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PlayStation VR is so good that it doesn’t need a ‘killer app’

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
Sony’s much-anticipated PlayStation VR headset is out, and it will introduce many console gamers into the brave new world of virtual reality.

However, there is no one standout title that makes the headset a must-buy. For years, conventional wisdom stated that new game consoles needed a “system seller” or “killer app” to gain traction. That era is over. PSVR can and likely will succeed without a flagship game.

Gaming systems used to need big flagship games to give gamers a reason to purchase that system, but times have changed. These days, players look for an overall roster of available titles strong enough to tip the scales and compel their loyalty, and a compelling experience.

Our review: PlayStation VR review

PlayStation VR doesn’t have a killer app, but right now virtual reality is its killer app, and as we said in our full PSVR review, it has nailed the experience. People who are looking to purchase a PlayStation VR headset before Christmas will buy it to get their first taste of VR, and they probably don’t know what they want. None of us really do. The experimental nature of virtual reality, comparatively low ($400) price point, and varied game library will sell the PSVR as much as any one popular game would.

Death of the killer app

Looking back over the history of video game hardware, it’s easy to see where the perceived importance of the killer app came from. When Super Mario 64 launched alongside the Nintendo 64, just about everyone that bought the console early on had to have it — the same could be said for Halo on the original Xbox, Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, or Wii Sports on the Nintendo Wii.

The experiential nature of virtual reality is the hardware’s biggest selling point…

However, that’s simply not the reality of today’s video game industry. Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 launched without a game that would qualify as a “must-own” for the majority of gamers. Even now, it’s difficult to point to a single game from either system’s library that matches that description.

Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that VR is a separate medium that is still in its infancy. People want to try new things. Developers and audiences alike are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. Best practices in terms of game mechanics, and even basic controls, are still being ironed out. Similarly, there is not enough data to determine whether long sessions wearing the headset are enjoyable.

Ingenuity and experimentation are key at this decisive stage of VR development. If there were a killer app that typifies what a VR experience should be, Sony would no doubt jump at the chance to put it at the center of its PlayStation VR launch line-up — but the medium is too new for such a piece of content to exist. No developer has really mastered VR yet, but that’s okay. There are still a lot of fun experiences to be had.

Virtual variety is key

While PlayStation VR lacks a single game that players will run out to buy, its launch library has plenty to offer. It benefits from the fact that developers have been working with other headsets, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, for some time. There is a good mix of tried-and-tested releases and brand new games.

PlayStation VR Worlds acts as an engaging introduction to the possibilities of VR. Batman: Arkham VR demonstrates how licensed IPs can utilize the technology. Meanwhile, fans of the puzzle, sport, and rhythm genres will be well-served by SuperHyperCube, 100ft Robot Golf, and Thumper, respectively.

In a sense, virtual reality itself is the headset’s killer app. There’s no one experience that’s going to sell you on the tech — instead, Sony is banking on the fact that people are naturally curious about VR, and offering titles across a broad swathe of genres in an effort to appeal to all kinds of audiences.

The only console VR headset

Now is the perfect time for Sony to get into the VR space; having observed the launches of the Rift and the Vive earlier this year, it can perhaps avoid making some of the same mistakes, but PlayStation VR still has no competition in the “console VR” marketplace.

In the coming months, we’re sure to start seeing the content released for the Rift and the Vive become more refined, and developers will become increasingly adventurous.

If and when a “definitive” VR experience — a killer app — comes about, Sony will be poised to ensure that its developer will make PlayStation VR support a priority. More importantly, all PlayStation VR games feel like “console exclusives” since the platform serves a different audience than the Rift and Vive.

For now, Sony is not in direct competition with PC headsets. An expansion of the relationship between Oculus and Microsoft could change all that, but for the time being, Sony can continue to operate outside of the rivalry between the Rift and the Vive.

Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve seen Sony make extensive moves to court PC-centric developers. In the last year alone, we’ve seen titles like Firewatch, The Witness, and XCOM 2 find success on PC and on consoles — Firewatch has sold almost 400,000 copies on Steam according to SteamSpy, but it also topped the PlayStation Store charts in the first month of its release, contributing to the million copies that have been sold in total.

Firewatch and The Witness were both PlayStation 4 exclusives for several months ahead of their eventual Xbox One releases, as well. Sony has already found success offering console owners the opportunity to play former PC exclusives, and the same tactic could help it carve out a niche as the appetite for VR content grows.

Sony isn’t launching PlayStation VR under the assumption that it will be an overnight success. It is laying down infrastructure so it’s prepared for the boom, if and when it comes. Sony is already three moves ahead, and the PSVR is a fun system to play with a price tag that works. The lack of a killer app at launch won’t slow it down.

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Brad Jones
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Brad is an English-born writer currently splitting his time between Edinburgh and Pennsylvania. You can find him on Twitter…
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