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With PlayStation VR sales well below expectations, virtual reality is the year’s ‘biggest loser’

Virtual Reality has never been more than a gimmicky technology with ambitions to make it mainstream, but it never had a chance at that price.

The launch of PlayStation VR, Sony’s much-hyped new headset, was mostly well received by critics and gamers alike, and while its early sales figures are in line with what some Sony executives predicted, it’s well below where market analysts said it needed to be to claim relevance.

Sadly, with a release leading into the busy Thanksgiving “Black Friday” season, and even with the market awareness established by the likes of HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR has fallen well below expectations, even if it did pummel its competitors into oblivion.

Market research and analytics firm SuperData Research had initially issued a 2016 sales forecast for PlayStation VR at around 2.6 million. That’s changed in a post-Thanksgiving setting, down to less than 750,000 units by the end of the year.

SuperData calls virtual reality the year’s “biggest loser”, and claims the PlayStation VR is victim of a fragmented title line-up and “modest marketing effort”.

The headset had promised to herald in a new era of gaming experiences — and it still may very well do that — but its early days paint a picture of consumer confusion and caution.

Interestingly, both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift projections hovered around 400,000 and 350,000 units, respectively, unchanged throughout the year. The sudden drop in PSVR projections suggests an initial approach of hope and confidence that it would propel the technology into the mainstream. The reality, however, is significantly different.

 “They did not offer any first-party deals this weekend, restock bundles or market the device, pushing instead for the PS4 Pro,” said director of research and insight at SuperData, Stephanie Llamas. “They have also pointed out that VR looks even better on a Pro than a standard or slim PS4, so the message to most gamers is: get the Pro now, then the PSVR later. As a result, we won’t see them break 1M shipments until well into the new year.”

That’s an incredibly risky approach for Sony to take, with Xbox Scorpio and Switch set to dominate the back and front ends of 2017, respectively. That someone who has just invested in a PS4 Pro would then pay as much for PSVR as they could for Switch or potentially Scorpio seems like a pipe dream not even Sony could pull off.

The philosophy makes sense, however: encourage sales of the most powerful version of your hardware to optimise the VR experience with the headset. However, it’s a far from affordable method of entertainment, and as it stands, Sony faces an uphill battle to keep VR relevant.

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