If you asked me which new VR headset I was looking forward to most in 2022, the answer would easily be Sony’s PSVR 2.
This is not going to be the obvious response for everyone. Alongside the continued success of the Quest 2, Meta is releasing a high-end standalone codenamed Project Cambria that promises to up the fidelity for standalone VR and add flashy new features for a higher price. Apple, meanwhile, may take its first steps into the VR/AR hardware scene. Both tech giants competing for a stake in the long-term future of spatial computing and the so-called metaverse is sure to be the dominant narrative for VR in 2022 (as detailed in Ian’s overview from earlier this week).
In comparison, PSVR 2’s seemingly (at this point) singular focus on providing high fidelity gaming experiences for the installed base of PS5 users may seem a little narrow-minded. Much has also been made of that wire, which will tether the headset to your PS5. No one can quite seem to agree on the significance of its presence, but the reality is that PSVR 2 will release in the face of wire-free headsets that are increasingly being used for fitness, socializing and productivity alongside entertainment. Quest 2 is already beginning to reach a wider audience beyond gaming, whereas PSVR 2 will make the core PlayStation audience its front and center priority.
And it’s true that PSVR 2 also reintroduces many of those old hardware reservations Quest 2 and its predecessor vanquished. On top of the wire, it’ll need the already-expensive PS5 ($399/$499 depending on model) to run. Coming off the back of a holiday season in which the Oculus companion app climbed to the top of app store charts and developers reported record sales, it’s tough to imagine the PSVR 2 system with required PS5 powering it truly challenging Quest 2.
But, you know what? That’s more than fine. PSVR 2 doesn’t need to outsell Quest 2 to be considered a success. And, while its hardware carries unavoidable heft, the headset’s mission statement is vitally more immediate than any other headset on the market right now.
Managed Expectations And Hybrid Gaming
Speaking to GQ, Sony Interactive Entertainment boss Jim Ryan offered a key insight into the company’s mindset for PSVR 2 when the headset was first announced last year. If you read UploadVR regularly, you’ve more than likely heard me repeat it once or twice:
“We believe in VR and have been extremely happy with the results with the present PlayStation VR and think that we will do good business with our new VR system for PlayStation 5. More importantly, we see it as something beyond this coming iteration that really could be really big and really important.”
‘Good business’, to me, is a crucial understanding of PSVR 2’s position in the market, as one that’s a peripheral to another device and thus one that already has limits on just how many units it can sell. PlayStation has a long history of selling peripherals and it already has experience selling VR – it moved over five million units of its first $399 headset that worked with a $399 console that to date has reached an install base of well over 115 million. That’s great numbers in the context of the nascent VR market, but a fraction of the audience Sony reaches with its wider platform.
And it’s important that above all else, Sony has a grasp of that. It means the company has its expectations in check as it moves toward launch, and that we’re less likely to see it abandon the device over its lifespan. What we’re not likely to see is multiple AAA, VR-only games released a year on the scale of God of War: Ragnarok or Spider-Man 2. But Sony seems to be settling on a best of both world approach; we’ve seen reports that the company is seeking hybrid VR experiences for its platform alongside bleeding-edge VR exclusives. It’s tough to justify spending tens, let alone hundreds of millions on VR development budgets when the install base isn’t there to recoup those costs. Logically, it’s a much sounder idea to supplement a handful of those efforts — alongside multiplatform VR games that will make the bulk of their money on Quest — with existing, high-quality flatscreen games that won’t need page one rewrites to realize in VR and won’t be dependent on VR sales alone to succeed.
This was not easy to do on PS4, where the console’s limited power made it difficult to replicate the flatscreen experience in-headset. The games that did do this made noticeable concessions. Hitman 3 massively drew back the size of its crowds, for example, and No Man’s Sky is something of a blur. But with the power of the PS5 — not to mention foveated rendering via eye tracking — it’s a much more viable prospect for PSVR 2. Granted these might not be the most powerful expressions of VR, but as Resident Evil 4 VR has already proven by becoming Quest’s fastest-selling app ever, it makes for an easy way to generate hype and sales whilst others prove out native VR mechanics.
The second part of Ryan’s comment also suggests Sony knows what it will truly take to really bring VR to the mainstream, and that those plans for a possible future device are in the pipeline too. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the new VR headset the wider Sony Corp is hiring for is a standalone device that links to the PlayStation brand in some way, but also establishes a brand identity of its own. That’s likely a far-flung future prospect right now, though.
Tethered To A Console, But Not To Meta
In the meantime, what PSVR 2 can do is wave the flag for high-end VR experiences as future formats continue to prove themselves out. It promises to offer a destination for gamers that want higher fidelity than what’s on offer with Quest and deliver titles from beloved developers and franchises. More than anything PSVR 2 will be, to me, a device about instant gratification. It might have a wire connected to it but the actual prospect of PSVR 2 is significantly — and in many ways refreshingly — simpler than what others are aspiring to. This is a device that’s distanced from (though not necessarily free of) the courtroom dramas and privacy concerns that Meta and others have already brought to VR. There’s no Facebook account connectivity to worry about and, even with that requirement on the way out for Quest, that’s a significantly bigger deal to some than that wire is. And, crucially, no PlayStation executive has yet used the word “metaverse”, though I’ll concede that it’s early days.
And, whilst Meta continues to chip away at the visual fidelity of its own VR titles and offer fascinating but inarguably experimental excursions like hand-tracking and mixed reality passthrough (features likely to cement its long-term dominance in the future of VR) PSVR 2 promises to do the basics of compelling VR very well. We’ve already seen a glimpse of a Horizon game that looks like a generational leap over what was possible with PSVR 1, and the increased power of the PS5 will make such experiences possible without the stress of fine-tuning PC settings and prioritizing GPU performance. And I can only imagine how much better these experiences will also control by swapping out the ancient fossils that are the Move controllers for the hugely exciting PSVR 2 Sense devices.
Sony’s mission here is straightforward: to deliver powerhouse immersion for an audience of enthusiastic gamers. At a time in which PC VR lacks clear direction and standalone VR can’t measure up on a visual level, that’s a compelling message.
So, while the metaverse is being built and Apple takes the fight to Meta, I’ll be in Horizon (the Sony one, not the Meta one) enjoying some of the best-looking and most immersive VR we’ve yet seen. PSVR 2 might not be the headset to lead the industry into the future but it’s going to keep me busy until we get there.