When a VR headset is announced, VR enthusiasts always start complaining about the price. That is absurd.
The discussion about the price of VR headsets is like old chewing gum still being chewed. Since the beginning of the current VR era in 2016, price has been stressed as a significant factor for the much-vaunted “mass market penetration”.
It has to be cheap, then people will buy it. This has been the mantra of VR enthusiasts (who, in my experience, are almost always male “business experts”) for years now.
But that theory never actually worked. Especially not for PC VR, which requires a PC that is significantly pricier than a PS4 or PS5.
The theory doesn’t work simply because we’re messing around with luxury technology for privileged people. Immersive technology is far from a necessity. People outside the tech and media bubble are simply not interested in VR. Why should they be? There is no reason.
This can be seen, for example, in the price cuts for PSVR 1, which was sometimes available for less than 200 dollars. It did not lead to a breakthrough. In total, just over 5.5 million PSVR headsets were sold, despite a much larger hardware base of over 100 million PS4s.
Of course, price cuts always bring more sales. But they were never able to conjure the big VR base that the crystal ball economists promised.
Standalone VR headsets like Quest (2) have made good VR experiences possible without additional costs or hardware limitations. Sales speak for themselves: a leak shows that Quest VR headsets have sold over 20 million units in total.
Sounds like an argument for cheap VR headsets, right? It’s not. At least not the only one because, of course, price matters in the end. Only in the end.
What decides whether you buy a smartphone, and which one? The features. Performance, speed, cameras. Connectivity to the online platforms you use. The apps. The ease of use.
I summarize this under: Thrilled.
There’s a reason Apple is so popular, despite sometimes ridiculously high prices. Its user experience is perfect. It’s accessible, simple, and tied to a whole ecosystem of content and technology.
So, it’s not primarily the price that sells Quest headsets. It’s the content available combined with ease of use. The Quest store is much better stocked than all the other standalone VR stores combined.
Price is just a bonus here. It’s the final push.
If there was a competitor to Meta that had a better answer to the question “Why should I strap a mini PC to my face?” sales would be going in a different direction.
Pico proves it. With the Pico 4, a much slimmer design, a lot of fan support, and a lower price than Meta’s Quest 2, the company has massively missed its sales targets and is scaling back its involvement.
There is no good reason to save a few dollars on the purchase, but still need a PC because you can only get enough content via SteamVR.
The PC connection is not a winning selling point for VR headsets. It’s a gimmick for fans with space and money. Sorry, VR bros: PC VR isn’t taking over the world.
Mobile gaming on smartphones and tablets is also much more successful than PC gaming. Once again, the facts override one’s personal beliefs.
Criteria that determine the success of a VR headset, in order:
- Thrilled (yes, that’s right, ranked #1. Exactly here and nowhere else).
- Technology & comfort
That’s why whining about 500 bucks for the Quest 3 is just nonsense. It all depends on what I can do with it. Like playing a massive role-playing game that has never been available for a mobile VR headset before.
Or use digital applications in physical space. Maybe one day even save on physical screens.
This is what Apple will and must strive for: Answer the “why.”
Apple can present the perfect XR headset on Monday, light, sexy, great pass-through – but if there is no reason, no content, hardly anyone will buy it.
On the other hand, if the “why” and the technology are convincing, Apple customers are definitely going to pay 3,000 dollars.
Later, prices will also be suitable for less affluent target groups. When the technology is more affordable. When there is enough good content to make (more) money with VR and AR.
Until then, the only reason someone buys a VR headset is the content, the purpose it offers.
That’s what separates the masses from the enthusiasts: The latter are tech nerds and early adopters who want to test and push the boundaries of what’s possible and will only settle for the latest and greatest, at least for the moment. The ones who complain about Mura every chance they get, as if it is some kind of highly contagious virus.
The former just want something that makes sense. And if the content delivers that sense, people are going to pay more for it than hobby economists could dream of.