VR adoption is accelerating thanks to the Oculus Quest. We’ve seen over 100 VR titles break $1 million in revenue, growing the total VR software market by 3x in 2019. Top grossing VR titles have cleared $10 million in revenue, and can reach up to $60 million in sales given the current distribution of headsets in the market so far. Though still small, VR is a growing and sustainable platform  for developers.

Guest Article by Tipatat Chennavasin

Tipatat is a General Partner of the Venture Reality Fund investing in early stage VR, AR, and AI companies. He has looked at over 5,000 companies in the space and has invested in 35, including the makers of hit VR games like Beat Saber, Rec Room, and Job Simulator.

It’s difficult to get real data on the VR consumer market. People tend to focus on headsets sales, which remains largely speculative as only Sony ever publicly discloses numbers. Even so, a far more important data point we do have is software sales—this is a key metric for differentiating between a platform and a product. Because even if Oculus sold 100 million VR headsets, but no third-party developer could make $1 million in revenue, then it wouldn’t be a platform; it would be a successful product for Oculus, but it wouldn’t be a viable platform to create an ecosystem of successful developers.

Oculus proved that VR was more than a product when they officially released numbers about their ecosystem last September at Oculus Connect 6. During the convention, they announced that VR software sales on their platform had exceeded $100 million; $20 million of that just from the Oculus Quest ecosystem, which launched only four months prior. But that’s not the only signal we have that VR is a growing and sustainable platform.

Tracking VR Software Sales

We see a strong correlation between the number of reviews of a given app and the number of sales it has. Because all the VR app stores allow us to see the number of reviews, we’re able to track the ‘health’ of the ecosystem by looking at the number of reviews over time.

This analysis covers reviews-over-time for all major VR app stores: Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, Steam, and PSN. It’s also thanks to sales data generously shared with the author from various VR game studios that we’re able to create a reliable analysis of where VR is now, and how far it’s come.

Oculus

From our estimates, there is relatively small software sales for the first couple of years, and then a major inflection point in 2019. That spike represents an almost 10x jump in software sales from the previous year! We believe this is thanks to the introduction of new hardware—Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S—as well as the launch of several exclusive hit games like Asgard’s Wrath and the continued success of Beat Saber. Four months after launch, Quest accounted for 20% of Oculus software sales; seven months after launch, Quest is now nearly 40%.

All Major VR Storefronts

Based on our estimates, we see 2019 as a major inflection point for the entire market, almost tripling yearly revenue to nearly $300 million across all platforms. This is mostly driven by the success of Oculus but also a significant uplift in the PSVR marketplace mainly driven by the success of Beat Saber and other new hit VR games.

What makes Oculus interesting is how much it has grown the market in the past year, if you look purely at software revenue. Sony announced sales of PlayStation VR in January 2020: 5 million headsets over the last four years. Our estimates suggest nearly $110 million in software revenue recorded in 2019. Oculus hasn’t announced how many Quests are out there, but given that it’s probably a much smaller install base, it’s impressive to see it drive nearly $60 million in software revenue for 2019.

What it Means for Developers

For a nascent platform, it’s an important milestone when a software title can earn $1 million in revenue. Here, we chart over time how many titles hit that $1 million mark across each platform. Platforms that have multiple titles breaking $1 million can be called ‘healthy’ because it implies that success is repeatable and there’s room for more developers.

Based on the data we’ve collected, by the end of 2017 we estimate that almost 40 titles made over $1 million in revenue. And in 2017, a top VR title grossed $10 million. By the end of 2018, that grew to 60 titles at the $1 million milestone, and top titles grossed over $20 million. Now at the end of 2019, we’re at more than 100 titles exceeding $1 million in revenue, and at least one top title grossing over $40 million in annual revenue.

The majority of these titles were not made by large AAA studios, but by small indie studios. To our knowledge, several of these studios received no independent financing from either investors or platforms; they were entirely self-published and self-made successes. Beat Games, makers of Beat Saber, earned over $20 million in their first year and became the first VR game to sell over 1 million copies. Compare this to Angry Birds, the mobile game most people see as the first major success to validate the mobile gaming market, which made $7.15 million in its first year.

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VR Headset Growth on Steam Takes Its Biggest Leap Yet, Led by Rift S

We believe the success of indies in VR is a sign of a genuine platform. It also means established leaders from previous platforms like mobile or PC gaming don’t have an unfair advantage as incumbents; the perception of VR as ‘anyone’s game’ draws more developers into the ecosystem, which has the potential to generate more revenue as Oculus and others continue to push distribution of VR headsets to consumers. It also helps that indie titles have smaller initial development budgets and don’t need to spend much (if any) on marketing; this helps them achieve profit more quickly when they start getting popular on the strength of organic discovery or platform-led marketing offered by Oculus, PlayStation, and others.

Which Games Are Succeeding and Why

Now let’s look at what games are selling. Based on the data we’ve collected, these are the top 20 grossing VR games across all the platforms, all at over $4 million in revenue, with the top seven clearing $10 million:

Look at a common factor in the winners: natively-built VR titles clearly lead PC ports and IP-driven launches even when they’re as well known as Fallout or Skyrim. Of course there are plenty of shooters and a couple ports, but like on new platforms, the games that are built native for the platform succeed the most. Games are about interactivity, dictated by input and for VR, that input is the 1:1 motion controls that allow for complex gesture based interaction. The first platinum-selling VR games Beat Saber and Job Simulator are perfect examples of this. Even the top performing shooters in VR embrace VR-specific gameplay like rich object interaction in Robo Recall or Boneworks.

The top seven grossing games are cross-platform, which shows how important it is for developers to think about a cross-platform approach to maximise their potential audience, but none of the games did simultaneous launches across all the platforms. In the top 20, there are quite a few exclusives  which suggests that each platform has a big enough consumer base to support hit games and, much like on console, exclusive games are important for the ecosystem.

Encouragingly there is a good spread of games from each year, showing that VR games can be evergreen, but also that new games being released are finding success This shows a healthy ecosystem and that new franchises and IPs are being established and can compete with established brands and IP in this new market.

Interestingly, the top games are being developed all over the world. Beat Saber from the Czech Republic, Arizona Sunshine from the UK, Job Simulator from Austin, Texas, Super Hot from Poland, Moss from Seattle, Washington. It’s great to see that success can come from anywhere and anyone.

 – – — – –

When looking for a new platform, it’s important to note when the first third-party developer makes $1 million. Three and a half years into consumer VR, there are other 100 titles that have made over $1 million, and amazingly, a top VR title can gross over $60 million in two years with no signs of slowing down. And this is with an estimated install base of 10 million units that is now growing at an accelerated pace. It’s exciting to see the beginnings of a new platform and seeing indies and startups succeed anew. At this pace, we should easily see the first VR title reach the $100 million milestone by this time next year and that will show when VR graduates from an emerging platform to one that everyone should pay attention too.

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  • Ad

    I think Valve will be the most important player in VR, and that PSVR on the PlayStation 5 will ultimately have a bigger impact than Quest.

    • ShiftyInc

      Developers are the most important part of VR. If you don’t have the quality games then no matter how good your hardware is, it won’t sell.

      • Ad

        Sure, and both Valve and Sony are making and releasing software and Sony has the most power to pull in devs.

        • ShiftyInc

          Honestly i would put Oculus much higher then either Valve or Sony right now. They have been making their own games, invest waaay more money then any of the other two. and right now their headsets are the most affordable for a more mainstream use. Really Valve is just starting, since before it was all in budget of HTC.

          • NoName

            Back in 2014, Valve gathered and shared a TON of resources and information on vr software and hardware; oculus and other companies heavily relied on this information to get vr to where it is today. And what did oculus do in return? Make a fucking walled garden.

