2022 was a plateau year for VR, here's what to expect in 2023

2022 was a plateau year for VR, here’s what to expect in 2023

The end of 2022 is more than a decade since the Oculus Kickstarter launched the modern era of VR. While the space has undoubtedly grown tremendously since then, 2022 has largely felt like a plateau year, with Meta standing unchallenged as the dominant player in the space – while moving disjointedly in too many directions at once. But with new headsets, promising new content, and a looming heavyweight challenging the Meta on the horizon, 2023 could be a much bigger year for the VR space.

Platform 2022

2022 was by no means a bad year for VR, but for the most part the status quo remained unchanged.

There’s no doubt that Meta has been a central pillar of the VR space in 2022, having turned its attention in a very public way by renaming the entire company to Meta just before the year began. The company’s Quest 2 headset has maintained its position as the most popular headset on the market, even becoming the most used headset among PC VR gamers, despite Meta leaving PC VR as a platform.

Despite its dominance (or perhaps because of it), Meta continued to produce very good hardware while struggling deeply with its software. While the Quest 2 is certainly more capable than similar products, the user experience is disjointed and unrefined. The Quest Pro only continued this trend; the high-end headset brings a number of impressive hardware improvements along with new imaging capabilities, but their new features are severely limited by a lack of software offerings.

Regardless of the various missteps, Meta is undoubtedly doing the most to sustain VR right now. The Quest 2 is an affordable headset that has created a large enough user market that developers on the platform are seeing increasing success. In 2022, this means that many developers have started or continued to treat Quest 2 as a top priority platform. To that end, we’ve seen many ports of existing VR games come to Quest 2, and most of the new releases have either been exclusive to Quest 2 or on Quest 2 and some other platforms.

Unfortunately, Meta’s dominance meant that most of the air in the room was siphoned off from other parts of the VR space that were once mainstays.

Despite the release of new and updated PC VR headsets for enthusiasts, the platform has stagnated due to the shift in content focus away from PC VR. Many of the games released on PC VR this year were designed primarily for Quest 2, meaning many lacked the scale and polish that resonates with PC VR enthusiasts.

Valve’s apparent lack of interest in VR since release Half-Life: Alyx it didn’t help in 2020 either. The company continues to sell its 2019 headset at the same price it charged on day one, with no official confirmation that it plans to do anything major in VR (hardware or software) in the near future. Meanwhile, Sony’s PSVR1 has largely lost any remaining relevance since the announcement of the upcoming PSVR 2.

On the horizon for 2023

But there are a lot of exciting things on the horizon for VR in 2023. Crucially, we can see real competition for Meta from several different angles, which is essential to keep the company (and the industry as a whole) on a steady course towards creating VR. a more valuable platform in order to increase the viability of the mainstream.

First up

The biggest near-term event for the VR industry in 2023 will be the PSVR 2 launch in February. Although Sony has technically continued to sell its original PSVR headsets over the years, they’ve been on the market for over six years — and earned their “last generation” status long before that.

Given all of this – and that the company isn’t bringing its exclusive VR content to the new headsets – the upcoming launch of the PSVR 2 seems more like a re-entry into the VR market for Sony than a sequel. But now that the company has committed, it’s likely to support the headset for at least a few years.

Importantly, as a console maker, Sony is well aware that “content is king”, and we can expect to see a new set of quality VR content funded by the company, some of which could make its way to other headsets. Sony’s original PSVR is still home to some of the industry’s best exclusive VR games created by its own first-party studios; at the very least, it would be nice to see the best titles updated and improved for PSVR 2, and even better, it would be great to see Sony putting its first-party studios back to the task of creating high-quality VR content.

But PSVR 2 only represents pseudo-competition for the Meta, as the headset only appeals to those who already own a PS5 (or who are willing to buy a PS5 just to get the headset).

Real competition for Meta?

On the other hand, there may be some real competition coming from Pico and HTC.

At the high end, HTC’s newly announced Vive XR Elite is clearly positioned to compete with Meta’s Quest Pro. With most of the same core features but a lower price point ($1,100 vs. $1,500), the Vive XR Elite at least nominally looks like an alternative choice for those looking for a more compact VR headset with improved pass-through AR capabilities.

