If you’re at all involved in the VR space, you likely recently saw a flurry of downtrodden headlines describing “slow,” and “modest,” holiday VR headset sales, with some even calling VR “the biggest loser this holiday.”

The impetus of those headlines was a major revision of research firm Superdata’s PlayStation VR sales projections issued on November 29th. The company adjusted their prior PSVR projections from 2.6 million units to 745,000 units and said VR was the “biggest loser” this holiday season. Here’s a sampling of headlines spurred by the news:

The headlines, suggesting that VR ‘missed’ some inherent target is an ingenious way to spin the more accurate headline which is that “SuperData’s PSVR Sales Projections Were Wrong.”

It’s been widely talked about among VR insiders over the last 12 months how overly aggressive many of the early VR industry projections are. Just a few weeks ago I was approached by the head of a well known VR studio who predicted this exact situation—that headlines claiming poor VR headset sales performance were on the way; not because the sales were going to be bad, but because the projections that had been eagerly touted were way off base. That person was absolutely right.

2016's Record Breaking VR Venture Funding Has Been Driven by Mega Deals

So where can we turn in an effort to get the most accurate data about VR headset sales expectations? To the companies that are making the headsets, of course. While (obviously) none of the major players have given hard figures on launch-to-date sales, many of them have provided some indication of their expectations, or at least useful baselines.

Sony – PlayStation VR

playstation-vr-review-5Just days after PSVR’s October launch, Jim Ryan, President of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, spoke to the company’s confidence in early traction of the PSVR headset in an interview with CNBC.

“We know from the data we have from pre-orders that the interest we have is significant,” Ryan said during a TV interview, further saying that PlayStation VR sales will be in the “many hundreds of thousands” as the headset rolls out. “We think to be able to offer PlayStation VR… [at $399 dollars] it’s extremely affordable and we think the takeup is going to be massive,” he said.

Sony Expects Early PSVR Sales to Reach "Many Hundreds of Thousands"

Facebook – Oculus Rift

Prior to the Rift’s launch in early 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed a question about the impact the headset could have on the company, during Facebook’s Q3 2015 earnings call.

“So we’ve said often that we think that virtual reality and augmented reality could be the next big computing platform,” Zuckerberg said. “But just to put that in perspective and compare it to the development of previous computing platforms, like phones and computers, I think the first smartphones came out in 2003, and in the first year, I think BlackBerry and Palm Treo were the initial smartphones that came out. I think they each sold in the hundreds of thousands of units. So just to kind of give a sense of the time frame that we’re thinking about this and how we expect this to develop, that’s how we’re thinking about that.

Facebook Expects First Year VR Headset Shipments in Line with Early Smartphones, in the "Hundreds of Thousands"

Samsung – Gear VR

Photo courtesy Mark Zuckerberg
Photo courtesy Mark Zuckerberg

Oculus (who partnered with Samsung on Gear VR) confirmed back in May that the headset had surpassed an impressive 1 million monthly active users, possibly making Gear VR the single widest spread VR platform to date (excluding Google’s inexpensive and mostly incomparable Cardboard headsets). That gives us a definite baseline, and a rough estimate of the total usership, so long as we can accurately figure what portion of the install base is using the headset in a given month. As Samsung abundantly marketed Gear VR as a pre-order giveaway for a number of their smartphones, not all of the headsets out there are directly attributable sales.

While Gear VR’s install base is impressive, its acceleration has likely taken a hit given the trouble Samsung has faced with the global recall of its flagship Note 7 smartphone earlier this year, which was one of the phones that the headset was marketed alongside.

Gear VR Tops 1 Million Monthly Active Users

HTC – Vive

Photo courtesy B-Reel

Analysts and investors hoping for a strong HTC comeback pressed the company for details on performance of the Vive’s sales and growth during their Q3 earnings call. Like its competitors in the VR space, the company has declined to give specifics on headset sales this early in the development of the product category, but did respond to questions about a 140,000 unit sales figure that was reported initially by Chinese VR site 87870 and subsequently picked up by many others.

“Right, so I think this is a good question because I also read the [reports about the 140,000 unit sales figure]. I actually talked to [HTC Chairwoman] Cher [Wang] on that,” said Chia-Lin Chang, President of Smartphone and Connected Devices at HTC, in response to a question by an analyst at Arete Research.

“I don’t know [how] this 140,000 number came up. Cher comment[ed] on it, and I can confirm to you here that her comments, basically—of course it’s higher than 140,000. It’s much more than that number,” Chang continued. “But I will not be able to give you a number, and I would encourage you guys not to refer that number. That seems to be anchored fully on something that we have no idea where it came from.”

Chang likened the current VR landscape to a “horse-racing land-grab era,” though he did admit, “I’m not sure it’s the right, appropriate description.” Ultimately he called this portion of the company’s business “the beginning of something very fast expanding, exciting era.”

“What I can tell you is, we—as I say, last time, on the last earning call, we were happy [with] the selling condition [of the Vive] as to the last earning call. I’m very happy to report to you that we continue to be happy with the current selling condition in last quarter,” Chang said in the earnings call. “And we’re looking to hopefully a good—I don’t mean to forward looking, but we’re hopefully looking for a good, happy Christmas shopping season for that.”

HTC Confirms Each Vive is Sold at Profit, "Much More" Than 140,000 Units in Sales

Google – Daydream

daydream-view-hands-on-12Google has given its expectations for Daydream a few years further out than the others. Those expectations are, however, extremely ambitious. At the company’s annual Google I/O conference this year, ahead of the launch of Daydream, Google suggested that in a few years, Daydream would have a massive userbase.

“…our intention [for Daydream] is to operate at Android scale, meaning hundreds of millions of users using Daydream devices. And the way we get there is through the typical smartphone evolution: where today’s premium devices—the ones that can run VR experiences—are next year’s mid-range, and the following year’s low end devices,” Brahim Elbouchikhi, Senior Product Manager on the Google VR team, told developers in the audience. “So if you take that evolution, you can see that in a couple years, we will have hundreds of millions of users on Daydream Ready devices that are ready to consume the mobile VR experiences that you all are going to build.”

Google's (Day)dream: 'Hundreds of Millions of Users in a Couple of Years'

Bigger is Not Always Better (or more accurate)

samsung-gear-vr-boxesThat’s not to say that projections of this sort are easy to make; the issue is the trust that people put in them, and the media’s willingness to run headlines with the biggest and most exciting number, a problem we addressed back in April when introducing the 2016 Virtual Reality Industry report that we co-authored with Greenlight Insights:

So what’s the problem with projections? Big projections get big headlines. You don’t have to go searching very far or wide to find VR and AR industry projections forecasting market revenue of tens or hundreds of billions in short timeframes, or that massive numbers of VR headsets will ship in no time at all.

These sorts of stories get headlines because they paint a very optimistic picture of an industry that—in all truthfulness—is unproven and still in its earliest stages. At Road to VR, we see such juicy figures flaunted frequently in our direction, and often pass on reporting them.

Everyone in the industry wants to know that VR and AR is going to be wildly successful and that it’s going to happen fast. Investors especially, many of which are looking for maximum return on a minimal timeframe, are emboldened by the opportunity that the big numbers suggest. But great momentum doesn’t a projection make, it’s about what’s actually happening inside the black box of “the industry.”

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” – popularly attributed to Bill Gates

In general, we’ve found that many of the projections we see are overly aggressive in their early timeline, seemingly trying to one-up each other as time goes on. We think that the VR industry will achieve its greatest potential when actors within are equipped with the most accurate knowledge.

So when you glean insights from our 2016 VR Industry Report that aren’t all roses and sunshine—like that many developers don’t believe VR will begin to approach mainstream adoption for another 2-3 years, or that the industry is still lacking a killer app to drive that adoption—know that we aren’t going for big headlines, we’re going for big accuracy.We’ve applied our experience as the industry’s most senior VR-dedicated publication, combined with Greenlight VR’s trusted data-driven analysis, to create a comprehensive foundation of the virtual reality landscape and a realistic account of how the market will grow, not only in scale, but crucially, in time as well.

Disclosure: Road to VR co-authored the 2016 Virtual Reality Industry Report with Greenlight Insights, a business intelligence firm which is competitive with SuperData.

Newsletter graphic

This article may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product we may receive a small commission which helps support the publication. More information.

Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Yeah I thought something was wrong when people started referring to Superdata’s estimate of PSVR sales as what Sony was expecting. I knew I read that Sony actually expected several hundred thousand which is pretty much what they sold. So not the biggest loser like people are throwing around.

    • Buddydudeguy

      “people” being journalists. VR is fine and building momentum faster than ever. My Touch controllers are here on Friday, can’t wait!

      • Get Schwifty!

        You will love them; just got notified today about the extra sensor in processing as well, can’t wait :)

        As for the article, I saw Harvard Business Review article doing just that, pointing to Superdata’s numbers compared to reality and putting out the absurd proposition that VR wasn’t taking off…. never mind the ridiculous estimates.

        Like them or not, Facebook “gets” the point that it isn’t an overnight play, it will take years of focus and effort to get VR to the point of critical mass in the mainstream. The biggest issue still is how many people just have no experience with it, or they see a mobile phone offering and it comes across as just a gimmick of sorts. Every mall in the US should have a VR demo going in the middle of it; yes they are in MS stores and some Best Buys, places the average person rarely goes.

        • Buddydudeguy

          I am not so sure mobile VR is doing VR any favors. It’s marketed at people who think 360 videos is VR and question ” what is the difference between a Gear and a Rift”. As if a cell phone is anywhere remotely close to the power of a gaming PC. VR is booming but it’s still sort of…underground. Most people have never heard of a Rift or a Vive and think mobile VR is what VR is.

          But ya, My third sensor appears to be on the same truck which is cool.

          • Raphael

            I had to “correct” a naughty troll on YouTube who was busy trolling his VR hate and hilariously it emerged that he was a Vive owner and he had no idea of the specifications of his Vive. He stated the screen resolution was 720.

            The troll and his buddies latched onto some amatuer journalist horror stories of VR being a failure due to poor sales.

          • DiGiCT Ltd

            It does not matter what he owns, he owns probably even not a vive at all, just a kid screaming for attention.
            Please keep objective Rift fanboy.

          • Raphael

            Who is rift fanboy?

          • ummm…

            you certainly appear to be.

          • AndyP

            I’m a fan boy, “you’re a fan boy”, we’re all VR fanboys and that’s great! More in common than in difference. Now where have those pesky zombies gone… ;o)

          • ummm…

            behind you! but since you have a third camera they are in more trouble than you are. lol ;) did you get arizona sunshine yet?

          • AndyP

            Yes and loved it – though had to eat some words about my locomotion posts (though it would be much better free loco)

          • ummm…

            It would. Teleportation isn’t so bad. Although we should look forward for better solutions. I’m glad that u have changed ur opinion. I’m nycpcgamer on steam. Friend me and we can play.

          • ummm…

            and yet this completely uninformed guy made the right decision! lol jp. dont forget to pick up that third camera fanboy.

        • Firestorm185

          Yeah, got mine last week, they’re great! Definitely going to buy another camera next time I get paid though, cause two in the 360 mode just doesn’t really cut it.

        • OgreTactics

          Unfortunately my friend, that’s absolute bullshit. Harvard Business Review or even Goldman Sachs Analysis if you want, were the first ones to be completely of the projections with absolutely delirious number spat earlier this year.

          Also I don’t know about Superdata’s statement, but their revised number is closer to the truth than any other compiled VR projection out there…and the thing is these are still over-estimation for 2016.

          The second thing about Facebook, you probably mean this: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600915/mark-zuckerberg-says-it-will-take-10-years-for-virtual-reality-to-reach-mass-market/

          Well sorry I have another bad news, in the current consumer technological market paradigm NO product has 10 years to live and be developed or iterated before it somehow magically at some point becomes “mass adopted”, it fails in oblivion. You know what was release 10 years ago and didn’t wait to pick-up? Smartphones, the iPhone having sold 6 millions just the first year, and being a 3 billions users market now, 10 years after.

          The reason why and the difference (which we could temper with the example of a more recent device, tablets, of which the mitigated sales emanates from the same reasons why VR is not picking-up yet) is that the iPhone was a “perfectly” conceived new technological device paradigm, and it sold a lot despite being “expensive” (then). Tablets, while cool, were of lesser conception than the smartphone, because they don’t make as much sense, they make enough to have sold several millions too ut not more. The VR headsets, well to speak simply, have the low sales they deserve given their incomplete conception.

          VR is the visual (and interactive) interface we’ll all use in the future. The problem is that it doesn’t exist as it should, the way it makes sense, yet, and it doesn’t take “magic”, or “ground breaking innovation”, or “way too complicated hardware”…it’s missing what already existed and should’ve been implemented already for “consumer” VR headset, to make sense as everyday consumer devices: untethering/syncing, inside-out tracking and interaction and 3 sec user-design model (meaning when you’re regularly and continuously going to use VR you and your friends, it shouldn’t take more than 3 sec to pick-it up, put-it on and use it, because you’re going to repeat that movement a lot, and the brain knows it).

      • OgreTactics

        VR is fine because of your kool-aid opinion and…I don’t know, magic? Because there are no prospective matrices, consumer behavior rules or business implications that exists? Right…

        • Buddydudeguy

          wut?? spotted the hater who doesnt have a HMD.

          • Tim Suetens

            Realist = hater?

            Oh, the mind of the indoctrinated masses =D

          • Buddydudeguy

            “Realist”? More like side line heckler who doesn’t know jack squat, hasn’t even tried a Rift or Vive. You types look full stop stupid.

          • Tim Suetens

            I own both Rift DK’s as well as the CV, you moron. Having a more nuanced view of VR and its future does not make one a “hater”. Not that I’d expect a moron to understand nuance.

          • Buddydudeguy

            whatever you say troll.

          • Tim Suetens

            Yes, whatever I say. Glad you’ve learned your place.

  • Sponge Bob

    did they also say that the shit they are selling now will be obsolete by next christmas ?
    daydream as it is right now – a passive dumb as m****fuck shell will useless controller will be gone very soon
    same with gear vr

  • I remember using in a business plan fantastic predictions on Google Glasses… that actually died a year later… analysts make lots of errors.
    By the way this article doesn’t give any prediction, only actual data… what are your predictions?

    • AndyP

      There was never any demand for Google Glasses. Compare this to millions of people dreaming of the (VR) holodeck for decades. Fully fledged VR is very different to Google Glasses. Advertisers today usually spend their time, after a product has been invented, creating demand for products that nobody “knew” they wanted – with mixed results. For VR they just need to remind the millions of big kids out there that this is what they’ve always dreamed of, then lead them to decent VR system; and then we can all worry about the health and social impacts of VR addiction later ;o)

  • AndyP

    I’ve seen very little advertising for, or demonstrations of, fully fledged VR systems in the UK (Oculus, Vive & PSVR). When people see and try, they will buy; but without effective marketing, despite billions of investment elsewhere, this won’t happen. I suspect traditional TV advertising linked to demonstrations would have the greatest impact (in effect, but not numbers – at first) though against the trend of other modern/online advertising, and particularly for the paying parents of eager teenage buyers. Facebook should, and hopefully will, sort out the social side soon and hammer of this. I agree with others that mobile VR in its current state may diminish the impact of this generation and be a risk – though I wouldn’t want to call it as that’s market is so much bigger.

  • Blablablablablablabla7

    big surprise. lack of demos. who wants to buy without trying? not me,

    • OgreTactics

      You mean the 18 demos and 30 other free experiences on PSVR, or the hundreds of free experiences on Vive/Oculus?

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Well, if the ‘community’ even get’s the PSVR drivers better for PSVR, then that also might boost the sales of the PSVR, because you can use it on your PS4 but also on your PC, so the value of the headset increases (Well at least until the prices of the Oculus/Vive will fall).

  • bladestorm91

    I tried the Rift and Vive with their motion controllers this week, the VR industry is going to stay and it’s not going away. That said you’re not going to see an explosion of adoption at the price of 800$ no matter what marketing you use, also while you phase it out while you play, the resolution really needs to be improved.

    My suggestion to everyone that intends to buy a VR headset, but doesn’t want to spend around 800$ for it, I say wait for 2nd gen and see if the prices drop and resolutions improve.

    • Sponge Bob

      you realize that improving linear resolution x2 times means 4 times as much graphic computation required ?

      resolution will improve but prices will stay about the same – for high end stuff

      • bladestorm91

        Hey, I’m optimistic, but yes there’s probably going to be trade-offs. I think they are going to prioritize cutting the price to more reasonable levels for a higher adoption rate. The resolution problem is going to be solved eventually, but a bigger VR market has to appear sooner for the industry to sustain itself.

      • RockstarRepublic

        Regarding cost… As production ramps up, more units are pushed, manufacturing parts becomes cheaper and the product over all becomes cheaper.

        Valve is already pushing for a new lighthouse (vive) which is not only significantly cheaper to make but far more effective when it comes to tracking.

        I think we will see an evolution of where cost can easily go down based on further improvements to the tech. There will always be “high end” versions for stuff thats at a premium price, not because it needs to be but usually because someone will pay for it.

      • OgreTactics

        No, it means smarter supersampling.

  • OgreTactics

    “The company adjusted their prior PSVR projections”

    It’s funny because we made these projections…about a year ago, as soon as headsets specificities were certain.

    Not to brag, but FFS even these new projection are off and not credible, and forecasting prospective is a serious job. Now given this is the first year and everybody pumped the usual PR-driven projections to unrealistic numbers in hope to jump start the market, the problem is you sell only as much as the conceived products can potentially enable you.

    And this means that from the get-go, as soon as the “consumer” VR headsets were announced, the projection windows was already set (with probability adjustment of course).

    And I will not repeat this enough (the further I study this, the further this scenario anchors in my mind), in it’s current state AND pace, the consumer VR Headset market will not pick-up for this cycle as is in terms of communicated and inferred strategies and conception (and it’s not just about sales but also and probably mainly about uses).

  • “know that we aren’t going for big headlines, we’re going for big accuracy.” = respect that.