High-end VR grew 60% in 2018, users have smartwatch-level satisfaction

While interest in smartphone-dependent VR devices has cooled off, the high-performance VR market has continued to grow, IDC says in a new report, as tethered and standalone VR devices became more popular than ever over the last year. According to the research firm’s latest VR user survey, the installed base of “high-performance” headsets grew 60% from 2017 to 3.9 million in 2018, and there’s now a group of “hardcore” VR users, though the market still has non-trivial challenges to overcome.

IDC’s study canvassed 1,643 users spread across five countries: the United States, Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — and included some details specific to the PlayStation VR, since the research was sponsored by Sony. Mobile-dependent VR devices were excluded, but standalone and tethered VR headsets were included, regardless of PC or console platform. Overall, respondents reported the same average level of satisfaction with their high-end VR headsets as a separate survey group reported with smartwatches: 7.5 out of 10.

The study offers some interesting details on differences between types of VR users. Between all five countries, the average use of VR was 6.2 hours per month — on the low side — though users are polarized: a hardcore 12% of users reported 16 or more hours of monthly use, while 65% claimed under five hours of monthly use, qualifying as light users. Gaming clearly dominated usage across all VR devices — 72% played at least one game during the final quarter of 2018 — but 55% watched at least one video in VR. IDC reports that no other VR use case had an average penetration of over 30% across all five countries.

As Facebook has suggestedmulti-user VR appears to be a major potential selling point for headsets, though there are regional variations. In France, a high of 62% of VR gamers preferred multiplayer experiences, with the U.S. close behind at 58%, dropping to 55% in Germany, 50% in Japan, and 46% in the United Kingdom. France was also the leader in non-gaming VR uses — between a quarter and a third of surveyed French users also tried VR creative apps, social apps, and shopping or browsing apps, even though the numbers were markedly lower in other countries.

One interesting takeaway for the PlayStation VR, which has been the most popular high-performance VR headset as measured by raw sales numbers: Sony’s customers reported slightly better experiences than the norm, thereby pulling up everyone else’s ratings. The PSVR rated a 7.6 in overall satisfaction compared with an average of 7.3 for other headsets, with 6.8 hours of monthly use versus 5.4 for others, and a lower need for customer service or tech support — 23% of users, versus 40% average for everyone else.

While PSVR had these and other gaming-specific advantages, the numbers still aren’t great. If nearly one-fourth of all PSVR users needed some type of help from Sony after purchase, that’s not a good situation by any absolute measure, and spending less than two hours per week using VR isn’t, either. IDC notes that fewer hours and sessions per month were strongly correlated with lower user satisfaction, and some people stopped using their headsets due to a lack of properly priced content or other factors.

Additional IDC research suggests that hardware bundle pricing, headset design, and ease of use are all major factors of importance in growing the VR market. Generating more interest in VR experiences will help, but pricing and improving the user experience appear to be critical factors in getting hardware and content into more hands. Oculus has recently focused on enhanced ease of use and convenience for its upcoming headsets, Quest and Rift S, while keeping their prices at the $400 level. Sony saw significant sales bumps after dropping PSVR bundle prices for the holidays and releasing compelling new software.