PlayStation VR's Biggest Problem Is The Cost Of The Games

Image: Gizmodo

"I'd be happy to play this as a PS+ title for $30, but not for $80." That was a reflection on The Order: 1886, a game largely panned on multiple levels. But amongst the pacing, black borders, reliance on quicktime events and general mechanics, the biggest complaints were levelled at the length.

Six to seven hours. For $80, that wasn't enough. And whether it's fair or not, that's going to be the biggest problem facing PlayStation VR.

Whether you pre-ordered beforehand, or you're getting the second round of PSVR shipments that arrive just before Christmas, make no mistake: you are an early adopter. This year might not be the first crack the industry has had at consumer-grade virtual reality headsets, but it is still first generation tech in many ways.

And that comes with risks. But perhaps the biggest hurdle facing VR isn't the technology.

It's the games themselves — or rather, the value people think they will get from the games.

Say you walk into EB Games or JB Hi-Fi later this week. You've heard PSVR is a thing, and want to check it out. You'll see big stands for the headset; probably a screen showing glitzy trailers with people doing funky shit in virtual reality.

And then you'll the games. More specifically, you'll see three tiers of games: $25, around $50-60, and then the full priced $80 games.

The problem for Sony here isn't so much what they're offering at that price point, but how it compares to what you can currently buy for $80.

This week, for instance, you could pick up Gears of War 4 for $80 from JB. Or FIFA 17. Forza Horizon 3 is selling for the same amount. Want to spend slightly less and pick up something newer? Mafia 3's available for $70. So is XCOM 2. Want something with a thriving multiplayer community? There's Destiny with all the expansions for $80, and if you want something with more of a narrative bent there's the remastered pack for BioShock.

On the PSVR side of the equation, you've got EVE Valkyrie, a game that was bundled with the Oculus Rift later this year. It's gotten plenty of updates since then, but it's also a multiplayer-focused title.

Which needs a thriving PSVR community — and no-one knows how large that will be. It's not like PSVR is the launch of a new console, something that will sell X amount of units no matter what.

Virtual reality is a different beast entirely. There are users that physically can't play games in VR. There are users whose living environment isn't suitable for VR; Sony themselves warn that bright lights, mirrors and other shiny surfaces can mess with the tracking capabilities of the PlayStation camera.

Disabled gamers aren't going to have a great time. And then there's the fact that there's no guarantee that games might make you feel nauseous or ill — and unlike the comfort rating on the Oculus Store, Sony doesn't offer any warning or indicator as to whether a game might put your lunch at risk.

So games like Battlezone and Thumper are a safer bet in that regard. They're singleplayer games first, games that don't rely on a thriving community.

But, people will ask, how many hours will I get for my money?

And this is the real problem for VR.

Image: Kotaku

Say you went to the cinema. You buy a movie ticket. You sit down, watch a film, and walk out three hours later. You've paid $20 for the experience, not including extras for drinks, choc tops, and so on.

That's typically considered "good" value. Even if a movie is on the shorter side — say, just under two hours — that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But games don't always get the benefit of that framing. The experience is sometimes forgotten in the quest for "value".

Put another way: say you spend $20 for that same movie. But instead of two or three hours, you're now in the cinema for five.

Is that good value for money? If you consider the dollar to hour ratio, sure. It's great.

But is it a great experience? Probably not.

And that's the same hurdle VR has to get over.

More than anything so far, Thumper is being hailed as one of the few "must plays" for VR. On the surface it looks like a psychedelic Audiosurf, although its developers — and everyone who has talked about their experience — say it's a much more visceral, almost violent, experience.

It's also intense as fuck. Kirk said it was ferocious, so much so that his thumb started "blistering after 20 minutes".

Even if you wanted to, you couldn't sit down and play Thumper for hours on end. You'd need a break, for your body more than anything else. And that's the nature of VR — your gaming sessions, no matter what, will be shorter.

And they have to be. PSVR might be the most comfortable of all of the headsets launched this year, but it's still a massive headset strapped to your skull, pressed up against your eyeballs. It has weight, which induces fatigue.

