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Editorial: Virtual Reality Is Facebook’s Market To Lose

Below are some numbers to consider about the state of the consumer virtual reality market as of February 2021.

56: Percentage of headsets in use on Steam which are made by Facebook.

4 million: Number of copies sold of Facebook-owned Beat Saber.

60: Number of apps for Facebook’s Oculus Quest earning $1 Million+ in revenue.

6: Number of apps for Facebook’s Oculus Quest earning $10 Million+ in revenue.

Solid numbers are hard to come by regarding the size of the VR market, but these four figures make it hard to see Facebook as anything but dominant. While Sony’s PlayStation VR headset sold more than 5 million units, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently Oculus Quest 2 “‘is on track to be the first mainstream VR headset”. Is there any evidence that he isn’t right?

Google exited the market almost as soon as it had prepared a standalone VR developer kit with hand controllers. Google almost had a Quest of its own, but killed that journey and the company is still shutting down its efforts in VR. Tilt Brush went open source and Google’s Poly 3D object sharing service shuts down at the end of June.

Now there are reports of Apple potentially pricing its first VR headset in the $3,000 range as Microsoft bides its time. And Valve? Valve saw VR crawl above 2% of its Steam userbase for the first time this month as a competitor eats more and more of the share of VR headsets in use on its platform. Beat Saber has occupied a spot in Steam’s top sellers for years now. To be clear, Facebook owns what is one of the highest selling VR game of all time. How does Valve compete with such a multi-pronged effort to expand VR beyond PCs? Do Valve employees even care to compete outside of PCs?

Even if Quest hasn’t surpassed 5 million units sold yet, Facebook’s story in VR is accelerating at a faster pace if you understand the journey truly began with the launch of Oculus Quest in 2019. In 2020, Facebook improved the specifications considerably with Quest 2 while simultaneously lowering the entry price to $299. 2021 onward is still a mystery, but Facebook Messenger is rolling out on Quest and the ability to start parties from that app is a pretty big sign of where things might go next.

What happens if you could watch new episodes of The Witcher or The Mandalorian with your faraway friends because Facebook secured deals with Netflix or Disney to make that easy to do from Messenger? Or what if you could listen to Spotify with friends in your virtual home? These are the types of deals we might expect Facebook to try to make to make time inside a virtual reality headset more enjoyable. Virtual reality is our ticket to other worlds and a Facebook login is remarkably close to becoming the most widely accepted passport for entry.

VR developers want competition in standalone VR, but who is going to step up against a lead that’s been building toward this moment since Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014?

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