PSVR 2 could take virtual reality more mainstream — but will it?

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment)

It’s fair to say that VR has struggled to gain mainstream acceptance. Even with cheaper, more accessible hardware like the original PSVR or standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest 2. But with the PSVR 2 on the way, could that change?

After all, having a headset that doesn’t need an expensive PC gaming rig, and can plug into a console people already have, should minimize entry barriers. That's the idea, at least, but I can’t help but wonder whether the PSVR 2 can truly get the masses excited about VR. 

PSVR 2: Will people actually be able to buy one?

The main issue with VR adoption is that it requires people to buy into it. When you have kit like the Valve Index or HTC Vive Pro 2 that both cost around $1,000 for all the necessary components, plus the cost of a compatible gaming PC on top of that, it’s no surprise that VR is a pretty niche hobby.

Of course, that’s if you want to buy into the best possible virtual reality systems on the market. There are other ways to get into virtual reality that aren’t so costly. The PSVR was $399 when it launched, and could be plugged into any PS4 console — a system that cost $399 when it was brand new. 

Likewise, Oculus and HTC have both been releasing standalone headsets that don’t need to connect to a machine to operate. And while they are less powerful, and less capable for high-end gaming, they are significantly cheaper. The Oculus Quest 2 has a starting price of just $299. Plus, the fact that you can just slip one on and start using it is a major boon to the VR industry.

And yet VR has never really enjoyed much, if any, mainstream appeal. Lowering the barriers of entry means little if people aren’t interested in actually picking up a headset. Unfortunately, by virtue of what it is, I seriously doubt the PSVR 2 would change those attitudes very much.

The main reason being that it’s going to need a PS5 to actually work, and actually buying Sony’s latest console is a chore in itself. The console is in such high demand, with both consumers and scalpers fighting to get their hands on a unit when PS5 restocks happen. 

If you can’t buy the console, you’re sure as heck not going to buy the VR headset. Try as it will, Sony can’t seem to produce enough PS5s to keep up with demand, and unless it can turn around something between now and the eventual launch date, the PSVR 2 is likely to be dead on arrival.

Pricing is also another factor to consider. You already have to cough up $400 to $500 to buy a PS5 itself, and given just how difficult that is, having to pay a similar amount for a VR headset might be asking a little too much of people. Especially if they have to jump through all the same hoops as they did to buy a PS5, just to beat the bots and scalpers trying to capitalize.

Then again the insane popularity of the PS5 does put the PSVR 2 in a very good position. Especially if Sony can make it seem like a desirable peripheral for the new console. 

And who knows, with launch plans supposedly being announced early next year, it means we aren’t likely to see the PSVR 2 until H2 2022 at the earliest. That would hopefully give Sony time to try and solve the PS5’s stock issues.

PSVR 2: Developers need to be on board, too

Of course, all of that is all moot if developers don’t actually make any games that are compatible with the headset. Even the best piece of hardware is doomed to failure if developers won’t come on board to actually make it useful. Just look at Symbian or Windows Phones — two phone operating systems that were very well received, but were killed by their lack of app support.

Interestingly, Sony appears to be taking a slightly different approach to games on the PSVR 2. At least based on one early PSVR 2 leak, the idea is that games should not be exclusive to PSVR owners, and should instead give people the option to choose between their headset or their TV. 

It sounds a little bit like Motive Studios did with Star Wars Squadrons. The game is exclusively played in a first-person perspective, from the cockpit of a starfighter, but anyone with a VR headset can plug in to better immerse themselves in the action. But, crucially, nobody is forced to do either.

Whether this approach will do anything for developer enthusiasm isn’t clear. However, by encouraging developers to offer both TV and VR modes, it means game devs don’t have to make any serious decisions. After all, because VR has never really kicked off in the mainstream, there may well be concerns behind the scenes that developing for VR would negatively impact the sales of their game. 

However, supporting both doesn’t mean TV and VR have to be treated equally. A larger portion of a development team can focus on building the game for the mass audience, i.e. those that are playing on TVs, while a smaller group could be working on VR as a side project of sorts. Because even the smallest amount of VR support makes the headset a more worthwhile purchase, and may encourage more people to jump through those restock hoops.

None of that matters if the PSVR 2 headset is terrible

The PSVR’s biggest weakness is that it’s nowhere near as advanced as what Oculus and HTC both had on sale at the time. That’s primarily down to the fact that it relied on the same controllers as the PS Move, which originally launched six years earlier and lacked important features like analogue sticks. 

Likewise. the headset’s reliance on visual light tracking wasn’t as effective as infrared systems employed by other VR companies.

That, coupled with the fact Sony has more or less ignored VR for the past five years, means that the PSVR 2 has a lot to prove. Not just compared to the many advances made by Oculus, HTC, and Valve, but Sony needs to show that it has learned from the many mistakes it made with the original PS VR headset.

It may feel as though the odds are stacked against Sony in making the PSVR 2 a desirable product. But that isn’t necessarily the case. If anything, the past several months has shown us, it’s that Sony knows how to make people want to buy its hardware. Let’s just hope that the PSVR 2 has as much to offer as the PS5 does.

  • More: Looking for games? here are the best VR games you can buy right now
Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.