Less than a year since its debut last fall, the PSVR has sold over a million units. Seems impressive, right?
Has Sony given up on the PSVR? No, not in the slightest, despite the fact that the system persists as a niche platform. PSVR had a modest presence at E3 2017, but then it exploded back onto the scene with a number of VR game announcements at this year’s PlayStation Paris Games Week (PGW).
Roughly one third of all the games showcased in the PGW pre-show were PSVR games, either newly announced or receiving new trailers. These included titles like Megalith, Bow to Blood, Moss, Star Child, and League of War to name a few. With the decisive resurgence of PSVR announcements, it’s also a safe bet to expect more news from Sony’s VR platform at the upcoming PlayStation Experience (PSX) event.
In light of Sony’s recent push with the PSVR, the question I want to consider is whether or not the recent and upcoming VR releases will shape a year of renewed interest and commercial success for the platform. So let’s dive in!
When it comes to PSVR, there’s one obstacle that looms above all others: price.
At the time of writing of this article, the PSVR is selling for $279 USD on Amazon – and that’s with a 20% mark down from the full retail price of $350. On top of that, that price does not include the PlayStation webcam that you need in order to use the headset, which costs roughly $40, or the motion controllers, which are not necessary for most games but are highly recommended and cost about $30-35 each. Lastly, none of this factors in the price of the VR games themselves.
And even if players can see past the added cost of PSVR, Sony’s platform faces yet another challenge: competition. The PSVR is not the only VR headset out there, and even though the market isn’t exactly crowded, it is certainly competitive with the different VR, AR, and mixed reality platforms all fighting for the patronage of a relatively small portion of the gaming audience.
At this point, the PSVR’s two leading competitors are arguably the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, which also just released a standalone VR headset called the Vive Focus that’s already being hailed as the “next gen of VR.” Microsoft is also currently in the process of releasing its own VR headset for its platform, as you’d expect with the recent release of the long awaited Xbox One X.
On top of price and competition (two substantial obstacles on their own), the PSVR also has to answer the question, “Is it just a gimmick?” Especially in the past year since the PSVR became commercially available, many critics have argued whether or not the technology is just a fad that will eventually fade and leave little to no lasting impression on the gaming industry.
So when faced with these odds, how does the PSVR change the conversation from “PSVR? Oh, cool” to “Oh man, I gotta have it!” and inspire gamers to purchase the system? Within the VR’s target audience, the deciding factor will be the experiences that the PSVR’s games manage to deliver, at least in my opinion. The biggest takeaway from the recent array of PGW VR announcements is that Sony is dedicated to delivering a wide range of games, from shooters and racing games to AAA spin-offs and re-releases to puzzlers, platformers, and beyond.
But not all of these experiences are best suited for converting gamers, and luring them away from the ease and comfort of their consoles. The games that have the best potential for driving the PSVR’s success will be those that emphasize the medium.
In other words, Sony needs to deliver games that showcase why you need the VR headset to get a unique experience that you simply can’t achieve on a console. These games will be innovative and have a profound emphasis on how your senses impact the gameplay – including engaging visuals, creative use of sound, and the strategic incorporation of touch.
To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s go through some current and upcoming PSVR titles genre by genre and see how they do and don’t contribute to the platform’s overall appeal.
First Person Shooters
Let’s start off with one of the biggest genres currently dominating VR releases: shooters. From run-and-gun to flying shooters, these types of games have received a lot of attention from developers since the PSVR’s release. Some current titles include Superhot, Farpoint, The Brookhaven Experiment, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, Battlezone, and Eve: Valkyrie to name just a few.
The PGW pre-show also unveiled new trailers for upcoming games like Megalith (a bestial hero shooter) and Bow to Blood (a flying shooter), demonstrating developers’ continued interest in these types of titles.
It’s pretty easy to understand why shooters are a popular type of game for VR. First off, FPS is easy to transition from console to VR since VR emphasizes the immersive first person experience. And secondly, FPS is an incredibly popular genre in video games, meaning that a lot of players are already familiar with the gameplay experiences offered by these games.
However, that second benefit is also the VR FPS’s biggest weakness: it’s a familiar experience. Why pay for the added price of the PSVR when you can already play FPS games on your console? Since it’s easier and significantly cheaper to get a similar experience on your PS4, where the controls are familiar and your expectations are already set, FPS just doesn’t necessarily have the power to drive gaming traffic away from consoles and onto the PSVR.
- FPS transitions easily from console to VR
- Shooters are already popular amongst gamers
- FPS on VR will not outcompete FPS on consoles
Platformers and Puzzlers
One quirky puzzle-based VR game that immediately comes to mind is Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, which bridges together the first and second Psychonauts 3D platforming games. While the game is known for its interesting oddities and moments of humor, the puzzling elements themselves amount to only about an hour or two of gameplay – a shortcoming that’s not unpopular amongst VR puzzle-based games.
But despite their potential brevity, puzzlers on the PSVR have the ability to be incredibly innovative. For example, Statik is an intriguing puzzler in which players will see their hands trapped inside of a puzzle box. This mechanic parallels players’ grip on the PS4 controller and their inability to release it – creating the illusion that their hands are really stuck.
