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What’s your PSVR “What if”??

Now that we're likely in the final phase of gen-1 PSVR's lifecycle (post PS5 launch, pre-PSVR2), we can start to take measure of how we got here, and how things might have went differently. On the whole and in spite of its shortcomings, PSVR has been a transformative thing for me, and I think in time it will be remembered as a pioneering piece of hardware that took some big swings in what was essentially a brand new medium.

With that in mind, do you have any "what ifs" with regard to how PSVR? Hardware or pricing tweaks, or software that never (or never should have) arrived? My "what if" is perhaps the most predictable one, along with a big piece of speculation: If Sony would have released Moves with sticks, the PSVR would have sold twice as many units to date, and would likely have been the defacto VR standard-bearer until the arrival of something like the Quest 2.

I really and truly believe that something like this would have come true, for a number of reasons. For one, more software would have likely come to the platform (especially flat-to-VR ports), and some current software would have likely been way more impactful (Blood and Truth). For every VR enthusiast who found a way to adapt to Skyrim controls for full locomotion (or settle for teleportation or stationary gameplay), there are likely 2 more who are open to VR, but found the controls too unintuitive and removed from the way games are typically played. For a medium with some high barriers to entry (thing on your face, lots of cables and setup, motion sickness etc), maintaining continuity from flat controls to VR would have taken one less straw from the camels back.

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I think the analogy of the Switch is worth exploring. Switch (in addition to bringing all-things-Nintendo to the mix) has thrived on bringing many games from the X1-PS4 space into a different (or hybrid, at least) medium (portable) without control compromises, only visual ones. So the calculus for many is that "If you let me play Doom / Witcher 3 / Mortal Kombat etc etc in its entirety on a portable platform with no control compromises, then I'll accept some graphical shortcomings". Removing the control compromises from Move controllers would have made PSVR a much stronger space for more ports of this type. Sure we had some big wins with Skyrim VR, Borderlands 2 and the like, but at relatively low per-year rates, and always with compromises (DS4-or-AIM only, Skyrim controls etc). The companies that did some of these ports likely saw some lower-than-expected sell-through rates for their control-compromised versions, leading to fewer ports, and on down the line. Dual-stick Moves means more straightforward porting of controls and higher sell-through for those early titles, which makes it more viable bigger publishers to create a kind of VR-port pipeline for existing IPs.

The cascading effect of this change to the quality and quantity of PSVR software would likely have meant more sustained and un-ignorable spikes in interest and coverage from mainstream, flat-focused gaming media. Imagine the current buzz around Hitman 3 VR (being a robust AAA game with tons of content exclusively on PSVR), but several times a year. I could easily see ports of tons of other existing first-person properties like the Bioshock series, Bulletstorm, and the Metro and Call of Juarez series' padding out our existing library and giving fans of those games a gateway into VR.

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You might think I'm overselling this, but honestly, with all other things remaining equal in the PSVR world, I don't think I'm exaggerating. The added manufacturing cost to Sony (which, let be honest, just bolt the Nav controller internals to the existing Move mold) for updated Moves would be recouped many times over in additional hardware and software sales. Obviously this generation of VR, and PSVR in particular, were always going to have some shortcomings, but adding compromised controls for virtually every kind of first-person play experience to the long list of unavoidable ones (low res screen, weak base hardware, cables and light tracking etc) really cost PSVR in my opinion. In some ways, I think Sony over-achieved for what was offered. The relatively slow crawl in high-quality software (especially the first couple of years) really dampened what could have been a much hotter product. That said, I still think Sony did enough to get their foot in the door and their (and consumers) feet wet to set them up for a potential game-changing success with PSVR2.


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