Since 2016, consumer virtual reality (VR) headsets have hit the market and have made an impact on hardcore gamers. Up to 2020, the HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift have cultivated a niche and passionate community of enthusiasts. The more powerful headsets, the Oculus Rift S and the HTC VIVE Pro, also lead the charge.

The short answer is that VR is worth it. With some of the best games this generation, innovative controls, and a well-supported ecosystem of VR development, 2020 is a great year to enter the virtual world.

Yet VR has also been slow on the uptake. According to SuperData, headset sales were down 50% in the first half of 2018, compared to the same time last year. Consumer confidence is low, and Facebook has taken the brunt of investing into the VR ecosystem.

Many shoppers are also unsure if they want to buy a product, or where even to start. The lack of general knowledge and confidence is a pervasive barrier for adoption.

This article will explore whether VR is worth it, arguing that now is the time to look into buying a VR headset.

The high cost of VR in the past

The most crucial factor for many people is the price. And VR was not the cheapest hobby for most people back in 2016.

Both the Oculus Rift and HTC VIVE were pricy headsets, equipped with expensive lenses and specifications which had high production costs. They also required powerful PCs to run the headsets, coupled with trackers placed around a room.

These barriers were inhibitive. Not everyone has expensive PCs, and not everyone has the income for the headset attachments. Like the hardcore gamer community, VR remained a niche hobby for a dedicated user-base. While they were a connected and passionate community, it was not mainstream appeal. Importantly, it meant VR was not worth it for most people based on cost alone.

It was the most important factor for its lower adoption between 2016 and 2018.

PlayStation-VR
The PlayStation VR, or PSVR, is a great example of an accessible headset. Photo credit: Sony.

Powerful VR for the enthusiasts

It’s vital to note that, for some gamers, having more powerful headsets is a great option to have. The HTC VIVE Pro and Oculus Rift S offer high-quality experiences which cannot be matched by other types of headsets. For a small, dedicated number of people, having the platform for full immersion is a significant benefit.

The same goes for the PlayStation VR (PSVR) as well. The gaming headset has sold millions of headsets since launch, labelled as one of the most successful of all. With the already-established PS4s which occupy living rooms, the headset already had a platform for power and play. The headset also had several top-quality titles, such as ASTRO BOT and Tetris Effect.

But for most people, the most potent types of VR are not worth it due to costs.

Why standalone headsets make VR worth it

The winds changed in 2018, when standalone VR headsets were being announced and entering the market. The benefits of an all-in-one VR headset is clear; no PCs means easier adoption.

Imagine coming home and wanting to watch an immersive 360-degree movie. For many, it is cumbersome to switch on the PC, adjust wires, and strap on a VR headset to watch a flick. But having a portable headset on the site, which can be strapped and switched on in under a minute, is a significant leap forward. Better, standalone headsets do not need expensive PCs to run.

For these reasons, many VR enthusiasts believe that standalone headsets are the future. Untethered by cables or other pieces of hardware, these types of headsets can act like a platform all to themselves, similar to a games console. The first of several barriers are cut.

The Oculus Go in particular made headlines. According to SuperData, Oculus shipped an estimated 289,000 in Q2 2018, which was a major driver for VR sales in the same period. At $200, the headset was a great entry-point for VR.

However, the headset was very low powered and had confined controls. Three degrees of freedom (3DoF) does not match the quality of six degrees of freedom (6DoF). So while the Oculus Go gave a taste of standalone VR, it was not entirely worth it yet. The concept needed to expand further.

oculus-quest-touch
The Oculus Quest is a great first step into VR. Photo credit: Oculus.

Introducing the Oculus Quest

This is where the Oculus Quest comes in, and many see the VR headset hitting the sweet-spot for mass adoption.

The standalone headset is $400, an acceptable price for the launch of a new games console. The headset also features 6DoF controls, a step up from the Oculus Go which featured 3DoF controllers. Reviewers noted that the tracking was good enough for titles such as Beat Saber, and the general feel itself holds up to scrutiny. For many, this lifts the main barriers of VR, making it more likely for people to buy the headset.