Again, PGW had some new games to showcase within this genre. Titles like Star Child (a highly cinematic platformer) and Moss (a beautifully designed puzzler with a mouse protagonist) demonstrate a continued interest in these engaging games. However, it’s yet to be seen how these games will challenge players and how much content they will provide.
- They’ve proven to make clever use of the player’s user interface
- Puzzles are engaging in a virtual 3D space
- Platformers and puzzlers often have a fairly short runtime in VR
The PSVR has already received entries from noteworthy IPs like Resident Evil 7 and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. Both of these franchises have had success on consoles, and so it makes sense to translate them to VR, where the truly immersive first person perspective can capitalize on the suspense, anticipation, and fear that all go hand-in-hand with the horror genre because the monsters that you see and hear lurking in the shadows are chasing you rather than a third person avatar, making the experience that much more realistic.
Unfortunately, both Resident Evil 7 and Until Dawn fail to truly take advantage of the VR medium. While they may in some ways play with the user interface, neither can hold a candle to the innovation shown in Stifled, a much smaller, mic-enabled, horror/survival game.
Stifled was yet another title in the extensive lineup of VR games at the PGW show, and in this game, everything is black. You’re almost completely blind once you put on the VR headset. But the twist is that every noise you make reverberates off nearby objects, causing their outlines to appear within the darkness. However, the more noise you make, the more the enemies hidden in the dark can hear and see you. The best way to sum up this game is a quote from a player who said, “Never have I ever been so scared to step in a puddle.”
In this game, sight and sound are paramount. These two senses really are the essential gameplay mechanics and they create a tension that’s unique to the VR interface. Stifled is one of the first few horror VR games to truly take advantage of the platform in a way that distinguishes it as unique. And while that definitely acts as a sign of progress, it’s also a reminder that horror as a genre in general has yet to realize its full potential on the PSVR.
- High potential for new innovation in the medium by playing with the senses
- Achieves a more immersive, realistic horror experience
- The horror genre does not appeal to all gamers
- Even those gamers who do like horror games may not be able to handle the VR first person point of view
There’s two main strategies that AAA games have for dealing with VR. First and foremost, many games are starting to offer compatibility with or support for PSVR, especially in complete editions of PS4 games. An example of this strategy is the most recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider. These VR experiences tend to be small segments of the game or particular missions that are formatted for VR and are included with the purchase of the base game.
The other strategy many AAA games are using to deal with VR is releasing a spin-off or side title that compliments a recent console release, although packaged separately. A particularly prominent example of this Final Fantasy XV’s Monsters of the Deep. As a whole, FFXV is simply too large to translate to a full VR game, at least at this point during the PSVR’s lifecycle. It’s a massively detailed open world RPG that offers well over one hundred hours of content, especially once you factor in all of its various DLCs and the multiplayer expansion. Monsters of the Deep takes one particular aspect of the larger FFXV game – in this case, its in-depth fishing mechanics – and creates a smaller VR title around that one part of the base game. So from out of an action-adventure, open world JRPG you get a first person VR fishing game.
All of this raises the question: is VR a good home for the AAA, blockbuster experience? At least for now with the current technological capabilities, I’d have to say no. These are not the types of games that will make people want to bite the bullet and pay the added cost of VR. They may be suitable as fun little one-offs for players who have already bought the VR system, but I don’t think they’ll convert many new users.
- Come with the press and notoriety of AAA games
- May hold some appeal to players who already own the PSVR
- Can’t come close to matching the scope of the base games they’re associated with
- Have a low potential for bringing new users to the PSVR
Visual Novel Games
This is the last category I’ll be discussing in this article – and it’s perhaps the newest area of focus for VR games. The most prominent upcoming title for this genre is coming from Square Enix and it called Project Hikari. The game is an interactive, VR manga-turned-video game. While not much is known yet about Project Hikari, it’s safe to say that the game’s goal is to bring manga to life in a way that’s never been attempted before by a video game developer.
It has highly unique visuals that, while still in development and in need of some tweaking, will satisfy any manga or anime fan so long as the story manages to deliver.
What Project Hikari has me wondering is whether or not other visual novel-esc games could succeed in VR by bringing together interactive visuals and player-determined storytelling. For example, could a VR version of the increasingly popular Danganronpa series succeed and draw in new audiences for Sony’s VR platform? I guess that only time will tell.
- Emphasizes highly interactive, engaging visuals and storytelling
- Adds depth to the type of games and genres available in VR
- Would potentially only have a small audience in the gaming community
To wrap it all up, I’d have to say games that truly emphasize the core elements of VR – like the incorporation of a player’s senses into the essential gameplay mechanics – will be the make or break titles for the PSVR. Key genres to focus on will include horror games, puzzlers that manage to prove original, and possibly even visual novels.
But these aren’t the only areas that VR developers should touch on. There are plenty of other genres that I didn’t get to really talk about in this article that could prove successful for VR, including choice-based games like the upcoming Detroit: Become Human as well as titles like Journey, Abzu, and Oure that emphasize the player’s visual and audible journey rather than a complex narrative or fast-paced combat. But unfortunately, these types of games have yet to see much progress on the PSVR platform.
So, tell us your thoughts! What types of games do you find most appealing for PSVR? Do you own a VR headset? If you don’t own one, are you interested in VR or any VR games? I for one would love to talk even more about this truly fascinating topic.