2016 is the year of new video game hardware, particularly in the realm of virtual reality. While some brands look to the future to attract tech-savvy consumers, nostalgia has never been far from other marketing campaigns.
From its humble Kickstarter beginnings to the cover of TIME magazine, Oculus Rift paved the way and kicked off a virtual reality “space race” to bring the emerging technology to market. Oculus has come a long way from being a project in creator Palmer Luckey’s garage to becoming one of the biggest entertainment devices for 2016. Purchased by Facebook in 2014, a major focus of the Oculus Rift is to support the ecosystem it helped jumpstart and of course, keep more people logged into Facebook. During the Oculus Connect in October, for example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated virtual reality chat sessions in which avatars could all see and interact with one another in real time. Insomniac Games has become a major partner for developing games for the Oculus Rift, with three titles released in 2016.
“We’re big VR enthusiasts,” Insomniac Games studio director, Chad Dezern told [a]listdaily, “and we have really liked working with Oculus as a publisher because we feel like we’re in this new experimental situation where we’re learning new mechanics just as the hardware is coming online. There’s a spirit of working together to figure it out and see what we can do with this new technology.”
The Oculus Touch launches in December, bringing with it new games and ways to interact with these virtual worlds.
Despite being associated with Valve and Steam, the HTC Vive isn’t limiting itself to video games. In fact, the virtual reality platform is making it possible for developers and entrepreneurs to build businesses around the technology. Rikard Steiber is the senior vice president of virtual reality for HTC, managing the global Viveport VR app store business and mentoring Vive X companies. “We believe VR will change the world for consumers and business alike,” Steiber told [a]listdaily. “We want to make VR available for everyone. I think the initial content has been focusing on games and entertainment, so it’s become widely available. What we want to do now is help all the other developers and creators to reach out globally with their content and build a business.”
Viveport, in particular, has created not just a store, but a community. Available in over 30 countries, Viveport serves as a first window into virtual reality with a wide variety of content. Last month, HTC unveiled its Viveport Arcade system—creating a revenue-sharing marketplace for public entertainment centers to access the latest interactive titles. Pilot programs for Viveport Arcade have already been deployed in a number of locations over the last few months and according to HTC, will soon expand to hundreds of gaming centers, amusement parks and karaoke bars across the globe. The company even released its own Vive-branded VR cafe in Shenzhen, China at the end of October.
Xbox One S
Microsoft’s latest console was a big hit with fans—accounting for nearly a third of all hardware sales in August while its controller became the top-selling gamepad that month at 79,000 units. At PAX 2016, Microsoft revealed eight custom Xbox One S 2TB consoles, which convention-goers could snap a picture of and share on social media for a chance to win. Giveaways from Doritos, Mountain Dew and Pizza Hut assisted in building hype before and after the console’s launch, continuing a long tradition of food and video game brand partnerships.
The addition of Play Anywhere titles and big exclusives like Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2 helped bolster sales and attract die-hard fans of these franchises. The Xbox One S, which is slimmer and 40 percent smaller than the current Xbox One console, features HDR gaming and support for 4K Ultra HD video, a 4K Blu-ray player and a redesigned, Bluetooth controller.
PS4 Slim And PS4 Pro
Sony’s latest PlayStation 4 lineup consists of two consoles: the PlayStation 4 Slim at $299 (replacing original PS4 model with a smaller size and lower price) and the PS4 Pro, a PlayStation 4 with substantially improved graphics and CPU, capable of displaying 4K/UHD (Ultra High Definition) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) games, for $399. Sony said that all PS4 games will be playable on all PS4 models (original, Slim, and Pro), and a patch updated existing consoles with HDR capabilities for supported games.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End bundle was the month’s best-selling hardware, accounting for 17 percent of total hardware units sold in the month. While the PS4 Slim offers accessibility to those who had been meaning to pick one up but were concerned with the price point, the PS4 Pro is betting on 4K TVs to become mainstream. We will be anxiously waiting to see what sales have been in November.
PlayStation’s entrance into virtual reality has been hyped since last year’s E3, and fans are finally getting their hands on PlayStation VR (PSVR) technology. Sony has no shortage of competition, but a smaller price point and trusted video game brand are working in the company’s favor. “When you look at all the activity in the VR space, 2016 is the year of VR. It all came together at the same point in time, and that’s good. It’s raising awareness for VR,” Shawn Layden, chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios explained to [a]listdaily.
In September, Taco Bell teamed up with Sony for a PSVR pop-up arcade in New York City. The two-day event included demo stations and free food, as well as a special GIF-making station perfect for sharing on social media. In addition to the arcade, hungry gamers could enter to win a PSVR of their very own by purchasing a Taco Bell Big Box before October 19.
Nintendo Classic Edition
While Sony is looking forward, Nintendo is looking back with its newly-released NES Classic Edition. This pint-sized version of the original ’80s console made no promises of cutting-edge graphics, but rather sold out with nostalgia on its side. Pre-loaded with 30 retro games like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda, the NES Classic Edition needed no special marketing—just great memories, and consumers bought them all up within seconds of its launch. Hopefully, Nintendo can capture imaginations the way its original console did when its Nintendo Switch launches in the spring.