The 1990’s saw a period of unprecedented growth for the console market. After that crash of the late 70s, Nintendo revitalized the industry in the 1980s and found themselves alone on the mountain top with everyone else aspiring to take their spot. Sega, Sony, and even Microsoft would eventually try to dethrone Nintendo. The competition would lead to an unprecedented amount of innovation and competition that was good for the consumer. Now as the age of VR dawns, I ask, is it time for another (VR) console war?
To set the stage for this war we have to go back over 20 years. Its CES 1990, Nintendo has already released the Super Famicom in Japan, and at their preconvention press conference, they announces that the 16 bit Super NES will be available to the US public before Christmas of 1990. The crowd goes wild. Standing in the back are several people from Sega of America (SOA) who are listening in and scheming on how to dethrone Nintendo with their 16 bit system the Genesis. The next 10 years were a whirlwind of new hardware, games, newer better graphics, and promotions. All in the name of competition, in the end SOA would vanish, Sony and Microsoft would rise, and Nintendo the ever patient would continue to watch it all and innovate, but the real winner would be the gamer, who would get new technology and better games because of the fierce competition.
Competition is good, its competition that brings innovation and cheaper better hardware. VR in this generation is I fear destined to largely be an emergent technology. As it stands now VR is expensive, slow, and when it comes to market it’s likely not going to be as great as we have been led to believe. With the price of the first unit to hit market (The Facebook owned Occulus Rift) announced to be 600$ and require a GTX 970 to run, many consumers won’t even get to experience the first set. I expect a similar announcement to accompany the eventual retail release of the HTC vive. No doubt we will also have other companies and other VR headsets in the years to come, but what if the rivalry between HTC and Occulus was to become the next Nintendo vs Sega war?
For 10 years in the late 90s and early 2000’s Sega and Nintendo fought neck and neck, dollar for dollar, promo for promo, against each other. When Sega finally threw in the towel with the Dreamcast on March 30, 2001, the dust settled and the war was over, Sega had lost, but in the process we had two successful consoles, and the rise of two new game hardware companies, Sony and Microsoft. None of this would have been possible without the console war that Sega started. Now the time has come again where consumers need cut-throat politics, and price wars. Right now VR is hi-stakes, hi-price game, just like Consoles were when Nintendo entered in 1985, but it’s ripe for a war, where technological innovation, and price fights can push the technology from the fringe to the main stream.
Imagine a world where VR companies were competing to make newer better accessories, package cooler games with their system, create better technologies and in general just forced to compete instead of the current environment that exists where the most we can hope for is holiday bargains where we get a free game. What ever happened to the 50$ price cut on the 200$ game system? That’s a cut of ¼ of the price! Sure makes a 50$ price cut to an Xbox that costs 400$ seem kinda small. Don’t get me started on Sony and their refusal to change or modify their products price. No it doesn’t count as a price drop when you remove a supposedly necessary piece of the console (the Kinect) and then call it a major win. So let’s hope that in the VR business we get more than a couple of competitors who seem to have a gentleman’s agreement on what to do about price. That’s not what I want, I want to see discounts and deals, and attack ads, with coupons in them! I want Occulus to give me the chance to trade in my Xbox for their new world order, and then HTC to tell me my Occulus is old hat, and offer me a trade up deal for that! What I want is proper war price cuts, innovation, and a rush to get products to consumers and provide them with the best available service and prices.
Will we ever see anything like that again? I doubt it, in today’s hi-tech world consoles are sold as entertainment centers and get to keep prices to match. Gone are the days of 150$ consoles (ok so those days died 20 years ago but a girl can dream) and in its place we have the top of the line wonders that Sony and MS produce instead, and also whatever Nintendo craps out, but that’s a story for whole other opinion piece. I want more, I want innovation, and im pretty sure that’s never going to happen in the console world, so instead I look to the next generation, the VR generation, and hope that the competitors have taken a look at history and spent their time planning and plotting how best to undercut, out-sell, and bring new technologies to their consumers.