Xbox boss Phil Spencer: 'Nobody's asking for VR'

Virtual reality isn't a big focus for Project Scarlett, Spencer says, but he doesn't rule it out entirely.

Unlike its biggest competitor in the high-end console market, Xbox is not concerning itself with virtual reality, platform boss Phil Spencer has said.

Speaking in an interview at X019 in London a few weeks ago, Spencer said that consumers playing on Xbox platforms aren’t interested in virtual reality, admitting that Microsoft is not focusing on bringing it to its next-gen system Project Scarlett.

“I have some issues with VR — it’s isolating and I think of games as a communal, kind of together experience. We’re responding to what our customers are asking for and… nobody’s asking for VR,” he told Australian publication Stevivor. “The vast majority of our customers know if they want a VR experience, there’s places to go get those. We see the volumes of those on PC and other places.”

Spencer added the decision was partly financially motivated, noting that “nobody’s selling millions and millions” of headsets, but wouldn’t rule out revisiting the move once VR has more pick up in terms of the adoption rate. "I think we might get there [eventually]. But yeah, that’s not where our focus is,” he said.

In response to Spencer’s comments, new PlayStation indies boss Shuhei Yoshida tweeted that Sony “oftentimes work hard to make things that no customers are asking for them,” referring to PlayStation VR.

Besides the fact that PlayStation VR has sold around 4.7 million units so far, it also has a significant advantage with PlayStation 5 being backwards compatible with all first-gen PSVR headsets and all PSVR games, the latter thanks to backwards compatibility support for all games released on PS4.

There’ll also be some significant uptick on VR in general next year thanks to the impending launch of Half-Life: Alyx, the first game in the franchise in 12 years, as well as the cost of entry and accessibility to the market continually coming down. This in particular helps headsets like the Oculus Quest, which allows for VR gaming without a PC but can connect to a PC via Oculus Link to play dedicated PC VR games. Recent SuperData analysis puts sales of the headset at 400,000 units, and it's this form of standalone VR that may have the most momentum in the market going forward.

But as part of several tweets of his own, NPD analyst Mat Piscatella noted that while the market can still develop over the years, it won’t be a breakout success, calling it a “niche” area of the game industry.

"The data suggest that Phil Spencer is spot on with his assessment of VR gaming. Perhaps someday this market can develop, but it's been years and the overwhelming majority of games consumers just don't care. Rounding error of rounding error for games spending, tiny niche," he said bluntly.

“Of all the possibilities for gaming's future,” he said, “the market opportunities are in breaking down barriers for players, making it easier for people to play and to connect with others. VR, by it's very nature, doesn't work that way. VR can be a successful niche, but a small one.”

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Johnny Cullen is a freelance writer and author from Derry, Northern Ireland who has written for Eurogamer, VG247, Official PlayStation Magazine UK, and so many more since July 2009. Come @ him about The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3, Jonsi and Alex, or the Four Horsewomen of WWE on Twitter @JohnnyCullen.

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