You’ve probably heard this one before, but 2020 didn’t go exactly the way we thought it would.
No, I’m not talking about that, though it does weigh into the equation a little. I’m talking about the slow degradation of hopes and dreams for PSVR support on Sony’s PS5 console at launch.
Back in January, the promise of PS5 seemed like the icing on the cake for PSVR’s swan song year. While we knew we wouldn’t be getting a full-blown PSVR 2 launching alongside the new console, just the prospect of the improved horsepower had far-reaching implications for the original headset.
What Could Have Been
Existing PSVR games, I’d hoped, could be patched to take full advantage of the new hardware, much in the same way that existing Oculus Quest games can with the newly-released Quest 2. Not only that, but hopefully we’d see PS5-native PSVR games on the device, perhaps finally opening the door to console versions of Half-Life: Alyx, Boneworks and more. Even without a new headset, features like these would have made PS5 an incredibly attractive proposition for PSVR owners on day one.
Sadly, PSVR gamers won’t be getting any of that. In fact, PSVR support on PS5 seems bare-bones and weirdly obtrusive.
Some of that extends from the same limited backwards compatibility features for PS4 games on PS5. PS4 games may run better on Sony’s new hardware, but if you want to make improvements specific to the new console, unlike Microsoft’s Xbox Series S and X, you have to release the game again, natively on PS5.
More confusing is the approach to getting PSVR running on PS5. Sony’s flashy new HD Camera, launching alongside the console in November, doesn’t support PSVR tracking. To use the headset, you have to plug in the PS4-era camera. Only you can’t do that without a special adapter. You have to apply to get one here and it’s only one per household, though it will be shipped free of charge. Even then, you can’t use the PSVR with the new DualSense controller – you have to use your old DualShock 4 and PlayStation Moves, which in turn won’t support new PS5 games.
Then there’s the awkward topic of cross-generation games, which has proved to be a thorn in PSVR’s side these past few months. Both Hitman 3 and No Man’s Sky are releasing full, native PS5 editions soon. On PS4, both games support optional PSVR content. But, as we finally confirmed this week, neither game can integrate PSVR support on PS5.
That’s right, if you want to play these two titles in VR, you have to use the downgraded versions.
This puts PSVR owners in a strangely awkward position. If you want to play No Man’s Sky on PS5 in VR, you’ll need to install the older version of the game on your console, so you won’t be getting all the shiny new updates like enhanced graphics. Free next-gen upgrades mitigate the pain of this somewhat, but it’s a needlessly bizarre situation all the same. What if someone buys Hitman 3 on PS5 expecting to play in VR, only to find they needed the PS4 version? Will there be a downgrade scheme in place for this situation too? We still don’t have answers for that.
All of this, combined with the recent closure of Sony’s VR-focused UK developer (which was working on its first, AAA PSVR game) paints a grim [icture for PSVR in the short-term. Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan’s recent comments about the future of VR being “more than a few minutes” out also hit hard. We’ll likely see new PSVR games come to PS4 in 2021 beyond Hitman 3 but, for now, PS5 appears like a pretty clean break from the platform.
Now, granted, we’ll likely see Sony bring VR back into the fold as it ramps up towards the launch of a second PSVR headset, but the current situation gets PSVR on PS5 off on the wrong foot and causes some concern. Part of the potential for PSVR on PS5 was that developers that invested on the platform on PS4 might gain access to a new audience with improved versions of their existing titles, bringing them up to the standards we expect of PC VR gaming in 2020.
Now it seems like, to do that, they’ll have to wait for PSVR 2 to come along and then release a whole new version of their title to do that. These moves also make it seem like a very distinct possibility that PSVR 2 might not support older PSVR titles, which would be a pretty drastic missed opportunity. We already have Spider-Man: Remastered on PS5; will we have to shell out again for Blood & Truth Remastered and Astro Bot Remastered one day, too?
The frustration around this largely stems from the fact it didn’t have to be like this. What, exactly, is stopping Sony’s new HD Camera from tracking PSVR just like the old camera can? And if there is a genuine technical reason, why did Sony choose that path instead of going with making PSVR more accessible? If you can connect DualShock 4 and PlayStation Move to PS5 to play PS4 games, why couldn’t they support PS5 games for VR too? PS5 could have embraced PSVR much more wholeheartedly and sustained its ecosystem for the next few years. Clearly, Sony has chosen to go a different route.
I’m still incredibly excited for PSVR 2, whenever it gets announced. In many ways, PSVR was like a beta release for Sony and a new headset would see the company finally catch up to the competition. But, at the start of a generation where companies like Microsoft and Facebook are creating value through people’s existing libraries of content, Sony’s approach to backwards compatibility seems dated and damaging, especially for the nascent VR industry.
What do you make of the PSVR on PS5 situation? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel!