Quest 2
Image: Facebook/Protocol

The quest to take on the Quest

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re exploring if any company has what it takes to take on Meta’s VR hardware, and share some suggestions for what to read, watch and play this weekend.

Why Meta’s Quest looks unbeatable

Can anyone compete with Meta in VR? Some pullbacks notwithstanding, the company is still on track to spend between $10 billion and $15 billion this year on its AR, VR and metaverse efforts, with Mark Zuckerberg telling me recently that he wants to “live in a world where big companies use their resources to take big shots.”

That’s a whole lot of money, and hardly any other company has the pocketbook to make bets on that scale. But that hasn’t stopped a bunch of them from trying.

  • Sony told investors this week that its PlayStation VR2 headset will launch with a catalog of over 20 games. The company hasn’t released a complete list — which was expected, as we don’t even have a launch date yet — but a slide included in an investor presentation suggested that the previously announced Horizon: Call of the Mountain will be among the launch titles.
  • Pico Interactive, the Chinese VR hardware maker owned by TikTok parent ByteDance, began selling its Neo3 Link standalone headset in Europe this week. The company billed this as its entrance to “the European VR consumer headset market.”
  • French VR headset startup Lynx announced that it had raised $4 million ahead of the launch of its R-1 headset.

Competitors have their work cut out for them. When Meta introduced the first version of the Quest in 2019, the VR hardware market still seemed up for grabs. A lot of things have changed in just three years.

  • The Quest 2, launched in 2020, has become a massive success story, with Meta selling an estimated 10 million units in its first year alone. The device has also been a boon for developers, with VR game and app sales surpassing $1 billion.
  • VR early adopters long argued that standalone devices couldn’t compete with PC VR hardware, generating an opening for HTC, Valve and others to compete on the high end.
  • The Quest’s ability to also play PC VR games, either via USB cable or wireless air link, has largely rendered that argument moot. Recent Steam data shows that the Quest 2 now accounts for nearly half of all PC VR gaming on the platform. HTC Vive and Valve Index headsets combined only make up less than a quarter.

Sony’s ability to play catch-up will be hampered by shortages of PS5 consoles, as my colleague Nick Statt pointed out last month. Supply chain issues are also affecting other would-be competitors.

  • The makers of the Lynx headset admitted in a recent update to their Kickstarter backers that supply chain issues were affecting inventory. The startup also suggested that it will deal with low inventory for the foreseeable future. “If you're planning to buy more than 20 headsets in 2022 or 2023 please contact us so we can arrange production volume,” it warned.
  • Some would-be competitors have already given up on chasing the Quest. This includes XRSpace, the Taiwanese startup founded by former HTC boss Peter Chou, which has pivoted to building metaverse apps for third-party platforms.

All eyes are now on Apple, the only company building VR devices that’s able to outspend Meta. Apple is said to have shown off its own mixed-reality headset to its board of directors.

  • However, a recent report from The Information suggests that a lack of focus, and an all-too-ambitious roadmap, may have foiled plans to launch the device this year.
  • Apple could instead launch the headset next year with a price tag that will match some of its premium features (color passthrough, face tracking and more).

By then, Meta will have released its Project Cambria headset, which will offer a very similar set of features. Meta is also expected to release a budget-priced Quest 3 device in 2023, all but ensuring that it will own the consumer VR market for years to come.

— Janko Roettgers

The digital revolution is already here – transforming the way we live, work, and communicate. Smart infrastructure is a key part of this revolution. It brings the power of the digital world to physical components like energy, public transportation, and public safety by using sensors, cameras, and connected devices.

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Weekend recs

“The unstoppable machines behind the game console shortage” — The Verge. Much has been written about the rise of retail bots and the role they’ve played in online commerce, from the PS5 shortage to the sneakerhead boom. But journalist Luke Winkie’s new report for The Verge takes a fresh angle by diving into the developer-side market for the alarmingly sleek software that facilitates widespread automated ecommerce, with a focus on the polished buying bot Dakoza. “This software lets [users] change their lives,” the bot’s creator said of enabling scalpers.

“Love, Death & Robots” — Netflix. The third season of Netflix’ sci-fi anthology series “Love, Death & Robots” debuted last week with a new collection of “Black Mirror”-esque thought experiments and beautifully animated narrative shorts. Like “The Animatrix” and more recent anthology series like Disney’s “Star Wars: Visions,” almost every episode brings a fresh cast of talent, from the animation studio and source material to the director and voice actors. This season even features longtime executive producer David Fincher taking the director helm for the first time, as well as some heavyweight voice-acting talent from the likes of Mackenzie Davis, Rosario Dawson and Dan Stevens.

“Men.” The newest film from “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation” director Alex Garland is as provocative as its title suggests. I saw “Men” knowing little to nothing about the experience other than that it draws influence from the surreal horror movement popularized by the work of Jordan Peele and Ari Aster and also reunited Garland with boundary-pushing arthouse production company A24. It did not disappoint. There’s nothing I could tell you now about what to expect from “Men,” especially its jaw-dropping final act. Just go see it. And then, like me, devour every piece of writing about it on the internet you can find.

Moonlighter — Android / iOS. Netflix is getting more serious about gaming, and one of its more high-profile titles is Digital Sun’s Moonlighter, a unique, Zelda-inspired action RPG that has players playing shopkeeper during the day and looting intricate dungeons at night. The game was first released for Mac, PC and consoles in 2018, but as part of the exclusive partnership with Netflix, Moonlighter is now available for the first time on mobile and free for all subscribers of the streaming service. If you’ve toyed with Apple Arcade or enjoy more premium mobile gaming, Moonlighter is worth a shot.

— Nick Statt

The potential of the IIJA to shape our future is immense; if we don’t spend the funds wisely, the effects will be felt for generations. Physical infrastructure alone does not fully address the diverse needs of our modern, information-driven economy and set us up for future success.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.

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