For just over a month now USA-based virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts have been enjoying Samsung’s Gear VR, a smartphone-based head-mounted display (HMD) that marks one of the first major consumer releases for the technology. Of course, anyone that’s purchased the kit and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone with which it runs will tell you that, despite it being on sale, it’s not quite ready for the mainstream. There are a number of issues holding Gear VR back from being a truly finalised product, not least of which is the absence of a premium store.
Currently the Oculus VR Store that hosts content to download only offers free titles. That’s not out of choice of the developers; there simply isn’t an option to charge for content just yet. Said option is coming soon but, until that time, fans are left mainly with demos and short videos. The arrival of premium content is eagerly anticipated, but there’s a question that many are yet to really consider; just how much will content cost?
Pricing in general is a controversial topic for mobile videogames. The rise of free-to-play titles has given way to countless tales of enormous bills stacked up by in-app purchases (IAP) while some titles appear to halt progress unless players are ready to get out their wallets. Is this a method that will be rapidly adopted by VR developers on Gear VR? After all, the technology is all about immersion and, without generalising too much, traditionally it isn’t these types of experiences that go the free-to-play route. Think more Candy Crush Saga than Infinity Blade.
So what seems to be a reasonable price for mobile VR titles? Obviously the answer will differ on a case-by-case basis, but how much will consumers be willing to spend? If a mobile title isn’t free-to-play, then it’s usually low cost. Fireproof Games, for example, is selling its celebrated mobile puzzle titles, The Room and The Room 2, on iOS for £0.79 GBP and £2.29 respectively. Could Omega Agent, the developer’s upcoming Gear VR title, be priced similarly?
Elsewhere mobile pricing can be much higher. The top-end seems to stem from bigger publishers such as Square Enix, which charges anywhere between £12 and £15 for some of its ports of classic videogames. Example of videogames priced higher than this are few and far between.
So far only one Gear VR title has had a price point attached to it. That title is Darknet from indie developer E McNeill. Currently this hacking-based experience is being given away for free. It’s McNeill’s intention to start charging $10 USD for the title, which works out to around £6.60. Even if that’s a little higher than a lot of the content found on smartphones these days, it seems fairly reasonable for a full VR experience that will, in time, also be making its way to the Oculus Rift HMD on PC.
Could there be prices of £15 and up for some the more high-end experiences, then? Perhaps this is something to be expected at first. Similar to how new consoles launch with higher-priced software, it might be wise to expect some developers to charge a little more for brand new titles. There are some experiences on the way to Gear VR that certainly seem to suggest a higher price tag. Fireproof Games, for example, is bringing an expansive 3D open world to the device with Omega Agent. nDreams’ Gunner is also slickly produced. It could well be that some of these titles push towards the upper tiers of mobile pricing.
All that said, there’s a limit. Something like £15 is still pushing towards the high end of what consumers expect to pay for mobile videogames and the addition of VR support can’t be used as an excuse to push the price too much higher. These are still experiences that are working with the limitations of the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, just the same as any other non-VR app available on Android. It would be a shame to see the Oculus VR Store launch a premium option with a line-up of titles costing £20 or more. VR isn’t a permit to ask for more money out of software, just the same as we wouldn’t expect to see raised prices on PC and console VR titles.
Either way, the initial launch of the premium Oculus VR Store will be an interesting time for Gear VR. No doubt prices are going to vary wildly across the board and from that consumers will choose what’s fair pricing for the first full VR videogames. VR’s core audience is ready and willing to pay for great content, but only if it’s priced fairly. Smaller VR titles should really be starting from around the £5 mark with prices hitting around £15 for bigger productions. Any higher than that and there will need to be some reasonable justifications.