Sure, there will be people who do marathon VR sessions just because they can. Humans are like that.

But it doesn't mean it makes for a good experience — and it doesn't mean it's good value, either.

The other side of the coin is the part the cheaper VR experiences, the games that are more akin to tech demos and on-rail shooters. Something like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, an on-rails shooter in a rollercoaster cart with several levels that only last between five and 15 minutes each, will set you back $25.

And take PSVR Worlds. $55 gets you five VR experiences, including the minute-long races of VR Luge, the Shufflepuck Cafe-esque gameplay of Danger Ball, a scripted dive with a shark and an inferior port of Job Simulator.

Games like those are fine, but you're not going to spend, say, four or five hours practising your VR Luge times. There's only so many times you can see the same jump scares. And while it's nice for introducing VR to people, it's also the kind of thing that you do once or twice and then never touch again.

So, people will rightly ask: what am I really getting for my money? And the comparison will come back to what else you can buy for the same price.

And VR, regardless of whether it's PSVR, the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or another headset, is always going to lose that argument in 2016.

Image: Bungie/Activision

Just for fun, I decided to see what it'd be like to play normal games in VR. One of the best parts of PSVR is that you can pop the headset on and play games like you normally would on your PS4.

So I figured: why not try Destiny? A fast-paced competitive shooter isn't something I'd normally want to play in VR, but if Sony are going to make it possible, I'll give it a go.

Good news: Destiny plays just fine! There's a definite lack of sharpness, and the radial nature of the focus point on the PSVR means all of the UI elements on the side are slightly blurred.

But you can get through games without trouble. I played a few rounds of Crucible (Control and Supremacy) without any after-effects. But perhaps the biggest impact I found was that I began moving my head more than normal just to sharpen the focus on the radar, my ammo, or other HUD elements, when they appeared.

That's not something you'd normally do, since those elements are always in focus. But those increased movements slowly take their toll. And while I wasn't physically incapable of playing more faux-Destiny VR, it was nice to take the headset off and relax.

By comparison, I got up on the weekend and played six hours straight of strikes and Crucible matches. And after an hour under PSVR, I knew. Even if I wanted to, there's no way I could do that in VR.

Image: Kotaku

That's just playing while looking at a virtual screen. Now imagine being immersed in a world, regularly looking around a 3D environment for objects, clues, rotating your arms, neck and head.

It all adds up to an environment that means the dollar-to-hour value, something too many gamers uphold as some barometer of quality, will drop. That's not necessarily a negative: gamers, after all, have less time in their lives. A tighter, more curated, experience is often better than something that overstays its welcome.

But $550, along with the $200 you'll need for a brand new PlayStation Camera and Move controllers (unless you get the Move controllers for a song), is an awful lot of money.

And people will rightly ask: how much play time am I going to get for that? Even John Carmack, one of the pioneers of the current VR wave, challenged developers at the Oculus Connect conference to offer more to players.

"We are coasting on novelty, and the initial wonder of being something people have never seen before," the Oculus chief technology officer argued. "But we need to start judging ourselves ... can you do something in VR that has the same value, or more value, than what these other [non-VR] things have done?"

The PSVR is an incredible piece of engineering; it's more comfortable and more smartly designed than its more expensive VR cousins, and what Sony has achieved is nothing short of incredible given some of the ageing tech being leveraged.

But right now, PSVR has a tough mountain to climb. Gamers will want to know why they should $80 on something that might last 10 hours or less, when another game that costs the same might keep them, my partner, my brother, my sister, or my child busy for 30, 40, 50 or more hours?

PSVR's problem isn't the hardware. And it's not necessarily the quality of the games that are coming out either.

It's a value proposition. It's an argument that says you are trading time for a better experience. It's an argument that bets on the power of immersion.

But immersion is a bloody hard thing to sell — and it's not something you can sell by the numbers.


Comments

    I couldn't spend twenty bucks on seeing a movie.

      Again this all depends on value proposition for the individual.
      We don't get the chance to see movies often, so the last time I took my wife out for a movie it as $100 and we got value out of that.
      If you are seeing movies every week then getting the cost per session lower is more important, when you only go every 6 months it is much less of an issue.

