Video games aren't just for kids. Most gamers are now over thirty. Sony wants to bring virtual reality (VR) to the masses with PlayStation VR, which was released yesterday. Baby boomers in Australia have a high level of disposable income to spend on newfangled gadgets. With all that in mind, I enlisted the help of my dad, a baby boomer, practical buyer and casual gamer, to test out the PlayStation VR.
It's a bit of a misconception that baby boomers — those aged between 51 and 70 — are clueless or disinterested in technology. Many of them are just as engaged as the younger generations and often know a fair bit more about the underlying technologies.
Love them or hate them, baby boomers are the ones that have the most disposable income to splash on new gadgets and there are 5.6 million of them in Australia. That's nearly a quarter of the entire population.
There are high hopes for virtual reality adoption in Australia. According to a Telsyte report, 2.2 million Australian households are expected to have VR headsets with PlayStation PR leading the charge. The gaming-centric headset doesn't come cheap though, starting at $639.90 (for the headset and camera, which is sold separately. Damn you, Sony!). That doesn’t even include the Move controllers that many VR games require.
The games themselves are also quite expensive given you don't get that much playtime out of them. For AAA titles, expect to pay up to $80 a pop.
While there are people who will scrounge up their savings to get PlayStation VR no matter what, baby boomers are an audience that Sony would want to woo. They're likely to have the cash to splash on a headset for themselves or for their children or grandchildren; or both. This is especially noteworthy with Christmas just around the corner.
I invited my dad, aged 52, over to have a go at the PlayStation VR (yes, the one who I used to play Tekken with). He's been curious about VR ever since he tried it in a shopping centre a few months ago. Despite constantly faking that he knows nothing about computers to enlist the help of his progenies for IT support, I would consider my dad very tech-aware.
He's curious about new technology and gadgets and isn't afraid to put down money for it. More importantly, he has an open mind about gaming and doesn't frown upon it as a complete timewaster. After all, he was the one who bought us a Super Nintendo back in 1993.
He strapped the headset on and moved his head around.
"It's comfortable enough," he said.
The first game he tried was Driveclub and after fumbling with the controls he managed to speed around the tracks in the VR world. I sat on the sidelines and watched him nervously crash into barriers on the fantasy race track, desperately trying to get a read on whether he liked the experience.
He pulled off the PlayStation VR headset a few minutes later. He complained that he was feeling motion sickness and wanted to take a break. (Like father, like daughter?) I took the opportunity to ask him if he liked the headset so far.
"It's blurry. Can't you make it make the screen clearer?"
I tried to adjust the focus for him but he was referring to the resolution. The PlayStation VR's display resolution (960 x 1080 per eye) is lower than the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. But it was definitely something that I didn't expect him to notice. I was expecting him to be blown away by the immersive experience of being inside a virtual world.
But then it clicked; for those who haven't been following the development of the technology, they might be expecting content to be true-to-life; even for video games. My dad had expected much more. I asked him to elaborate:
"I was expecting the images to be more life-like. I thought it might not look like real-life, but the images… reminds me of when we used to play Tekken on the PlayStation 2. That’s graphics from 10 years ago."
I then put him onto Battlezone, a game which he absolutely hated not only because he couldn't grasp how to play the game but he got motion sickness again.
Desperately trying to change his views about VR, I whacked on Headmaster, a game that solely consists of head-butting soccer balls. You didn't even need to use a controller to do anything; you just need to swing your head forward to hit the balls. It wasn't my top choice given it was such a simple game, but it was the one he liked the most.
My dad got so into it, his instincts took over and he tried to kick one of the virtual balls but ended up whacking his foot onto our solid wooden coffee table. This time around, because he was playing a game where his body movements aligned with what he was seeing, he didn't get motion sickness.
So here's his final verdict:
"I think it would have been better if I didn't start with a game that made me feel sick. It was rather off-putting and I'm sure it will be like that for a lot of people. The graphics was also not as good as I expected. That is really my biggest complaint. It's not fun when the graphics aren't that good. "There is a novelty factor there and the soccer game was quite fun. I just don't think it will keep me entertained for that long. I'm sure younger people might like this but right now, it's a bit gimmicky for me."
I asked him how much he thought the PlayStation VR was worth:
"If the graphics were better, I would pay $900 for the headset. But at this point, to me, I would only buy it if it was $300-400. I am interested in the technology. I want to wait and see if a better product comes out soon."
So should you buy the PlayStation VR if you're a 50-something gamer? That obviously depends on the individual but here are the main things to be aware of:
- The PlayStation VR, like all virtual-reality, is not true to life. The graphics are actually a step down compared to current consoles. So if you're specifically looking for an Inception-style experience, you'll need to wait a few more years.
- It costs $639.90 — plus a PlayStation 4 console.
- It causes motion sickness in some people — the 'try before you buy' adage definitely applies.
- It's not too physically taxing. If you're an older baby boomer (60+), you don't need to worry about jumping around or doing cartwheels — most PlayStation VR games are relatively sedentary experiences that can be enjoyed sitting down.
What are your thoughts on the PlayStation VR? What do your parents think about VR? Let us know in the comments.