Steam survey suggests VR adoption has skidded to a halt

Ever since HTC and Oculus launched their respective headsets earlier this year, people have wondered which company had shipped more units and how the VR market was evolving as a whole. The Vive took an early lead over the Rift, thanks to unexplained component shortages that took several months for the Facebook subsidiary to iron out. But both firms have been shipping on time for months. Today, Oculus and HTC both promise to ship within a matter of days, not the weeks or months it took earlier this year.

Unfortunately, that immediate shipping promise may be partly because very few people are buying into VR at all. Steam’s Hardware Survey isn’t perfect — in fact, it tends to regularly have problems identifying video card makes and models correctly, months or even years after AMD and Nvidia launch new products. In VR, however, there are only a handful of SKUs that need to be tracked, and one of them is a headset Steam partnered with. The figures we see here should be closer to accurate, and what they show is quite concerning.

Steam gives us two pieces of information. First, the market split between the various headsets it tracks (HTC Vive 59.8%, Oculus Rift 30.22%, Oculus Rift DK2 9.98%). Given that the vast majority of gamers of all types have Steam, this suggests the HTC Vive has outsold the Rift roughly 2:1, with a fairly steady group of DK2 owners.

What’s more troubling is the way the VR market hasn’t grown over the past two months. Back in September, data from Steam showed just 0.18% of Steam users as owning a Vive headset, with 0.10% of those users owning an Oculus Rift, TMCNet reported. These figures showed the Vive as having added just 0.3% of Steam users across July and August (Oculus added 0.1% over the same time period).

HTC-Vive-Market-Share

Since all Steam’s data is reported for the trailing month, we’re now seeing September data in October. The results show a 0.1% uptick for the Vive and a 0.1% downtick for Oculus. Since it’s not clear how often Valve refreshes its data set, it’s possible this means some Oculus users haven’t been logging into Steam or have disconnected their headsets. Even if we assume the 0.01% downturn is an artifact of how Valve measures its data — and I think that’s a reasonable assumption — there’s no growth for Oculus in these figures at all. Meanwhile, HTC has only added 0.01% of market share across all of August and September.

These are not the figures that the industry wants to see, but they aren’t necessarily a sign of doom, either. At $ 600 to $ 800, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are extremely expensive platforms with currently limited utility and no proven long-term staying power. Given that the PC market continues to collapse (we’re up to eight straight quarters of decline now, the longest in history), PCs clearly don’t have as much staying power as they used to. Consumers are used to buying entire systems for $ 400 to $ 500, while VR costs significantly more than that for just the peripherals. If you need a computer that can run VR well, that’s at least $ 500 and possibly over $ 900. The buy-in costs are huge, and they’re definitely impacting the total market.

There’s every reason to think we will see an uptick around Christmas and a possible jump from Oculus Touch availability. Buyers interested in VR may well have held off until the Oculus Touch controllers were ready, since this will offer the best apples-to-apples comparison against the HTC Vive. So I don’t think anyone should panic just yet. But by the same token, some of the more overheated projections for VR’s short-term performance may have been wrong as well. Certainly there’s not much sign gamers are flocking to the hardware. Given the current expense of getting into the market, most gamers are probably watching to see what the second-generation hardware will look like.

What I’m personally hoping is that we see a fairly rapid iteration cycle, with previous-generation hardware dropping to lower price points without compromising the initial experience. AMD’s reveal of a $ 500 VR-capable machine last week was a step in the right direction. But the faster Oculus, HTC, and other companies can push the buy-in cost of VR to $ 200 to $ 300 as opposed to $ 600+, the better off the market will be.

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