portion of PS4 power users and those who haven't yet bought into the new generation and want to have the best possible console.
By contrast, the PSVR's benefits are much more tangible: It's a headset that lets you experience games in new and interesting ways. VR has admittedly lost a bit of steam amid the struggles of the Rift and the HTC Vive, and there are legitimate questions about whether its creative applications are overblown, but flying a spaceship or driving a car in a VR headset is still undeniably cool. Even at $399, I expect it will have a broader appeal than many people expect.
There are a few reasons for this:
- It's apt to gain traction as a hot new trend in tech: Mass market newspapers and magazines love stuff like this. As we get closer to the PSVR's October release date and the Sony hype machine kicks into high gear, we're going to be inundated with advertisements, hype articles, and breathless pronouncements about the future of entertainment. If it receives decent reviews and good word of mouth, it stands a solid chance of being one of the hottest gifts of the holidays season.
- The PlayStation 4 has a large install base: At last count, the PlayStation 4's install base was around 36 million: A tremendous number for a console. For the PlayStation 4 Pro, the PS4's large install base is actually a bit of a hindrance. After all, plenty of people will be asking themselves, "Why should I buy this new console? I already own a PlayStation 4, and the benefits don't seem that great." The PSVR, however, stands to benefit greatly from the PS4's existing install base. It removes a pretty significant barrier to entry and puts the PSVR much closer to impulse buy territory. Even if the PSVR ends up only selling to a fraction of the PS4's existing base, it will sell hundreds of thousands if not millions of units.
- It hits the sweet spot between performance and price point: True, $399 isn't exactly cheap, but it's a fair sight more affordable than either the Rift or the Vive. It's also the most comfortable of the headsets; and while resolution will be an issue out of the gate, it will benefit from the simple novelty of playing in VR.
- Sony will actually be able to distribute the thing: Oculus and Vive had some serious pre-order issues, with some customers suffering long delays as they waited for their headsets. Sony is certainly not immune to such delays, but its extensive distribution network puts it in a much better position to meet demand.
Ultimately, if the PlayStation VR flounders out of the gate, it won't be because the PS4 Pro stole its thunder or its userbase: It'll be because its launch lineup is a little weak - Rez Infinite, EVE Valkyrie, and Driveclub are the only real standouts - or because people simply don't want VR that much. My sense, however, is that it will touted as the real start of the VR revolution (whatever that may be), and that combined with its relative accessibility and Sony's marketing muscle will make it a success. As for whether it will hold up over the long-term, we'll just have to see.
As for the PS4 Pro, the hype hasn't exactly been white hot out of the gate. Since its announcement yesterday, the Internet has been alight with complaints of it being underpowered and unable to play Ultra HD Blu-rays, as well as reports that it won't be able to natively output in 4K. It's enough to give pause to those who might have otherwise considered picking up a PS4 Pro, including myself.
If it's one or the other, I honestly think the PSVR will win out over the PS4 Pro. But even though they're aimed at roughly the same market, I don't actually think that the success of one will come at the expense of the other. There will be plenty of people who want to buy into this generation who have no interest in VR, and they may be enticed by PS4 Pro's promise of 4K visuals. Conversely, plenty of people who already own a PS4 and have no intention of upgrading will buy a PSVR. There will be gamers who will find themselves choosing between one or the other, but not enough to put an appreciable dent in the PSVR's sales. If anything, I'd be more worried about the PS4 Pro based on the rather tepid reaction it's received so far.
In the end, the PlayStation VR will succeed or fail on its own merit. Either the market is ready to buy into VR, or they aren't. I don't expect the presence of the PS4 Pro will have much of an impact on its prospects one way or the other.