Is virtual reality too expensive? That depends on who you ask. If you're only interested in watching videos, probably not. Google cardboard headsets are extraordinarily inexpensive. In fact, not too long ago, the New York Times included a set in a copy of their newspaper. These and other inexpensive headsets make VR content consumption accessible to nearly everyone. Businesses are capitalizing on this in many ways.
Unfortunately, if you pose this question to a gamer, then the answer changes. With VR gaming prices ranging from around $700 for the Samsung Gear VR to more than $1700 for the HTC Vive, most gamers are struggling to justify paying that price. Does this mean that accessibility will remain a problem? Let's take a look at what's trending on the gaming side of VR and what might be happening in the near future.
Cost Prohibitive Beyond Equipment Costs
Let's say that you have the money to invest in a full VR gaming system. The next question is this; Do you have the room to play in your home? Many of the consoles and games available pretty much require that you have an entire room available for game play. Most people don't have that kind of space, nor do they live with people who would approve of the kind of furniture rearrangement required to play the games.
Adding Disappointment to Cost
The initial price point of the Oculus Rift was set at $350 dollars. Unfortunately, that did not pan out in reality. Instead, the cost wound up being $600 dollars, and that's without all of the necessary peripherals for gameplay. With that announcement, thousands of hopeful VR gamers had their hopes crushed. Who can justify spending more than $600 dollars on an emerging gaming system when there are established systems that cost a fraction of that amount?
What's Impacting The Prices?
To begin with, the market is simply too new. In fact, it might be best to compare VR gaming with the introduction of at-home console gaming, or even with the introduction of the home PC. When the Atari 2600 was released in 1977 it cost $199. That hardly seems shocking today, until you factor in inflation. Today, that same gaming console would cost more than $770. Even less expensive handhelds would be priced significantly more expensively if they were released today. This makes the current pricing structure for VR gaming systems seem a lot more reasonable.
Another thing to consider is that the audience is currently small, and that makes pricing difficult. Game developers and hardware manufacturers are doing a lot of guesswork here. Some companies are sitting back altogether to see what's going to happen next.
Not Enough Content
Another effect of VR gaming newness is the lack of content. Scroll through the VR games available on Steam right now, and you'll find that many of the games are from hobby developers or very small companies. Many of these titles are in the beta stages, and users pay a small fee to experience them. They are then able to provide feedback that influences further development. The number of titles from major developers is much smaller in comparison. All of this is true for the games available on Oculus Home.
Now, let's compare that to content for standard, console, gaming systems. Someone dropping a few hundred dollars on the latest Xbox or Playstation console has immediate access to thousands of titles that can be played solo or online. That's hours and hours of gameplay available to consumers right now. That also means access to upgrades, new releases, and in some instances backwards access to older games via download. To be honest, VR gaming simply isn't at that point yet. Going back to the example of the ATARI 2600, if anybody is old enough to remember the early days of console gaming, they know that the games were expensive and that the selection was quite thin.
Does The Experience Justify The Cost?
A good argument can be made that the VR experience justifies the current prices. After all, there's a reason that the people who are investing in Rift and other technologies are doing so. If you think about it, that's not off base. Paying $40 for two hours worth of gameplay seems astonishingly expensive if you compare that to paying $60 for a console game that you could play for months.
However, according to VR Provision, "In order to make that comparison fair, you have to take overall experience into consideration. Should we be comparing VR gaming experience to standard gaming experience? Perhaps not. Maybe a better comparison would be to compare the cost to other entertainment options. For example, the cost of a night at the movies or a trip to the theater might be more accurate to use as models. Even the daily cost of admission to an amusement park is probably a more accurate comparison."
Home Based VR Gaming - Simply Not The Right Time or Place?
Six Flags and other amusement parks have started to incorporate VR gaming into their rides, and other amusement experiences. In addition to this, Starbreeze Studios announced plans in January 2016 for opening an arcade in Los Angeles, CA. It could very well be that, at least for now and in the near future, that VR gaming will gain more traction in venues outside the home. The success of companies like Dave & Busters that cater to adults who enjoy playing video games in a more sophisticated environment than the shopping mall arcade or Chuck E Cheese.
A combination of industry immaturity, lack of fully developed gaming content, and the simple fact that the VR gaming experience is much richer than standard gaming has driven the prices of VR gaming up. Because of this, the average gamer is going to find that at home VR gaming is simply not something that is accessible to them. This is likely to change in the future as more companies begin developing games, and inevitable disruption brings prices down. In the meantime, many people may find revenue streams in adding VR gaming to existing, retail entertainment options or by creating their own.