And on the low-end, Pico’s recently launched Neo 4 is the first such headset to really compete with the price of the Quest 2. Priced at €20 or €50 less than the Quest 2 (depending on storage capacity), it looks like a real alternative. . Granted, the company has yet to formally bring its headset to the United States — the Meta’s home turf.

But… both the Vive XR Elite and the Pico Neo 4 share a common problem, and that is content.

Big moment for content dynamics

Regardless of specs and price, if the content users want isn’t available on these headphones, it’s hard to think of real options (and therefore real competition). Both headsets now lack many of the best selling and most played killer apps available on Meta’s Quest headsets.

But that could finally change. Compared to previous alternative standalone headsets, the XR Elite and Neo 4 have much more substantial and recognizable content than we’ve seen in the past. If more developers realize the benefits they and consumers would see from a more competitive standalone market, perhaps this could be the start of an important big change in the industry.

The elephant in the room

Of course, the single biggest elephant in the room has been and will continue to be Apple. It seems like every month we get a new rumor about when the company will enter the market, the only certainty is that the company is definitely hard at work something-though no one knows exactly when they’ll announce it, let alone launch it.

Apple, more than any other company in the world, has the potential to disrupt the Meta at its own game by releasing an XR headset with a highly refined user experience… something the social media company turned metaverse (and frankly the VR industry at large) has struggled with.

Make no mistake, Apple’s entry into the XR space will have far-reaching ramifications virtually overnight — both inside and outside of the XR space.

Look for UX innovation, not hardware breakthrough

But no one should expect hardware breakthroughs from Apple. The company is hamstrung by the same (largely physical) restrictions as other major players in the industry. Whatever device they launch, it’s likely to have similar specs and shape to the latest headsets we’re seeing on the market today. But more importantly, Apple is likely to contribute key software design, device interoperability, and overall user experience insights that other companies consistently struggle with in XR.

While Apple is certainly a threat to the likes of Meta, the company’s entry into the market will likely benefit Meta overall; Not only will this validate Meta’s early and ambitious bet on the space, but the best XR design concepts revealed within Apple will be adopted to improve the entire industry. For Meta, Apple’s entry into the space can’t come soon enough.

The meta faces the same old struggles

While the Quest 2 has received more adoption than any other standalone headset, user retention continues to be an issue. Not only because of the substandard UX, but also because the headset is stuck in the arcade phase where years old games like Beat Saber, Super hot VRand Work simulator continues to be among the most popular games on the platform – seemingly signaling that little compelling new content has made its way to the headset in the years since Quest 2’s launch. Meanwhile, the headset’s most enthusiastic user base – the core gamers – are underserved, waiting for the kind of expansive and highly polished content they’ve come to expect from the traditional gaming space.

As for Meta’s 2023… outside of the Apple wildcard, the company has confirmed that it’s working on a next-gen consumer headset due out this year, which will very likely be the Quest 3. And while the company has some pretty wild R&D projects in the oven, rather than not, the Quest 3 adopts the core parts of the Quest Pro headset, rather than offering any big jump in features or form factor.

Last but not least

When it comes to PC VR, the only thing keeping the platform alive is an enthusiastic gamer base that craves greater immersion and hungers for next-gen VR content. Unfortunately, with the amount of attention that platform holders and developers have focused on standalone VR, PC VR in 2023 will largely be stuck with content made for other platforms that just happens to spill over.

Between this content, the VR modding scene, smaller projects from enthusiastic indie developers, and the occasional release of VR optional flight or racing simulators – PC VR will feel like it’s on life support by 2023.

PC VR is and continues to be a place where users can take immersion to the next level with special accessories such as full-body trackers, racing and cockpit peripherals, haptic vests and gun stocks. And while some unannounced PC VR headsets may appear in 2023, the drought of next-gen PC VR content means shrinking reasons to upgrade.

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What is your outlook for VR 2023? Let us know in the comments below.

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