Which platform is winning the virtual reality (VR) wars?
Given the amount of buzz (and news articles) around Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, you might be tempted to think it’s either of those platforms. There are some big indicators, however, that Sony is currently leading the race.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Sony executive Andrew House claimed that his company had sold 915,000 PlayStation VR units in the four months since its release. He also said that Sony had outsold its internal goal of one million units in the first six months.
If that number is accurate, it’s a good deal higher than the sales estimates for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, which most analyst firms have placed at less than 500,000 units each.
To be fair, anyone interested in purchasing an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive needs to have a high-powered PC. The Vive’s recommended specs, for example, include an Intel Core i5 4590 or AMD FX 8350 (or better) processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 (or better) graphics card, and 4GB RAM memory. Contrast that with the PlayStation VR, which requires a PlayStation 4 console, a piece of hardware that many gamers already have in their homes.
When it comes to winning a nascent technology market, never underestimate the power of a product that can leverage a substantial base of existing users. Sony has the added advantage of decades in the video-game business, meaning it can leverage longstanding relationships with developers of all sizes—an important factor when it comes to building a software ecosystem, as well as nailing down exclusives. Although the sales numbers for VR aren’t that impressive in the context of video-game consoles, much less other devices like smartphones, there’s every chance that this market will grow significantly over the next several years.
If you’re a developer or other tech pro interested in building VR products, Sony’s apparent success makes it a platform worth your consideration. And like so many tech firms that have come to realize the value of open ecosystems, Sony offers developers the opportunity to self-publish their products to the platform. There is a developer portal and a Wiki, as well as subreddits and other online resources.
Those planning to build in VR, though, should be aware of the risks. The Steam digital-distribution platform, which supplies VR games for the HTC Vive, offers some 1,300 VR apps—but only 30 of those apps have earned more than $250,000, according to Valve co-founder Gabe Newell. While other firms in the VR ecosystem haven’t broken out numbers, it stands to reason that only a small subset of developers are making substantial money on those platforms, as well.
There are indie developers who don’t mind pouring lots of resources into something that may very well earn a paltry amount of cash, and that’s fine—after all, some people build software for fun. But those creators with small studios, or who think VR will reliably pay the bills, should consider that they’re taking something of a risk by leaping into VR development. Then again, isn’t building anything for any platform a risk, when you come down to it?