Ctrl+Alt+Delete: VR headsets are wasting potential at current price points
OPINION: 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for virtual reality. Both the Meta Quest 3 and Sony’s PSVR 2 have already been confirmed, and we wouldn’t rule out another launch from the likes of Pico or Vive either.
However, I’m starting to grow worried about the future of virtual reality headsets. The technology is extremely impressive and provides a far more immersive experience than any standard console or PC, but that’s all for naught if they’re too expensive for the average person.
Sony has confirmed the upcoming PSVR 2 will cost a staggering $549.99 / £529.99, which is even more costly than a PS5. Meanwhile, the Meta Quest 2 has seen a price increase from $299.99 to $399.99. During an interview with Stratechery, Mark Zuckerburg suggested that the Meta Quest 3 could be “in the price range of $300, $400, or $500.”
These new price ranges are concerning. I can understand why they’re so costly, as specs such as an OLED panel, eye tracking and haptic feedback will be expensive to manufacture. But despite the impressive technology, I still don’t think VR headsets offer enough to be more expensive than a games console.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X feel like more polished products, with far larger game libraries than any VR headset. And while VR does have a couple of gems now, such as Half-Life Alyx, Resident Evil 4 and Beat Saber, they’re still few in number.
Even though the PS5 has been criticised for a slow start when it comes to game launches, it still offers top-notch experiences with the likes of God of War Ragnarök, Horizon Forbidden West, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal and Deathloop. There isn’t a single VR headset – including the ultra-expensive options such as Vive Pro 2 – that can match such a high-quality offering.
As much as I enjoy virtual reality, I rarely favour using the Meta Quest 2 over my PS5, Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch. That’s largely due to the latter platforms offering more compelling games, and more frequent releases.
If the likes of Sony and Meta want their VR headsets to be even pricier than a console, then they need to ensure the game library – not just the hardware – is up to snuff.
There is an alternative option, and that’s to make these VR headsets more affordable. Meta originally did this, with the Quest 2 costing as little as $299.99 at launch. Such competitive pricing saw a boom in VR’s popularity, but sudden price hikes have now put future success at risk.
Yes, such companies would likely be making a loss on hardware sales by reducing the price, but that’s not a unique tactic. Game consoles offer incredible value compared to PCs with equivalent specs. For a PC that can run games in 4K, you’ll likely have to spend at least $1000. Sony even confirmed that it wasn’t until August 2021 (nine months after launch) that the PS5 stopped making a loss.
How can Sony afford to do this? Well, Sony actually manages to make a lot of money from game sales – in fact, it generates greater profits through software than hardware. By taking a slice of the sales for every single game on the platform, it has a big incentive to increase the player base of its console. This results in the PS5 having an incredibly affordable price when compared to a PC.
So why isn’t Sony doing something similar with the PSVR 2? It almost definitely is, but the increased price (compared to the original PSVR) is likely due to a poorer return in game sales. The PSVR 2 will probably never have a player base as large as the PS5, and the average owner will likely spend less money on VR games than they would with a console. Again, this all goes back to the root issue: VR headsets just don’t have enough high-quality games.
With all that in mind, I can see why Meta and PlayStation are reluctant to lower the price of their headsets. But on the flipside, I can also see why many gamers will be hesitant to pay that much money for a device that won’t offer as many high-quality experiences as a console. It’s an unfortunate stalemate, and it’s difficult to come up with a solution.
What I can say is that it will be a great shame if people are priced out of virtual reality. There’s a lot of potential here, with the likes of Half-Life Alyx proving that VR can offer unparalleled experiences. But if VR headsets don’t represent good value for money compared to consoles, its player base is never going to expand and all of that exciting potential will go to waste.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.