Since its launch in 2018, Beat Saber has taken the VR landscape by storm, selling over one million units and becoming one of the best selling VR titles. On release, it skyrocketed to number one on Steam’s highest rated games of all time (and still sits in the top 150) and has been nominated and won numerous awards. Pretty impressive for an Czech-based indie studio that is comprised of only two developers, one music composer and he’s relied heavily on word of mouth and barely on any marketing. In an interview with Vortex Studio Founder Ján Ilavský , he attributed Beat Sabers success to being a great product that is able to sell itself. With that success, and the release of it’s first DLC pack, could Beat Saber be the Trojan Horse that invites VR hardware experiences, and other VR titles into more homes? I believe so. Even to the point where Beat Saber can be just as important to VR as Wii Sports was for the Wii, but not without caveats.
The glaringly obvious barriers to entry are price, accessibility, adoption, and understating of the technology. Price and accessibility almost go hand in hand when comparing VR to the juggernaut that was the Wii. The Wii had Nintendo’s brand power, a mass marketing appeal, an affordable $250USD launch price, and the promise of software titles from their intellectual properties in Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros and more. Even without Wii Sports, the Wii would been a success but probably not to the tune of one hundred million units. It was the Wiimote and innovation with peripherals like the Wii Balance Board that bridged the gap between long time and new players, fulfilling Nintendo’s goal of having casual gamers jump on board.
Wii Sports was the catalyst for adoption by this newly targeted demographic and with intuitive controls and easy to understand gameplay, that market kicked the door down and the rest is history. Although it acted as a tech demo, Wii Sports stood on its own two feet as a game and bundling at launch was genius. Some people weren’t paying $250USD for a Wii, they were paying $250USD for Wii Sports. Beat Saber shares those attractive traits with controls and gameplay but has many other obstacles to overcome. Firstly, pricing is a huge barrier. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR all launched in 2016 ranging from $349-$499USD, with both the Rift and Vive requiring highly powered PC’s and the PSVR requiring a PlayStation 4. Factor in the cost of Move controllers for PSVR, and the cost of purchasing Beat Saber as a game that isn’t bundled in with any of the platforms, it becomes an expensive proposition. Especially in comparison to the Wii and Wii Sports. If people were paying $250US just for Wii Sports would they pay almost double or triple that for Beat Saber?
Another barrier to overcome is the limitations of VR’s accessibility. Mobile VR, whilst affordable is limited in accurate position tracking with only three degrees of freedom in comparison to the six degrees of freedom, its tethered companions like the Rift, Vive, and PSVR offer. Currently Beat Saber is only available on the tethered options (partially working on an Oculus Go with one saber and no obstacles) but will launch on the newly announced tetherless Oculus Quest. Launching later in the year at $399USD and requiring no phone, console, or PC means it would be the cheapest way to experience the game without owning any of the aforementioned hardware. Still an expensive hurdle in comparison to the Wii. Couple that with an age restriction on VR of 12-13 years and over, and convincing someone to stick a device on their face, over swinging a Wiimote becomes a harder task.
So with all these barriers and hurdles, do I still believe Beat Saber is as important to VR as Wii Sports was to the Nintendo Wii? Yes. Here’s why. Virtual Reality is still a relatively new market trying to find its way. All three headsets mentioned launched in 2016 and developers are really starting to hit their stride now with what can be done with the hardware. The early adopter’s period is coming to a close, and previously sluggish sales and shipping periods of early 2018 have been met with strong market growth through the back end of 2018. Sony’s aggressive pricing during Black Friday and Post-Christmas sales saw their VR sales boost from three million units sold to July 2018 to 4.2 million units sold as of march 2019. Beat Saber launched in May 2018 on Steam, and November 2018 for PlayStation. Is it a coincidence that the upswing in VR market growth occurred around the time of Beat Sabers release? Or is it something else? Something that can’t be explained? Something not of this world? Leave the questioning to Fox Mulder, I believe there is a correlation and it’s only the beginning.
Although price has been mentioned as a current hurdle, more players in the market, larger console install base, upgraded technology, the recently announced Oculus Quest and wireless patents for PSVR could drive the older models to more affordable prices. The software catalogue is growing not just in size, but also quality. Despite my belief, Beat Saber is the killer app that has the power to move the hardware on its own, it’s the promise and delivering of other great titles that the Wii had is now coming to fruition. Rising tides raise all boats and in this instance the ease of the Wii and Wii Sports and its massive install base translates to how easy Beat Saber is. People get what it is and what’s required by just looking at gameplay. The cheaper mobile VR options and past Wii users may identify Beat Saber and VR quite easily compared to other VR titles that are more complex.
Beat Sabers introduction and expansion into Arcades across Asia solidifies its awareness and try before you buy option. Nothing sold the Wii or Wii Sports more than getting your hands on it. Guitar Hero, Fruit Ninja, Dance Dance Revolution. People understand the premise of these types of games and have had similar experiences at home or at events. Beat Saber is the game that has the “wow” factor that can make it a hardware seller. The other gigantic advantage Beat Saber has that it can leverage is that it is a physical workout. Countless times I have been asked if the Switch has any movement control or fitness games like the Wii. Don’t underestimate how important that is. Wii Fit sold over 22 million units whilst its enhanced version, Wii Fit Plus, sold 21 million units becoming the 6th and 7th best selling games on the Nintendo Wii. Subtract bundled games from the equation and they sit at 3rd and 4th on that list. Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus were all physical activity or motion controlled games in the top 10.
It is for these reasons I believe Beat Saber can be to VR what Wii Sports was to the Wii. Yes it has more obstacles to overcome, but I have no doubt we will look back on VR adoption and the “Beat Saber Effect”.
Beat Saber (2018) – Beat Games