Considering how many people have waited so long for a new Half-Life game, it’s truly surprising that the next one Half-life: Alyx has an impact before launch.

Most notable is certainly that of Valve Index, the company’s premium VR headset, which was struggling to establish itself in the market before Alyx’s announcement. Now, however, it’s practically sold out everywhere, with avid users running out of supplies by the end of the year. Superdata said Valve sold 103,000 headsets in the last quarter of the year, but given inventory issues, it’s difficult to determine potential sales if supply had met demand.

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These numbers are quite remarkable considering that the Index is a very high end headset with a very high price tag. It’s often touted as the thousand dollar headset, but in many areas, users would have spent a lot more to purchase the device’s full controller and sensor kit to fully enjoy the experience.

However, it is worth pointing out that this remains a small niche market compared to consoles, PCs or mobiles. Even the top quarter of the best-selling VR headsets are paltry compared to the Switch or the PS4’s hardware sales in prolific territory, not to mention the incredible weekly sales of devices like the iPhone. We’re making this comparison not so much to demonize the VR market, but because it’s the reality of the facts: VR is still a small market and of course developers and publishers are allocating their resources based on this situation.

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“Half-Life: Alyx’s ability to increase sales of very expensive headphones well in advance of launch is very important”

Making this niche something bigger and more commercially sustainable is a priority for anyone involved in virtual reality. From this point of view, the ability of Half-Life: Alyx to promote a peak in sales of a very expensive headset well before its launch, is a very important fact. VR has so far been characterized by the lack of interesting software; Across the different VR platforms, huge efforts have been made for creativity and experimentation in development, from low-cost VR devices for mobile, to the popular PlayStation VR, to PC solutions with motion tracking and custom controllers. all sorts.

Along the way, there have been many titles that have managed to stand out and receive different cultural awards in the wider gaming circuits, and Beat Saber is probably the best example. But it is becoming increasingly evident that while there are business opportunities for creative and niche titles (especially those that can be developed with few resources by small teams), expanding the user base requires the intervention of large high level franchises. And a lot of them, certainly not just a couple.

But the point isn’t so much that there haven’t been some big franchises landed in the VR universe (there’s Batman for example, who created a hype when he first appeared), but so much more than the Big IPs and the beloved franchises they adopted for virtual reality, they embraced what, to put it mildly, can be defined as an “experience” rather than offering a game in its own right. . A “VR experience” is something simplified and scaled down, a piece of content that puts you in the shoes of a character capable of interacting with a relatively limited environment. In practice, this is the equivalent of a trip to the park.

“VR doesn’t have these iconic titles that users can easily and directly access to find the convenience of investing money in a way they know.”

In general, if you want to try out an IP or franchise that entertains you in its VR embodiment, this is where the restriction lies. Only Resident Evil 7 is no exception, offering a VR version of the whole game that is truly awesome. Half-Life: Alyx, with the upcoming Iron Man title for PSVR, promises to deliver a great IP VR experience, but we don’t want to risk going too far in optimistic predictions. Instead, we prefer to dip a finger first, then the entire foot in water to test its temperature.

However, short and limited VR experiences should not be dismissed. There are many reasons to say that this is the most suitable format for VR, given the bulky equipment required. Many consumers do not favor isolation from the outdoors for long periods of time, not considering that helmets tend to get boring after wearing them for a while. Therefore, given these limitations, VR experiences in pills, whether episodes or derivative content, are a great option at the moment.

They allow developers to freely experiment and innovate with these little sandboxes, and drive the rapid evolution of support by providing gamers with many new experiences full of new ideas that keep virtual reality alive and relevant. From a purely business standpoint, however, short experiences have been hard to sell. Those attached to popular intellectual property seem to work well, luring the public to malls and fairs demo sites, but they do not help increase the base for installing VR headsets in the home.

It’s not hard to see why. VR headsets are expensive. Even a PSVR is a big investment compared to the cost of the console itself, and consumers don’t see the convenience of a device whose primary function is to let you play a small number of “experiences” that don’t. not just last a few minutes each. The situation for VR software is a sticky one from a market perspective: there aren’t any classic killer apps that gamers aim to satisfy to justify the cost of the device.

“If this is both the beginning and the end of large, big-budget franchise support for Index, it won’t be enough. ”

A full-fledged game from a popular franchise is exactly what VR needs to make the circle square. Or rather, it needs a lot of products from different franchises and released on a regular basis, just like we are used to the first console exclusive parts. In the end, this is always what drives users to invest in new hardware or an upgrade of PC components: the possibility of accessing many new games released regularly and which give the feeling of convenience in the face of a big spent.

With the exception of Resident Evil, which has undoubtedly managed to sell a bunch of PSVRs, this type of content is extremely rare for VR. The fact that the Half-Life: Alyx announcement has grown into a business transaction capable of shifting $ 100 million into high-end VR headsets in a matter of months shows just how critical this type of content is to the market.

The problem is, even though Alyx is living proof of this theorem, the feat remains difficult for developers. VR has a poor installed base: technical issues and gameplay are big challenges, and success as a reward is not guaranteed at all. The solution is very common: someone has to invest money.

Consoles face the same challenges in the first few months of the market: the platform manager invests money to ensure there is enough content that catalyzes sales and makes the platform itself sustainable, but this is certainly not a problem in the console world. VR headsets faced the same situation, as did Google Stadia. And the only solution is always the same: open up your wallet and spend large sums of money to expand your audience and empower the market.

For Stadia, there is only one company that can do it, but for VR the question is more complicated, as several companies could play an important role, and there is a feeling that everyone is changing. hands with the hot potato hoping someone else will make the investment. Valve is leading the way with Alyx. Sony has made good progress with the PSVR, but the rest of the VR headset market is stagnant.

What matters, as always, is what will come after Alyx. Valve’s next actions are crucial, as is the doubt that other companies (Facebook’s most notable Oculus) will step forward by starting funding certain games with a name that sounds good. Large, full-fledged games are needed to lift virtual reality out of its niche status. Alyx looks fantastic, but if he represents both the beginning and the end of index support, it certainly won’t be enough. Valve has given the example, the question is who will follow.

Source: Twitter Feeds