PSVR has never had an exclusive killer app. Beat Saber could certainly be considered a system seller, but it's available for several models of virtual reality headsets. Horizon Call of the Mountain could be exactly what PlayStation needs for VR enthusiasts and general consumers alike to take PS VR2 seriously. Not only that, but like Half-Life: Alyx, it could potentially deliver an authentic AAA experience on VR. While plenty of PSVR games have attempted to become that AAA killer app, none quite succeeded. Instead, those experiences ended up being mostly tech demos or short gimmicks. Though we know very little about Horizon Call of the Mountain, I hope it will be different.
Sony has described Horizon Call of the Mountain as a brand-new adventure set in the popular Horizon universe, built from the ground up for PS VR2. It stars a new protagonist that we've yet to meet, but Guerrilla says that players will see Aloy and a few other familiar faces along their journey. What that journey is, however, remains a mystery.
Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West are full-fledged action RPGs with engaging combat and exploration. From what little we've seen of Horizon Call of the Mountain, we can only tell that it will be in first-person. Past that, we don't know what we'll be doing or how we'll interact with the world around us in-game at the moment.
Jan-Bart Van Beek, studio director at Guerrilla, said in Horizon Call of the Mountain's announcement that it's been "designed to push gameplay technology and hardware innovation, and it truly shows what's possible with the hardware's best in class visual experience and brand-new controllers." That's not a lot to go on, but pushing gameplay technology seems to indicate that it could aim for a similar type of action that the main series delivers.
As of January 2020, PSVR sold around 5 million units since its release in 2016, which Sony revealed at CES 2020. Estimates now put that number roughly around 6 million. Keeping in mind that PS4 unit sales have surpassed 116 million, that measly 6 million is but a drop in the pond. Virtual reality has never gone "mainstream" in the way that PC, mobile, or console games have. Times are changing, though, and games like Half-Life: Alyx prove that there's a market for those types of big experiences.
Though it's difficult to tell if Half-Life: Alyx directly affected Valve Index sales (especially considering the headset launched shortly before the pandemic and has been affected by supply chain shortages), there was undoubtedly more buzz around it after Half-Life: Alyx's release. Did that translate to sales? Maybe.
Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told us, "it's hard to know how much [Half-Life: Alyx affected sales] because they had deeply suppressed supply and I think it was a combination of more supply and increased demand that drove Index numbers to roughly double after Alyx's (release).
"I do recall Index shipment numbers doubling after Alyx's launch, which may have been a combination of Valve getting its supply chain in order after not having enough supply for months and Alyx driving new demand."
Half-Life: Alyx wasn't only available on the Index, though. Some more popular headsets it can be played on include the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Being able to purchase it on multiple platforms — while good for consumers — means that it couldn't drive sales like an exclusive game has the potential to.
Still, Sag says that "there aren't that many exclusive titles that upon their release have boosted any single headset, especially when you consider how few headsets are really shipping in significant volumes." Despite this, he thinks that Horizon Call of the Mountain could boost PS VR2 sales if it's well-received and talked about in the same manner that Half-Life: Alyx is, as a superior VR experience.
He believes Sony's biggest challenge is ensuring that PS VR2 has a higher attach rate to PS5s than PSVR had with PS4. "Big-name titles like Horizon Call of the Mountain will help, but it needs to be an insanely popular title to singularly drive users to PS VR2 alone. Usually, there are other supplementary titles that supplement the flagship title that people are interested in that might get people over the hump to go out and grab one," he said.
PS5 VR already has a lot going for it that makes it better than PSVR, setting it up against some of the best VR headsets on the market. It uses a single USB-C cable, has entirely redesigned controllers (Goodbye, PlayStation Move controllers. You won't be missed.), uses inside-out tracking and eye tracking, and has a 4K OLED display. Along with the power of the PS5, it's set to deliver what could be groundbreaking VR games on console.
It's the upgraded specs and a potential killer app like Horizon Call of the Mountain that could ensure it doesn't suffer the same fate as PSVR. Horizon Call of the Mountain may only be one piece of the puzzle, but it's a pretty important piece. Unfortunately, that puzzle can't come together with one thing missing.
Sony's strengths lie with its first-party portfolio, and that extends to VR. Now that it's taking virtual reality more seriously, I expect more third-party studios to develop for PS VR2 as well. This content, as Anshel suggests, would supplement its exclusives and make it more popular. What PlayStation then needs to get right is the price point.
The Valve Index, without any controllers or base station, costs $500 alone. With the entire kit, it's $1,000, and that's not accounting for the beefy PC you need to run it. That makes it a lot less accessible than something like the Oculus Quest 2, which you can pick up for $300, controllers and all. Because PS VR2 won't work without a PS5, that's already at least a $400 investment right there. If PlayStation wants to really sell people on PS VR2, not only does it need to have exclusive games players can't get anywhere else, but it needs to be affordable.
Sony investing more in virtual reality and acquiring dedicated VR studios bodes well for PS VR2's future. Though questions remain, Sony surely knows what it needs to do to make PS VR2 a success. It has the specs; now it just needs to deliver on that killer app and do it for less than the competition.
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