            Yes, oculus is obviously doing a ton to push the vr industry, maybe more than any other company at this point. But you know what? Without Valve there to serve as competition, oculus would have a complete monopoly on the vr industry, and there would be no need to advance the hardware. No competition leads to complacency.

          • ShiftyInc

            Well Valve helped, most was still done by the people at HTC. And i am not saying anything about competition. Competition is always a good thing in any market for us the consumer. And if they really wanted to make a walled garden, then things like revive would never work.

          • NoName

            You really don’t think that Facebook wants to make a walled garden? You think that the facebook exclusives were just for no reason? Lol. I envy your naivety.

            And by the way, HTC was responsible for the hardware. Valve was responsible for the software. It’s as simple as that. They both did an equal amount of work in bringing the Vive to fruition.

          • Ad

            Sony is the most affordable and has the highest sales, Sony makes their own games, and Valve has invested its money and expertise and obviously made a game with more to come. Valve punches above its weight and arguably Sony too, Facebook can’t just throw endless cash at this and get a permanent monopoly.

          • ShiftyInc

            Well it is not really, cause you need a PS4 as well with that and a monitor or tv. Quest right now is the most affordable.

          • Ad

            A PS4 is $200 and the headset was selling for $200 with controllers and games. And the PSN store has more sales than Oculus.

    • Bob

      “I think Valve will be the most important player in VR”

      Valve have contributed a great deal but their investment in the technology is nowhere close to the amount of cash that Facebook have dumped into this industry. This has obviously paid off through ownership of the largest marketshare in VR devices and content thanks in large part to the Quest; Valve pales in comparison. Bearing in mind Valve is only interested in focusing on the enthusiast market.

      It’s possible Sony could be responsible for mass adoption of the technology within the next three years but so is Facebook. They will be both extremely important players in VR but Sony is mainly interested the pushing the sales of their main focus which is the Playstation 5 and profits. Facebook on the other hand have an entire dedicated R&D division and skunkworks solely for advancing the technology. Yes they’re also here to make a profit but being led by Zuckerberg and their almost unlimited cash reserves allows them to explore and go in deep with the actual science behind the computer vision and engineering necessary to push VR to it’s limits. What comes out from their labs is then incorporated into a viable product.

      • Ad

        Facebook is using this as a stepping stone to AR. I think Valve will get us an open platform that people want to work with and play on. (The Rift and Rift S are where facebook got its monopoly, we don’t know about the Quest yet). I think Facebook’s hold will loosen over time when non exclusives pour in and Valve exploits holes in their garden. Facebook’s name alone could limit their potential.

        • Blaexe

          “Facebook is using this as a stepping stone to AR.”

          Or maybe… VR and AR will coexist. As repeated by Facebook officials time and time again.

          • Moe Curley

            I think VR and AR will merge. VR headsets with high resolution cameras that allow real world AR interaction like Varjo is doing with Volvo without giving up any VR capabilities.

          • Blaexe

            The devices will merge (in a pretty distant future), but there will always be VR and AR use cases.

          • Jonathan Winters III

            They can’t merge. VR requires total immersion, closed off from the outside world. AR simply provides graphic overlays superimposed on the real word, in a sunglasses format.

          • namekuseijin

            VR and AR have different uses. Most useful real-world uses will be in consumer, social AR providing contextual IoT info to their users. VR is for gaming, fully immersive entertainment and industrial design

          • Ad

            No obviously they will coexist but AR will replace cellphones and be an industry 10 times the size of VR at least.

      • Immersive Computing

        Glad Valve has focused on the enthusiast market; I’m willing to pay a premium for the best PCVR I can purchase.

        Reminds me of the hi-fi Audio and home cinema markets with enthusiast equipment for those who want it, as well as more affordable all-in-one products.

      • Bob

        You’re vastly understating the importance of valve in vr. No competition leads to complacency. Oculus wouldn’t have to advance the technology at all if other companies weren’t there to push them.

