Why HTC's 10,000 VR Kiosks in China Could Change the Course of VR
HTC have announced they will be delivering over 10,000 pop-up VR kiosks or ‘Experience Sites’ in public places all around China. More than a publicity stunt, the move could prove significant not just in the quest for VR hardware market share but also in changing the strategies of future tech developments.
Location-based VR makes sense on many levels. Not only is it practical technically as few homes (particularly in densely populated Asian cities) are equipped with the space to fully harness the HTC Vive experience, VR also presents an opportunity to combat piracy through offering a completely unique experience that cannot be duplicated through streaming or through P2P file sharing. It is arguably the most immediately monetisable option for VR technology and therefore a perfect opportunity to test experiences on consumers before reaching into the home entertainment ecosystem.
As well as allowing HTC an opportunity to gain market share in location-based VR in China: the fact they have chosen China instead of US suggests they view it as the most attractive potential market for VR adoption, a new strategy when we consider Asian tech developments have often been interpreted as simply following Western models such as Twitter (Sina Weibo) and Messenger Apps (WeChat).
Timing wise, the news arrives at a time where the Vive has had several positive PR announcements including indications that the company has sold over 100,000 Vive units since March. Though this was not as high as initially hoped, data from the Valve Corporation’s Steam online store suggests Vive content has significantly more use than Oculus. There has also been the formation of a dream-team alliance of Venture Capital entities announced by HTC last week creating a $10 billion fund for VR. The alliance includes such esteemed funds as Sequoia Capital and Yunfeng Capital, the venture company of Alibaba founder Jack Ma. That this was seemingly organised by HTC would appear to suggest these funds are not for everyone and will be used to build experiences around their headset.
Oculus’s position suffered earlier this year after causing discord in the early VR gaming community over the Revive project - which allowed Vive users to access Oculus Store content without the use of a Rift. The closing down of this revealed the extent of platform politics between competing HMDs, with the walled-garden attempt by Oculus widely considered to have backfired. Gamers have indicated they are against the creation of a Facebook monopoly in VR gaming by bribing developers and establishing hardware exclusivity. Having built the widely successful Steam platform, which gives the Vive access to both the most engaged and the highest spending gamer audience, Valve clearly understand this, and so does their partner HTC.
It is no secret that HTC are betting big with VR following the decline of their smartphone business, and such manoeuvres in strategy will be critical as they compete with Oculus, Playstation and future VR market entrants. Capitalising on changing perceptions that they are now leading the VR charge can only help their cause.