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Playstation VR’s Japanese Sales Spell Trouble for Virtual Reality Adoption

Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

Sony’s entry into the VR market came with a lot of hype and it was easy to see why. Initially developed under the codename ‘Project Morpheus’, it arrived with brand recognition (Playstation), high-profile gaming IP content (Resident Evil), and a lower price tag than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This is before we even consider its direct compatibility to the PS4 console that had already sold 40m units globally, a hurdle that presently restricts the Rift and Vive with their high processing requirements. With these factors implying distinctive advantage over other players in the VR industry, it is therefore troubling that upon the device’s launch in Japan (the world’s third largest gaming market), there is evidence to suggest that PSVR was not welcomed with the anticipated reception from gamers in Sony’s home market.

Though Sony is yet to release official stats on how many PSVR units have been sold, data from Japan’s gaming industry revealed these important sales figures from the VR headset’s first week:

PSVR: 51,644PS4: 30,154

There were approximately 3m PS4 sales in Japan as indicated by a July 2016 announcement (7.5% of total global sales at 40m). If we couple this with the likelihood that the hype surrounding the release meant the 30,154 PS4’s sold this week were purchased alongside PSVR as part of a bundle deal - this data would then suggest that only 21,490 users who already owned a PS4 individually purchased a Sony VR headset. This is astonishing when you consider this is around just 0.7% of the much vaunted Japanese PS4 user-base that Sony was predicted to sell the PSVR headset into.

The Challenge of Driving Mass Adoption for VR

If a company of Sony’s refined expertise and experience in selling gaming products over the past few decades has therefore been unable to entice users in such a game-savvy market as Japan (especially with the aforementioned advantages), this raises troubling questions over what can ultimately drive mass adoption of Virtual Reality? The technology of course has both a variety of applications in addition to many influential backers, and Facebook’s conference earlier this month was keen to highlight the potential of social applications in the technology, as well as its often-repeated mantra of framing VR as ‘the next computing platform’. However, while it is arguable that VR’s gaming audience presently belongs more in the hardcore factions of online players such as those on the Valve corporation’s Steam store rather than the more casual gaming users of Playstation, it will surely have caused disquiet within the higher-echelons of VR gaming development studios that Playstation VR has seemingly not had the immediate impact many would have hoped. This is particularly significant given the importance of a gaming market like Japan and how an immediate success story would have surely opened up a larger user base, facilitating more investment in VR content creation.

VR Gets a Reality Check

Where does the VR industry go from here? Put simply there is the possibility that prospective users of the device are waiting until either the holiday season or the release of more popular titles. It is also important to remember that it is still early days, and that the hype train that VR found itself on in 2016 may simply have arrived too soon. For this reason, I am reminded of an often-repeated quote from Bill Gates:

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten’.

The potential remains, but if perception is indeed reality, then the hard facts regarding sales may force the VR gaming industry itself into a reality check.

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