      I get the shits every time I have to take my kids to the movies, because not only do you have to fork out an insane amount of cash, but you also have to sit through about half an hour of ads and crap before the film.

        And then have to sit though an equally shit film at the end of it.

      Ever since I went to Canberra for work (live in Melbourne) and saw the Adult movie tickets are $12.50 compared to tickets in Melbourne $22 for an Adult, I have refused to pay full price for movie tickets in Melbourne now. Always use my Telstra discount and any vouchers to get 1/2 price tickets. I refuse to pay full price now in Melbourne.

    I guess the trick is to do your research. I've stuck to a few of the cheaper games which have the experiences I'm seeking, and anything else will be what I try on the demo disc and decide if it's worth forking out more money for it later. But I won't be paying $80 for a VR game because so far they just seem to be glorified tech demos rather than full games so I'll wait until they get cheaper.

    It's really quite simple.

    I want to know what percentage of my money goes to whom when I pay for that game at the counter in this country.

    Who do we ask to find this out?

      Nobody. They'll all tell you it's someone else taking the cut.

    This just depends on the mindset of the early adopters. They're already paying more for the headsets than we will be in a few years time, are they happy to also pay more for the games?

    Personally the answer to that is no, but I'm not forking out the cash to be an early adopter anyway.

    On the VR side of the equation, you’ve got EVE
    Valkyrie, a game that was released as a free-to-
    play launch title for the Oculus Rift later this year.
    I thought it was just bundled in free with Rift preorders, and for everyone else since it costs some $60 or so?

      https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/775907692521284/

      Showing up as $89.99 there

      Yeah, you're right about that. I've fixed the passage up, thanks for pointing it out.

    I've had the PSVR on preorder for a while. I've loved my Samsung VR, so I assumed that the PSVR would be a great next step for me. But here's the problem; I just don't care enough.

    Sure, it's cheaper than other VR experiences, but that's not enough. You're looking at, what, $750 without a game? Nintendo knew that to get people to play the ($300) Wii they needed to include a disc with games that perfectly showcased the hardware and technology. Sony believes that you should buy a $750 system, then buy games on top of that to figure out what parts of VR you like. Keep in mind that this isn't unique to Sony, the Samsung VR also has almost no free full demos.

    The problem then becomes that developers won't release games because they want to get paid. After all, no one wants to work for free. But then the public won't buy games because the tech is still new and they're not willing to throw $800 at something that there's a very real chance they won't like. It's the industry trying to apply the logic of established markets to a brand new user base.

    As much as I'd love to go pick up my PSVR, I think I'm going to just cancel the pre-order and wait until a cheap bundle pack comes out.

      It's $550, and it comes with a demo disc, also there is a free game on the playstation store.

        2 free games! The Playroom VR, and Invasion!

          Nice wasn't aware of Invasion!

          edit: looking on the store today there is a handful of free stuff

          Last edited 13/10/16 11:58 am

            Actually looking at the PSN store there seems to be about 5 free VR games/apps on there.

        Isn't it $550 for the VR, then you have to buy move controllers, plus you have to buy a camera?

        As far as I've been told (and I'm happy to be corrected here) the demo disc is lacklustre and doesn't include full games (even compared to Wii Sports). I was unaware of the free game on the playstation store.

          Oh right, yeah if you don't have the camera already or move controllers then the price goes up.

            Yeah and what if you don't have a PS4!!

            This won't go mainstream until it can be bundled with a console for the price of a console (remember how many people bough the a 360 with Kinect cuz the price was right)

              You're in the same situation as not having a PC that can run any of the current VR headsets.
              I doubt we'll see it come free with a console, Sony apparently are selling it at a profit so a bundle that is cheaper is possible than what current pricing is.

    I wonder how much correlation there is between games that use the Move controllers and games that are play and forget.
    Cause its Thumper and Eve that people reccomend and those just use a controller yeah?

      Back of Eve packet just says for the controller, nothing above move.

