Virtual reality is new and hot, and it turns out that new hot things cost a lot of money — unless they’re made by Sony? That’s one possible interpretation of the most recent statement from one of the key people at Sony Computer Entertainment.
The Rift virtual reality headset from Facebook subsidiary Oculus VR is selling for $599, and that price “surprised” Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida, according to a report on Polygon. The PlayStation first-party gaming chief was also stunned by the price of the Vive, which HTC developed in partnership with Steam owner and operator Valve. The Vive sells for $799.
Yoshida is deeply involved with the creation of the PlayStation VR headset at Sony. The Japanese consumer-electronics company is the last of the three major conglomerates launching a VR helmet this year to reveal a launch date or a price. But Yoshida’s suggestion that Rift’s cost surprised him suggests either the PSVR is significantly less expensive or even Yoshida doesn’t know how much Sony’s going to sell it for yet. Personally, I wouldn’t put my money on the latter.
PlayStation VR is an outlier for the burgeoning virtual reality market, which analysts at SuperData predict will generate more than $40 billion in spending by 2020. While Samsung’s Gear VR connects to Galaxy smartphones and the Vive and Rift hook into a powerful gaming PC that requires around $1,000 in components, PSVR connects to the PlayStation 4 gaming console. This is important because it will provide a relatively easy way for more than 36 million people, who already own the latest Sony home console, to get a potentially high-end virtual reality experience. This is also important because console gamers are proven spenders when it comes to software, so developers may have the easiest time getting a return on investment by partnering with PlayStation.
But a $350 PlayStation 4 already struggles to run games like the open-world puzzler The Witness and the race-car soccer game Rocket League — at least compared to a VR-capable Windows rig. So it seems like Sony is going to have a rough time cutting costs from the PSVR hardware itself if it wants an experience that is comparable to the Oculus Rift.
Of course, getting to a price that won’t shock Yoshida is easier when the competition is starting at $600. And a $500-to-$600 PSVR would seem strange next to a much cheaper PS4. But that still doesn’t mean you’re going to have enough money to buy the headset after digging through your couch for some change.
Sony Computer Entertainment chief executive Andrew House has previously said that the company will position the virtual reality peripheral as a “new gaming platform,” according to Bloomberg. That suggests something in the $300-to-$400 range. If Sony can deliver a decent VR experience at that price, it could potentially “surprise” the entire market by shipping a PS4/PSVR bundle for about the same amount of money as a PC-less Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.