Why Are VR Companies Keeping Headset Sales a Secret?

Industry is on pace for biggest year ever, but sales reports are still hard to come by

To paraphrase an old Megadeth song, virtual reality ships, but who’s buying?

With 2.3 combined virtual and augmented reality headsets shipped worldwide in the first quarter of 2017, the industry is on pace for its biggest year ever, according to a new report from research firm International Data Corporation.

But if shipments are tracking at a record pace, it prompts the question — why are headset sales so hard to come by?

One source with knowledge of industry figures told TheWrap companies are hesitant to reveal exact figures because investors want to see a steady growth in sales.

The report showed the vast majority of the Q1 shipments were VR headsets, with more than 2.2 million headsets delivered in the first quarter. And coupled with new products entering the market, thanks to companies like Microsoft doubling down on their investment in VR and AR, IDC forecasts triple-digit growth for 2017.

If the trend holds, VR headsets will nearly double their 2016 shipments, with research firm Super Data accounting for 6.3 million units sent last year.

Still, there could be a bigger than expected gap between shipments and sales. The only industry staple rushing to share its sales figures this year is Sony, which moved nearly a million Playstation VR headsets in the three months following its October release.

Samsung paced the worldwide shipments of combined VR and AR headsets, with its Gear technology taking about 22 percent of market share. Sony wasn’t far behind at 19 percent, even though its Playstation VR headset has only been available since last fall.

A Samsung representative shared with TheWrap “more than 5 million” Gear headsets are in use worldwide, but declined to say how many have sold in 2017. Samsung’s Gear VR has been the most successful device since it debuted in 2015.

Facebook Oculus did not respond immediately to TheWrap for comment.

One roadblock in the way of VR’s continued growth is the limited amount of original content available. Producing VR content is expensive; the price of doing business may discourage studios from investing in VR until the technology is more widespread.

“With plenty of headset options already in the market and even more coming soon, hardware isn’t the issue,” said Jitesh Ubrani, a senior analyst with IDC. “The bigger challenge is the slow growth in content that appeals to a mass audience, combined with the confusion associated with a lack of cross-platform support.”

Companies like NextVR have partnered with the NBA and Live Nation to bring live events to its users, but there is still a void for original programming. Until this issue is addressed, VR could be held back from making its next leap forward.

For now, demand may not be meeting supply. Retailers look to be betting on consumers buying headsets at a rate faster than the industry can churn out quality content.