Preorders showed that it was enough for many people. It was the number one top seller item in the video games category of Amazon, and the Oculus store sold through its first week of preorders.

Then the VR headset sold very well around the world. With Facebook announcing that it sold headsets as fast as they could make them, consumers clearly wanted more of the headset. With excellent controls, a reasonable price tag, and quality titles, the breaking point came in 2019.

Why does the headset make VR worth it?

The Oculus Quest broke new ground with software sales, with a large chunk of users buying more software titles on the platform. Other factors include:

  • Price. As mentioned earlier, price is the biggest barrier to adoption. Combined, a PC and VR headset together is very expensive. But an Oculus Quest alone is $400, which is much better value.
  • Games. The Oculus Quest has some great games available from launch, from Beat Saber to SUPERHOT and Moss. We will explore later the importance of supplying top-quality content.
  • Ease of use. The Oculus Quest is very easy to pick up and play. Simply put it on, make a Guardian system, and go. This made the process of wearing VR frictionless.

Providing top-quality content

So far we have explored the importance of price and ease of access for people trying VR for the first time. Yet while a great headset is essential for the adoption of VR, but it must be complemented with great software to make the purchase worth it.

Over fifty titles were available on the system, at launch and the Oculus team has made it clear what their approach is for the store. It will not be similar to Steam, where a deluge of titles fills the store with poor-quality titles. It will be curated, with the best of titles on the platform. While some may disagree, Oculus priorities quality over quantity.

For some, the number may be disappointing. Steam supports thousands of indie developers, allowing them to send in titles for purchase. Yet curation is painful as it is so full of poor-quality games that choosing one can be a chore. The team wishes the choice to be more accessible by having users assume all titles are, at a basic level, decent quality for the system. Time will tell if this approach works.

Moton sickness as a barrier

For some, an impassable block to enjoying VR experiences is motion sickness.

VR motion sickness is when someone using a VR headset experiences symptoms similar to general motion sickness. This can include headaches, nausea, fatigue, or disorientation. For some individuals, the signs are minor. For others, it may consist of vomiting or significant discomfort. Think of it as the brain, eyes, ears, and body having a conversation, but not entirely understanding each other.

Take shooting zombies in VR as an example. The eyes see zombies running towards the victim in a desert, while the victim runs away. Yet the body is sat down on a sofa, comfortable and warm in a home. Then the zombie claws at the person and drags them down; again, while the body is sat comfortably.

Innovation takes time, yet when it does, it is likely that cases of motion sickness may decrease with time. If it were permanent, it would be another story entirely. For now, it is best to test using VR before purchase, then deciding afterwards.

VR in 2020 and beyond

So the Oculus Quest provides a compelling value proposition of making VR worth it. However, there is always room for improvement in 2020 and the future.

For instance, $400 is still a hefty price tag for most consumers. When comparing other purchases in the household, the Oculus Quest is still a luxury item rather than a cheap product on sale. Slashing the price (once production gets cheaper) would improve demand further into the product’s life cycle.

By comparison, the Oculus Go was the third-highest selling Amazon item during the Christmas of 2019. This was due to a massive drop in price, showing that consumers are price-elastic. While the Go is not as impressive as the Quest, it is still a great entry-way for people to try VR.

Both the Oculus Quest and Go are not very powerful. With a chip which powers mobile phones, the headset will never match the power of the Oculus Rift S. This matters as the graphics may not look as good, which matters for some gamers. In a market where God of War and the Last of Us look gorgeous, the muddy textures of Robo Recall could turn away people.

Solving these issues makes the perfect headset. Coupled with a library of top-quality titles, the Oculus Quest (and its sequels) would gain more and more titles to play around with, from top quality shooters to in-depth puzzle games.

In any case, the Oculus Quest provides a template for the future of VR releases:

  • Ensure the price is low enough for people to try VR.
  • Have great content from the launch of the headset.
  • Make sure it is easy to use without wires or complicated set-up time.

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Tom Ffiske

Editor, Virtual Perceptions

Tom Ffiske specialises in writing about VR, AR, and MR across the immersive reality industry. Tom is based in London. 

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