Sony and Oculus are planning to storm our consciousnesses next year with virtual reality headsets for the PS4 and Xbox One, but the VR wars of 2016 are far from most gamers' minds. That might be because these mind-altering gadgets don't have firm release dates yet, even though they're supposedly just on the horizon: the Playstation VR is set for release during the first half of 2016 , while the Oculus Rift for the Xbox One is set for the first quarter.
It's been unclear which developer would get a headset into the hands of consumers first - until today, that is. Oculus has revealed they'll be beating the Playstation VR to the punch via the smartphone market.
Oculus's Samsung Gear VR is available for preorder starting today, and will ship on November 20th. The headset is compatible with a range of Samsung smartphones including the Galaxy Note 5, the S6, the S6 edge, and the Galaxy S6 edge+, and will cost 99 US dollars. The VR games available right out of the gate at the Oculus Store are Land's End by Ustwo Games, Bandit Six: Salvo by Climax Studios, and Dead Secret by Robot Invader. That lineup is supplemented by Oculus Arcade, a virtual arcade where gamers can play classic retro games like Gauntlet and Sonic the Hedgehog. The headset will also enable people to hang out with their friends in a virtual space with Oculus Social, watch streaming video from Netflix, Vimeo, Twitch and more, and experience photos in VR with Oculus 360.
Playing Pac-Man in a virtual arcade and stepping inside lush photos may turn out to be pleasant curiosities, but the appeal of virtual reality lies in immersive experiences that consumers can't get in their personal lives. The success or failure of the Samsung Gear VR will hinge on its games. Bandit Six: Salvo is a cell-shaded shooter that might not be able to hang with its competitors in the console market, though it could find a niche among smartphone users. Dead Secret (a period mystery-thriller) and Land's End (an otherworldly adventure-puzzler) better fit the VR bill. These two games are high on atmosphere and immersion and might be enough to pull consumers in - especially given that the Samsung Gear VR is cheap compared to the console headsets coming in 2016.
But there's another wrinkle: the massive market for smartphone gaming grew out of convenience. Will smartphone gamers want to lug a headset around? Will they be comfortable wearing the headset on trains, park benches, or in other public places? It's possible to indulge in Clash of the Clans while waiting at the doctor's office or the DMV without anyone noticing; not so with Land's End or Dead Secret. The Samsung Gear VR will be a test, not only of whether consumers are ready for virtual reality in general, but also of whether there's a space within the smartphone market for a gaming experience that requires external hardware (and will probably take place in consumers' homes).
Oculus's Samsung Gear VR is available for pre-order now and ships on November 20th, 2015.