Meta Is Doing With VR What Apple And Sony Have Struggled To Do

From the Sword of Damocles to the Virtual Boy to the Apple Vision Pro, VR has been on the technological periphery of mainstream tech enthusiasts and gamers for decades. Yet, it has never once truly broken into the living rooms of the average household. Even sixty years after the invention of the technology, current tech giants like Apple and Sony are struggling to capture the average consumer’s interest, leading to continued mediocre sales of their current marquee products: the Apple Vision Pro and the PlayStation VR 2. These poor sales have not only reigned in these companies’ future projections but Sony’s recent State of Play further proves that the makers of the PS5 are slowly but surely moving away from their device altogether; effectively crushing any hope for a potential third iteration of the headset.

Much of this, as I pointed out in my article from last year, can be attributed to two simple factors: price and usability. Since the technology’s inception, every VR headset has been some kind of clunky, heavy pair of ski goggles that you must strap to your face with wires jutting out of it, with most of them needing to be connected to an external device like a PC or game console. That experience itself is something that was and continues to be a primary factor for someone like myself, an avid techie, refusing to dive into the space. That, and the fact that most of these headsets started well beyond $500 – the price of a new home console or midrange PC – was enough for me (and, I’m sure, many others) to stave away from the still-to-be-proven piece of tech.

Sword of Damocles
“Sword of Damocles” was developed in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest line has done well to curb some of these issues and as such the company’s Quest 2 has unsurprisingly taken the top spot in terms of total units sold; by a massive margin, no less. Launching at a relatively accessible $300, coupled with the detached nature of the product and its varied use cases across both productivity and entertainment fields, it’s easy to see why the Quest line has been as successful as it has been; irrespective of the myriad of issues attached to Meta as a company. The Quest 3 has had a bump in retention from users as well, something that was of concern for Meta for generations prior. Analysts attribute this bump to the new headset’s better pancake lenses, smaller footprint leading to less wearer fatigue, and the more powerful chipset allowing for more robust and intensive use cases.

It’s easy to see why Apple’s Vision Pro hasn’t taken off; not everyone, even Apple diehards, is willing to spend $3500 (before tax) on an unproven piece of tech. Even though the headset itself is undoubtedly impressive and far more capable, well-made, and unique than its competitors, even Don Draper couldn’t sell a tech product of its ilk with that price tag to the mass market. Apple is supposedly working on a more approachable version of the headset for 2025 that’ll come with less sticker shock. But the abysmal sales of the current Vision Pro are reportedly giving the company some pause. It would be a shame if Apple decided to not venture forth within this space as their engineering teams have created a genuinely revolutionary product, just one that costs way too much.

Gaming has always been the most interesting use case whenever I think of VR. As an interactive medium, being able to take that aspect and completely immerse yourself into fictional worlds was always a childhood dream. That dream, however, has yet to fully come to fruition. For the longest time, the issue was the technology itself; developers were not being given enough power from the products themselves to be able to create fully realized, triple-A games, giving us instead short silhouettes of experiences that felt more like a gimmick than something of proper substance. That hurdle, however, doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore as it pertains to the PSVR2. The PS5, though far from a high-end PC, punches well above its weight and is capable of offering enough power to the PSVR2 for larger-scale, triple-A experiences. I say this because we already have such an experience on the Meta Quest 3: Asgard’s Wrath. A full-blown, 30+ hour action RPG that Sanzaru Games has perfectly implemented into VR, giving us a glimpse into what is possible within the space, all with a headset that is less powerful than Sony’s current-gen console.

Asgard's Wrath
Asgard’s Wrath is what I hope more VR games look like in the near future.

Such a title has yet to come over to the PSVR2, and seeing Sony’s recent State of Play, I wonder if one ever will. During the event, only a couple of new games were announced for Sony’s headset. A new game within the Alien franchise called Alien: Rogue Incursion and Behemoth, an original action-adventure title from the makers of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners’ developers. Very little can be derived from the short Alien: Rogue Incursion trailer but Behemoth does look to be a bit more promising, albeit nothing about its trailer was particularly compelling or unique from other VR experiences we’ve seen in the past. The most notable omission from the PSVR2 showcase was Team Asobi’s next Astro Bot title, which is not coming to the PSVR2. This has caused quite an uproar amongst fans as the original Astro Bot was a showcase for the original PSVR, so not having its larger and seemingly more full-fledged sequel coming to the platform is telling of Sony’s plans for the virtual space.

For as much as I hate to give Meta credit, I must acquiesce that their continued support for their Quest devices, on both hardware and software fronts, has been the only shining light for the technology in our current landscape. Yes, Zuckerberg’s insistence on the “Metaverse” is cringe inducing at best, their number of issues regarding privacy is well-documented, and the headsets themselves are nowhere near as polished as Apple’s from a software standpoint, but they’re at the very least continuing to work to make the space viable to the mainstream. This includes bringing big-budget games like Batman: Arkham Shadow to the device, which I’m hoping turns out as good as it looks and continues to propel Meta to give developers the resources to build truly inspired games within the virtual space.

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