Do Subscriptions Have a Future in VR?

Like many people, I’m subscribed to various streaming platforms and other services. In fact, I’d wager that the majority of people have at least one subscription. In years gone by, this monetisation method was primarily used by magazines and publications, with customers enjoying monthly deliveries of their favourite written rag. Times have most definitely changed, streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Paramount+ draw in millions of customers – and make billions in the process. And so do platforms like Xbox Game Pass and PS Plus, offering an ever-revolving smorgasbord of content.

All of that is a world away from the VR developers looking to monetize their content with a subscription. So the question is, can it work on a much smaller level? Furthermore, is the VR market even big enough to support it?

VR Subscription models

As we’re all well aware by now, you signup for a subscription – usually monthly – to gain access to a revolving library of entertainment. HTC Vive was the first VR company to employ such a system, with its hardware-agnostic platform Viveport. Originally a sales platform for its VR headsets, the introduction of Viveport Infinity in 2019 focused the platform towards a subscription model. A bold move considering the number of games available wasn’t anywhere near what we have today.

Meta Quest VR Subscription

But how often do you hear about Viveport, not that much I’d reckon. Because it doesn’t attract the latest titles. Just look in the ‘Featured’ section and you’ll see games mostly from 2022 and earlier.

Hence why it was quite surprising to hear Meta announce its Meta Quest+ VR subscription service. For the price of $7.99 per month – you can pay annually for a cheaper rate – you get access to two games curated by Meta. These change each month, but as long as you stay subscribed you won’t lose access to each month’s games. Leading to growth in value.

However, to sustain this value Meta needs to maintain a constant influx of content. And that means investment. The big streaming giants spend billions on new content, quickly culling series that don’t attract millions of viewers. The VR industry is a very (much smaller) beast. Meta has plenty of money – more than most in this sector – with its Oculus Publishing arm previously announcing that it has “150 titles in active development”.

But are there enough users to make a service like Quest+ viable? Meta seems to think so, however, it could have an ulterior, more future-focused motive. And that’s user retention. Meta’s VP of VR, Mark Rabkin previously spoke about Quest 2, saying that: “Sadly, the newer cohorts that are coming in, they’re just not as into it.” Getting people into VR is one thing, getting them to stay is a whole different problem. Meta can weather this type of storm though, by investing in projects that can drive the retention it needs.

Furthermore, newer, casual gamers are more likely to signup. It’s the type of service they’re familiar with plus they can try new content without too great an expense.

Indie VR subscriptions

The same can’t be said for individual studios looking to go down the subscription route. This method is slowly being employed by several creators as the only access to their VR content. This can most prominently be seen in DJ app Tribe XR‘s redirection. Since its 2019 launch, you could buy the app and that was it. A Tribe Plus membership was then introduced followed by the new subscription service.

Tribe XR img2

Billed monthly, this unlocks all of Tribe XR’s features, or you can go for the whopping $200 USD Tribe-for-Life membership. The latter is free for all those who previously bought the DJ app, which means the studio isn’t earning any more money from long-term users. “We want to invest in and grow Tribe,” said the team in a statement. “[And it] allows us to expand the tools, mentors and DJs available to support our Tribe.”

I wonder if the studio can provide enough content to justify paid VR subscriptions, especially when a lot of people are struggling with the cost of living.

On the other hand, rhythm-action games like Supernatural and FitXR have been successful. Due to their fitness-focused nature, they’re viewed more like gym memberships than VR subscriptions. So they add new music, workouts and classes for members to attend. Thus creating a far more natural crossover between virtual fitness and real-world fitness.

However, I don’t think that in the current market, many developers can go down this route. The likes of Quest 2 have smoothed entry into VR with lower prices and accessible software, yet the overall numbers aren’t quite there yet.