With virtual reality headsets from Oculus, Valve and Sony promising to finally hit the consumer market within a few months, most of the biggest video game publishers are still slow to commit their resources and popular franchises to the promised VR -revolution. At a recent conference presentation, Blake Jorgensen, Electronic Arts CFO, suggested that, at least for his company, the reluctance is due in part to the small expected size of the market for VR early adopters.
“There are still some challenges and I think the biggest challenge is the size of the market,” said Jorgensen, as reported by GamesIndustry.biz. “We don’t make games anymore for the Wii or the Wii U because the market isn’t big enough. The PS Vita – Sony’s product – we don’t make games for that anymore because the market is too small, so it’s all about the size of the market.”
Jorgensen went on to say that EA has been trialling development kits from a number of VR manufacturers and will “build software for several”. That said, as for greater commitment to VR development, “we’ll really wait and see how big the market gets,” he said.
In the longer term, according to Jorgensen, “certainly [be] a market” for VR games in “more than five years.” But in the next one to three years “you may see alternative uses for virtual reality before it becomes gaming,” he said. Last summer, Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus told Ars its conservative goal is to sell just “north of a million units” over the lifetime of the first consumer version of the Rift headset, now expected in the first quarter of 2016. At the time, Iribe warned that the first headset probably “It’s not going to be a console-scale market.” It’s the second-generation headset, coming out a year or two later that Iribe said he expects will “hopefully… get many millions of people into VR “.
A year ago, Jorgensen said EA was also concerned that early VR headsets and prototypes still hadn’t completely solved the nausea problem for many users. “The challenge is that if you’re even slightly motion sick, it’s very hard,” he said. “I’ve seen people take off the goggles in 30 seconds because… it’s so immersive,” he said at the time. “It’s an incredible experience and I think there’s a huge opportunity, but there are some technological steps that need to play out and I’m thinking of ways to make sure people enjoy it but don’t get sick of it too quickly.”
Unlike EA, Ubisoft promised significant VR support earlier this year, promising a “number of games” would be ready for various headsets in the first half of 2016. The French publisher showed demos of some of those VR projects this summer. Gamescom show, an effort that showed “impressive maturity” according to Mark Walton of Ars UK. However, Ubisoft’s enthusiasm for VR has so far proved to be the exception among major game publishers. Reaction to the potential of virtual reality from other major companies has ranged from silence to early skepticism.
Without much early backing from these major publishers, the new wave of VR headsets will likely require a breakthrough “killer app” from an indie or in-house developer to build the sales momentum needed to attract those larger publishers . Without that, or much patience from the market, the new wave of VR gaming could become a Wii U-style death spiral before it can even get off the ground.