        Steam also gives indie developers a platform to share and sell their game. Without steam, we would just have oculus exclusives, and they would have a complete monopoly on the vr market. Is that what you want? A vr market dominated by FACEBOOK?

        “Bearing in mind Valve is only interested in focusing on the enthusiast market.”

        Oh yeah sure, they’re not releasing three AAA games for ALL vr hmds or anything. Honestly, you sound like a facebook employee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you are one,

      • Freeflight

        Valve have contributed a great deal but their investment in the technology is nowhere close to the amount of cash that Facebook have dumped into this industry.

        It’s not only about investments, it’s also about consumer appeal.

        So far most VR games are either new IP or shoddy tie ins, a lot of really good stuff between it, but nothing yet that really comes close to a “killer app” in terms of “hardcore gaming” particularly not with AAA quality.

        HL:Alyx could be that, just like the first two Half Life games capitalized on a lot of new tech back then (HL1 use of scripting, HL2 physics).

        The Alyx announcement was single-handedly responsible for clearing out Valve’s Index for the forseeable future, a device that’s on the pricier end of VR devices.

        If Alyx ends up delivering, it might just become the “killer app” that VR gaming has been craving for, catalyzing headset sales deep into the mainstream.

  • Mateusz Pawluczuk

    I enjoy Tipatat’s consistently positive (but also realistic) approach. Interesting comparison with Angry Birds which actually made way less than Beat Saber in it’s first year, didn’t even know that.

    • namekuseijin

      and the sad fact is that Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs is so overlooked when it’s such a nice game either in VR or phone AR. their game spotlight is done

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  • impurekind

    But, but the naysayers keep telling me VR is dead. . . .

  • pr0cs

    Half Life Alyx will be an important title for 2020, it will like Quest, mark another big inflection point for VR sales.

  • ShiftyInc

    We can only hope, last couple of games they made were not something to write home about. Let’s hope all that focus went into this title.

    • NoName

      The last singleplayer game made by Valve was Portal 2.

      You’re probably referring to Artifact being the game that’s nothing to write home about, but it was developed by a very small team, and they weren’t intending it to be for everyone. It was a passion project for a niche audience, and everyone just stupidly got hyped because it was a game made by Valve.

  • Miqa

    “Beat Saber from the Czech Republic, Arizona Sunshine from the UK, Job Simulator from Austin, Texas, Super Hot from Poland, Moss from Seattle, Washington.”
    So the EU and the USA = all over the world?

    • Jonathan Winters III

      haha good point! Megaton Rainfall is from a latin america dev I think.

      • namekuseijin

        I think he’s spanish. Spain, Sweden, Finnland, Netherlands… devs from countries that have not made it big in traditional gaming have been making nice inroads in VR. I like that…

  • Jonathan Winters III

    Great article – nice to see those numbers

  • namekuseijin

    BTW: FNAF is playable flat as well, at least on PS4. it doesn’t need VR

  • Let’s jump back exactly one year here, and review all the nasty comments about the QUEST and how Facebook was “selling out” VR.

    Well, guess what folks, the Quest is definitely selling out. And that is a good thing for ALL of VR my friends.

    And no, I don’t own one. I made the mistake of selling my Rift CV1 for a Rift S. It’s great for portability with my laptop, but we definitely a mistake.

  • Very intersting insights, and a very positive outlook for the market. This means that probablyin 2021-2022, also big studios may be interested in VR for AAA games.

    What I don’t like of the chart of most grossing games is that actually most of them are AAA, even if the 3 best ones are indies.

  • thedrs

    The most important factor of a VR platform success is the ease of programming for it. Time and time again shows that dev tools, APIs and tutorials make or brake the platform.
    Developers want to develop for XR but when they need to jump from one broken tutorial to another they quit and move to a different platform.
    Many times VR companies brake their own VR programming tutorials in new API releases and they don’t care to update the docs – that, in my personal experience, causes many new developers to move on to the next VR platform.