Last week, I told the story of how experiencing archery using a virtual reality headset made me a VR believer. Admittedly, I’m a classic early adopter: I owned a Sega Genesis well before Sonic the Hedgehog, picked up a Nintendo GameCube the day of release (in Japan!), and switched to the first-generation iPhone on day one. When I see real potential in a new platform, that’s often enough for me to justify a purchase.
Normal people don’t work like that. Before they buy a new device, they expect the hardware price to be right, and more than just a couple “pretty good” pieces of software to use with it. History shows that mainstream buyers wait for a “killer” app — something that really shows off the hardware — if not several, so assuming the hardware’s price is reasonable, the new platform’s sales will spike when that killer app arrives.
For Nintendo’s Switch, that killer app is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo knew how amazing it was, and not coincidentally, the publisher timed it to debut alongside the Switch, helping the new console to become the fastest seller in U.S. history. By the time Super Mario Odyssey came out, the Switch had two killer apps, leaving no reason for any Nintendo fan (save price-conscious ones) to wait.
VR headsets have had much steeper hills to climb than the Switch. Until recently, the cost of entry for a VR experience was between $700 and $2,500, depending on whether you wanted a PlayStation VR (PSVR), an Oculus Rift, or an HTC Vive — and how much you were willing to invest to accessories. (PC headsets are more expensive and generally require GPU and/or CPU upgrades, as well as new controllers and sensors.) Over the last several months, VR companies have tried to whittle down their entry costs while improving their technologies, but the overall cost can still be daunting.
Thanks to this week’s Sony price cut, however, it’s now possible to get a new PSVR and PlayStation 4 setup — including a game or two — for around $600. That’s the full end-to-end cost; if you already have a PS4, you can start enjoying VR for $300 since a PSVR headset, camera, and game bundle is the cost of a Switch.
Now that the price is close to “right,” Sony still faces the killer-app question: What’s the game that’s going to win the average person over?
My answer may appear unspecific, but give me a moment to flesh it out: wish fulfillment. VR is all about transporting you to a different place and letting you experience a new environment. Think about the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall, where busy people purchased memory implants instead of actual vacations. Bringing some customers to VR will involve offering them access to destinations where they can live out fantasies.
Without exploring the salacious side of that concept, I’ll simply say that fantasies are highly personal: One person might want to be a secret agent while another might want to be a doctor and yet, another might want to play beach volleyball with scantily clad partners. I’ve personally been a racing-game fan for years and have spent a long time waiting to race hovercrafts in a futuristic, immersive world — either Wipeout’s or F-Zero GX’s. Sony just made it happen first in VR.
Released to coincide with the PSVR price drop, the free VR patch for Wipeout Omega Collection includes everything I have waited years to experience. I can now put on a VR headset and be transported directly into the future envisioned by Psygnosis and The Designers Republic two decades ago — a dream that later Wipeout games and Sony’s famous ad for the PlayStation 9 subsequently reinforced. It is, in a word, incredible.
Experiencing a race in stereoscopic 3D with head tracking is a literal game changer. Ships speed by your head rather than just gliding past on the screen, and you can anticipate turns and bumps in the track by looking left, right, up, or down independently of your craft’s direction. Elevated power-up and thrust icons now actually stand up on the track in three dimensions. Even the menu UI has been redesigned to feel engrossing, with 3D audio effects that roar and echo in your ears. For me, Wipeout is the killer app VR has needed.
What wish would you like to fulfill with VR? In other words, what killer VR app have you been waiting for?
You might not know the answer yet because you mightn’t have been shopping for VR games or watching the release charts. But VR already has full-length killer apps for fans of survival horror (Resident Evil 7), space shooters (Eve: Valkyrie), first-person action (Superhot VR), fantasy role-playing (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), and now, futuristic racing (Wipeout). The consistent thread through all of these titles is that they also exist in non-VR versions but are considerably more compelling through a headset.
With those titles in mind, I’ll ask again: What’s your killer app for VR? What are you waiting for?
If you already have a PlayStation 4, there’s no good excuse to keep waiting. The time is now. If not, it’s time to start thinking about what it will take before you’re willing to make the investment.
Facebook, HTC, Xiaomi, and others are betting that you’ll only take the VR leap when you can wear the entire VR setup as a standalone device priced from $200 to $400. Those headsets are here, and more are coming — but the hardware is underpowered, and the software’s not going to be great for years. It will be years before standalone VR is as good as PSVR is today.
Now that the killer apps are available to really make great use of VR headsets, my advice is this: don’t wait. Give VR a shot now. It’s time to see which of your wishes the current technology can fulfill.
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