Social media has been ablaze after Phil Spencer made a comment about the probability of VR coming to next-generation Xbox. In a statement heard around the world (or at least Twitter) Phil had the following to say in regards to VR.
“I have some issues with VR — it’s isolating and I think of games as a communal, kind of together experience. We’re responding to what our customers are asking for and… nobody’s asking for VR,”
Now to a reasonable person, this might not seem like that divisive of a statement. Now in the era of social media where quotes can be spun, and people only read headlines. It can be hard to have a reasonable discussion about the topic of Xbox and virtual reality. There are a lot of nuances that have been missed over the past few days so hopefully, me sharing my views on the matter may give you a different perspective on this whole debacle.
Xbox’s Problem with Consistent Messaging
An important piece of information that needs to be brought up first and foremost is the fact VR was part of the game plan at one point. Many may have forgotten but during the reveal and subsequent launch of the Xbox One X, virtual reality was part of the marketing hype. Back when the Xbox One X simply titled “Project Scorpio” Phil Spencer did an interview with The Verge back in 2016. Spencer said in the interview “Project Scorpio is actually an Xbox One that can natively run games in 4K and is built with the hardware capabilities to support the high-end VR that you see happening in the PC space today”. Many people took this as that Xbox One X would have VR support in the future. Whether it be in the form of 3rd party headsets or from an in house developed product. With his most recent comments, it is safe to assume that the VR dream for Xbox One X is dead. Xbox this generation has had very poor marketing messaging, while it has improved lately. Its inconsistency could certainly leave fans nervous about Xbox’s commitment to what they are marketing.
The Reality of The State of Xbox
If Xbox was to dive into virtual reality it would create more of an optics issue then it would solve. Microsoft has been bolstering its first-party studios for the past year and a half. This was in part due to criticism the company faced due to their lackluster lineup compared to PlayStation and Nintendo. There is no denying that Xbox’s offerings through the middle of the generation were few and far between. While Xbox has proven that in 2020 they will be launching a large lineup of games from Xbox Game Studios. Ranging from small indie titles, all the way to the highly anticipated AAA titles such as Halo Infinite. Xbox is finally starting to feel like they are hitting their stride. Which many can and should argue might be a little late for many, especially those that have been with Xbox One since 2013. Many still don’t have confidence in Xbox to deliver on Xbox Scarlett, especially with no locked down price or information on the console yet available. While PlayStation has also been somewhat silent on what the PlayStation 5 will be, PlayStation doesn’t have the same uphill battle that Xbox has next generation.
Why Project Scarlett can’t launch with VR.
If Xbox was to announce a $399 VR headset alongside a $499 Xbox Scarlett, people would laugh at the sheer guts of the brand. Xbox is still proving to the gaming population that Scarlett is worth your hard-earned money. Even when PlayStation brought out the PSVR headset, it was almost 3 years after the PS4 had launched. The PS4 had already established itself as a dominant home console, and VR was an addition to bring more value to the platform. From a business standpoint, it is illogical for Xbox to try to compete in the first-party VR market. Sony with a ton of hard work, marketing, and first-party studio games has managed to sell 4.2 million PSVR units in just over 3 years. This is a huge accomplishment, and Sony is pushing the VR market forward. Virtual reality is a growing market, it’s not in leaps and bounds but it is growing at a steady rate. While we have no official Xbox One sales numbers, it is assumed by many industry analysts that Xbox One has sold less than half of what PlayStation 4 has. Doing some basic math would point to that if Xbox was to dip its toes into the VR market, they would not likely have even half the success of Sony. As a business idea, it holds no water and would be a hard pitch for Xbox executives to Microsoft’s higher-ups.
So does this mean the Xbox brand will never support VR?
To say Xbox will NEVER have virtual reality is a stretch, and I honestly don’t believe it personally. While it does not make sense for them at this current stage of hardware and software stretch. I do not think Xbox will have ever have an “Xbox” VR headset, however, I do think 3rd party VR devices may find a home on Xbox Scarlett eventually. While I cannot pretend to understand the backend technical aspects that would be required to make this happen. It does not seem impossible that Microsoft could strike a deal with a 3rd party company such as Oculus. With Xbox’s seemingly open platform approach it is hard to rule this move out in the long term. However, one has to wonder considering that Microsoft already has its own line of VR headsets for Windows 10. This raises the question of how hard would it be to make those particular headsets compatible with Xbox hardware? While we don’t currently have an answer I think the next couple of years will be very telling for the future of the VR market. Xbox can’t ignore this market forever, its all about picking the right time to enter the market. In terms of both consumer adoption and capability to deliver on hardware.
Things could most definitely change down the road as it is almost impossible to predict the future of what these companies will do. PlayStation will never adopt crossplay, or focus on backward compatibility are examples of a company changing its direction on consumer feedback. If you are an Xbox owner and you want VR to be on the platform then speak up and be vocal. Xbox managed to turn its first-party output around this generation due to constant consumer feedback. If the consumers demand it, then the company “should” make it. While prior to this statement talk of Xbox VR was very limited. However, with the recent spike in interest on Xbox and VR coming together, it will be interesting to see if these stances changed later next generation.