Sony finally joined Oculus and Vive in the penultimate step towards making their PlayStation VR a real product, by announcing its retail price of $399 along with a ship date this October. The price point and the ship date were both a bit of a surprise, as many observers expected that PlayStation VR might start at $499, and Sony had previously stated the ship date would likely be in the first half of 2016.
Game industry insiders reacted well to Sony’s announcement of PlayStation VR at a $399 price point. “That’s going to get some attention,” said one exec. “Though I would be surprised if we don’t see some bundles for PSVR this Christmas.” That’s quite likely, given that Sony has chosen not to include the necessary additional components for the PlayStation VR in the $399 package, as the PSVR requires the PlayStation 4 Camera. The camera follows the PSVR headset’s nine LEDs to provide 360-degree head-tracking, but games can be played using standard DualShock or Move controllers.
Sony explained that since players may already have a camera and Move controllers (and they certainly have at least one DualShock controller) that it wasn’t desirable to include those components in the base unit. It seems likely that we’ll see a bundle including the camera and probably Move controllers, perhaps for $499. Another likely bet would be a $699 PlayStation 4 bundle that includes a PlayStation VR, camera, Move controllers and some games. A complete VR setup in one box for the holidays sounds like a compelling buy for people looking to get into VR as easily as possible.
The PSVR isn’t limited to virtual reality games. Players will be able to play standard PS4 games on the headset through a “cinematic mode” that displays a standard flat screen in front of players at three different zoom levels.
“VR is a big part of the future of games, and everyone wants to author their own page as we open the next chapter in gaming,” said Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House. He noted that there will be 50 compatible games available at launch for the PSVR, and that some 230 games are currently in development.
Sony is also fully aware that VR can be isolating, and that’s antithetical to the idea of home consoles being entertainment devices for more than one person at a time. So PlayStation VR will have local multiplayer, using what Sony terms a “Social Screen.” This means the PS4 can drive both the TV and PSVR displays simultaneously, allowing one person to use the PSVR headset in competition (or cooperation) with other players in the same room.
It’s worth noting that the PSVR isn’t just going to have a collection of games from small developers, either. House noted that Sony is partnering with Lucasfilm and Electronic Arts to create an exclusive VR version of Star Wars Battlefront for the PSVR. That brings some major brand power to the device, and we’ll likely be hearing more game announcements when E3 rolls around.
While Sony is coming later to the party than Oculus and HTC, the PlayStation VR brings some key advantages. There’s already an installed base of nearly 40 million consoles that can drive the PSVR, with likely more by the time the PSVR ships. The lower entry cost is certainly going to be attractive, as will the easier setup, compared to configuring a new computer and graphics card. Sony’s arrival in October does give Oculus and Vive some months in the marketplace to rack up an installed base, but it seems like Sony is looking to have a solid lineup of games at launch to counteract the earlier ship dates of the Oculus and the Vive.
One industry analyst predicted that Sony could well sell 2.2 million PSVR units this year, and that was in advance of the company’s announcement of its $399 price point. Of course, there’s still plenty of time for Oculus and HTC to make further announcements to tip matters to their favor. It looks like there will be an enormous marketing battle fought over VR this holiday season.
Of course, learning about the hardware pricing and ship dates is only part of the story. What will VR games be priced at? Will they be sold in retail stores? What digital storefronts will emerge as leaders? Will there be a variety of monetization models? There are more questions than answers right now, but the journey to find those answers promises to be interesting indeed.