Sony has now sold more than 1 million PlayStation VR headsets, the company announced today. The news follows a reveal back in February that the PSVR had topped 915,000 units sold since its debut last October. It puts PSVR ahead of direct competitors like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift — according to research firm SuperData, the two sold 420,000 and 243,000 units respectively by the end of 2016 — but still well back of Samsung’s Gear VR, which has sold more than 5 million units globally. Shawn Layden, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, admits there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially given the large install base of PS4 owners, which is approaching 60 million. “It’s still just a million units,” he says.
Layden expects sales to pick up this year in large part because of availability. “We’ll have freer supply in the marketplace,” he says of 2017. “We got to a point around Christmas where you would be hard-pressed to find VR anywhere. So we dialed back some of our promotional activity at that time because we didn’t want to be promoting a platform for people to find out they couldn’t get it. I didn’t want to create more unhappy customers.”
Software will be a big focus. When PSVR launched, it was released alongside a surprisingly robust lineup of virtual reality experiences, including well-received titles like Thumper and Rez Infinite. Since then, however, the release schedule has died down significantly, with few notable highlights outside of the VR mode for Resident Evil 7.
Last month, however, saw the release of sci-fi shooter Farpoint and the Aim Controller peripheral, which Layden believes is the start of a “second wave” of games hitting the platform. “When a new console or a new platform launches, there’s a lot of activity driving launch day,” he says. “And then there’s the inevitable lull between that and the next launch of titles. I think we’re seeing that happening now. Farpoint is the lead of that, and we’ll be talking about a number of other titles at E3.” According to Sony, PSVR owners have purchased 5.25 million VR games to date, and play an average of 25 minutes per session.
Outside of games, Sony is also looking to expand the platform with different types of experiences. To that end, Sony Pictures is bringing an upcoming experience based on Breaking Bad to PSVR, which will be helmed by the show’s creator Vince Gilligan. “For PSVR, we came to it from a gaming context,” Layden says. “But we knew at the time when we were developing it that a lot of people will have interest in this.”
One big question that remains is the life cycle of a platform like PSVR. New consoles come out on average around every 5 to 6 years, while smartphones are often refreshed on an annual basis. It’s not clear yet where virtual reality hardware like PSVR fits on that spectrum.
“With VR, it’s a totally brave new world,” says Layden. “We’re still trying to understand exactly what people are going to want to do in that medium. It’s hard to make predictions about it. People will want it to be smaller, lighter, wireless — these are all things we’re looking at from a conventional iteration process. But I don’t presume to be able to tell you what VR is going to look like in the year 2018 or 2019. We’re going to find out together as we go along.”