In a bizarre low key marketing move, Sony announced last week (on the PlayStation Blog) that yes, a PlayStation Virtual Reality 2 headset is in the works. That’s pretty much it. The four paragraph article included scant details. The unit won’t be released in 2021 (no surprise there). It will be for the PS5 and attach via a single cable. It will have new controllers. Yey! No more oddly shaped sex toy controllers for us. So why does Sony’s PSVR 2 announcement have us concerned?
This author was a day one adopter of PSVR. Back in Oct 2016 when the unit first launch, it really was a market leader. Occulus and HTC had their models on sale already at that point, but they really needed a high end PC to run. They were also expensive. It needed a $1000 PC and another $600 headset. As a PS4 owner, the outlay was far cheaper for a PSVR. The device was not as capable as the other models but it was affordable. It also brought with it a lot of investment in games from Sony.
PSVR gave us some excellent titles. Can Sony’s PSVR 2 do the same?
Since purchase, there has been some rather excellent games. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is, in our honest opinion, a platformer that shows 100% more innovation than a Mario game has in years. Resident Evil 7 was a PSVR exclusive – a mode that this author tried for 10 minutes before messing their trousers (but WHAT a 10 minutes that was). There has been the oft overlooked Farpoint, the cockney marathon Blood & Truth, Marvels Iron Man VR. We’ve already waxed lyrical about From Software’s PSVR exclusive Déraciné. That’s not mentioning some great cross platform games – Super Hot VR, Beat Saber, Skyrim VR, Star Wars: Squadrons, Thumper, Borderlands 2 VR. Tetris Effect is a nigh on religious experience in VR.
We really like VR. While we are not convinced it was the game changer that many industry pundits violently exclaimed, it’s provided some really unique experiences. We’ve put a lot of hours into our little PSVR unit and don’t regret the purchase. Being a day one adopter of a Sony accessory is risky (ahem, PS Vita, PSTV, PSP Go and so on) but Sony have put down some cash and have supported better than we would have expected.
It wasn’t perfect for sure. Yes it was cheaper, evident by the recycled camera and all the tracking problems that came with it. The Move controllers are old tech and annoyingly, never easily available since launch. They too have tracking issues. There are lots of cables and, if you were a PS4 Pro owner, you have to disconnect the box if you want HDR pass through. Still, for the price, it was a neat little package.
PSVR – A modest success
With the launch of the PS5, we’ve been keen to hear what Sony was going to do with VR. It had confirmed that you could play most PSVR games on the PS5 and gave owners a free cable (via their website) to plug the PS4 camera into the PS5. That is all. Given the investment and the cautious success of the PSVR (approx. 5 million units as of Jan 2020), we thought it likely that a new PSVR unit might be coming.
Still, this announcement is not what we expected. Given that the PSVR came in just under half way through the PS4‘s lifespan, we were not expecting Sony to confuse users so close to the PS5 launch. So release date not being this year doesn’t worry us. It’s the style of the announcement.
VR is in an interesting place in 2021. There have been some big strides in technology. The highest specs still command high prices but solid PC headsets are getting cheaper. Plus, we have wireless. The Occulus Quest 1 & 2 don’t need cameras, are retailing below $399 and can also be tethered to a PC for greater oomph. They are comfortable and make the tech more accessible.
On the PC side of things, Half Life: Alyx has really shown a lot of users what VR can do. At the same time, market penetration still isn’t overwhelming. It is an expensive niche and remains so. Some analysts think that VR will grow but household adoption will still only be about 3% by 2025 . That’s far less than console and PC gaming penetration. Is Sony’s plan for a PSVR2 sensible?
Are third parties supporting PSVR 2?
Facebook, via Occulus, are still investing big in VR games but we aren’t seeing much from other mainstream publishers. Interestingly, Bethesda was a large third party publisher that released some great ports of Skyrim, Fallout 4 and some nice Doom & Wolfenstein experiences. Whether that will continue under Microsoft is unclear but we’d assume not – after all, Microsoft themselves have steered away from VR.
So Sony have a fair few hurdles in front of them when it comes to a new VR unit. First, they have to do the job that all headset manufacturers have which is persuade users to invest in an expensive side product. They then have to convince existing converts that their offering is worth the upgrade from the OG base unit. It will need backwards compatibility but it will also need a swathe of new titles. The hardware will need to be compelling – their competitors have really upped the ante when it comes to comfortable, affordable, high quality tech.
Why Sony’s PSVR 2 announcement has us concerned…
This announcement just doesn’t give us much confidence that they understand these challenges. A teaser, sure, would help allay fears that VR has been forgotten. But a quick article dropped on the PlayStation blog on a random Tuesday? Hardly gets one excited. The idea of controllers using PS5 Dual Sense technology is exciting but what does that actually mean?
Then there is the fact that it will still be wired. Both Vive and Occulus have wireless offerings. It may need the power of the PS5 but where will this tech sit in 4-5 years? Much of the forward momentum in VR has been about removing barriers to use. Tethering a user to a PS5 will seem quite antiquated when it comes to launch.
Shortly afterwards, we had the announcement of a Sony: State of Play. Speculation was rife – would this give deliver the hype for a new PSVR unit? Nope. Not a virtual sausage. Which again… is just weird. You have the casual announcement in a blog post that a major new piece of kit is coming but you spend time with Oddworld and more Deathloop trailers in a State Of Play? Here should be the opportunity to address some of the concerns above? Maybe it is wired because of some nifty feature?
These are early days, of course. Maybe we are just being ‘entitled’ gamers, demanding more. Sony have done well over the last generation, and the PS5 is shaping up nicely. It’s just that we want to be sold on the future of the PSVR. We’re loyal supporters after all. The dropping of such a plain announcement on what should be a major launch for Sony seems… well, odd. Odd, and possibly a worrying sign for their intentions with PSVR.
What do you think? Do you care about VR? Let us know below.
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.