    It’s a gimmick at the moment. Even if there were good games on the scale of current AAA titles I can’t imagine me spending hours on end over the weekend giving myself a headache, motion sickness and a sore neck (sitting still turning your head is not how people are designed to move!) or even wanting to put a hot headset on my face for 30 minutes after a long day at work.

    The IGN review summed it up well when they said “it’s great to show your mates”. If ever there was a wanky, short sighted reason to spend $500+ on console hardware that’s it!

    I’m sure it will get games that are genuinely great fun for 20 minutes, and I can see the potential for racing games (if only Sony had a developer who was competent to make racing games for them), but beyond that I can’t see anything on the horizon that makes me excited as a gamer. As someone who likes cool tech and screens, sure…. its cool for a while.

    Yeah... I feel like I got caught up in the hype a little and pre ordered RIGS... The only other game I bought for now is until dawn because for $30 that looks like a blast!!!

    But $85 on a game where i may not even be able to play it!? Shit... My reasoning was sound: If there is a game that is going to change the way people play and approach VR that could be it. EA is looking at the ESports side of gaming but I still dont buy it. I'm hoping my headset comes today so I can have a good crack but so far I'm feeling like i got sold on the hype train!!! It better have a damn good lot of variety for $85 but i fear this will not be the case and i will be stuck with a lack of variety titanfall but in VR...

    My personal price point for good value in gaming software is a dollar per hour of entertainment.

    So far none of the big three are offering that kind of value, perhaps in a year or so we will start to see the prices drop due to the "older games" being discounted to compete with all the new titles.

    I think it depends on your age, in my teens I used to get PS2 games at full price on release day before I'd even read reviews, now I'm in the late adopter category picking up games once they drop below $50 for long games (Witcher 3) and $20-$30 for shorter titles. I wouldn't want to pay $80 for 6-7 hours of gameplay, regardless of VR.

    I personally shall continue with my own yardstick for value, if I play more per hour than I payed for dollar, minus install and load times, I got my money's worth. It's worked since Pokemon Red on the original GB, and I haven't been dissatisfied yet.

    Yeah, the games seem to cost too much, but I'd say the biggest problem is it's all sold out and there are a lot of people missing out.
    More customers will translate to healthier pricing for games.

    I get so annoyed with these articles comparing ps-vr games prices to pc vr games as far as i see there is no comparing and its like some people don't want it to succeed. I am so looking forward to ps vr and wish i had preordered the first one and not the second preorder but it gives me a chance to get some games. Of course pc vr games are cheaper after cost of a pc then the unit not much money left over to get them so they have to be cheaper.But its really about what each person wants so stop slagging off at ps vr and give it a chance.

      That's not really the point; it's more that regular gamers will tend to draw that comparison, and that's always a losing battle for VR right now.

      It's kind of like how you can't really tell someone what the VR experience is like. They have to try it for themselves. But when you're at a retail store and looking at what to buy you still have to hand over the same amount of money. You don't get to preview a game in VR and then go to the store counter.

      There's a level of understanding and appreciation required with VR right now; almost a leap of faith, really. And then you have all the practical issues with VR, and then the added fatigue, screen door effects and design issues around the games themselves.

      VR is tricky, but it's still far from an easy sell. I guess that's the simplest takeaway.

    What the hell is going on in the Thumper gameplay video? Whatever that was, it looked strange and disorienting. Obviously it makes sense when played, though if it's meant to be good.

    Personally, I think value is measured in how long you thought about that experience, during and especially afterwards. So a film I saw that was great, if I think about it later and chat with my friends about it, that could be great value for $20 or whatever. If it's a long game but I'm frustrated by the end and don't think about it, then it's not great value for the same $20.

    Alex, you need to edit your articles. This and your article on PSVR Australian stock are missing words throughout the whole piece.

      Thanks for calling it out. I'm not sure specifically what you're referring to, but I'll go over them again.

    VR games definitively look like glorified tech demos at the moment. I find it really strange that for all the marketing and hype the games look SO uninteresting and shallow.
    Hey it might change but at the moment it seems like a very expensive gimmick with absolutely no killer apps.

    I had a rant here but its gone now.

    Everyone buy Thumper!

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