Sony Banks on GameStop PlayStation VR Demos

April 15, 2016, 3:03 PM UTC
Highwire Games

As the biggest video game retailer in the world, GameStop is an important partner for Sony. To highlight that fact, John Koller, vice president of marketing at Sony Interactive Entertainment, was on hand at the GameStop investors meeting in Dallas on Wednesday to give shareholders a preview of PlayStation VR. The hands-on demos were also a preview of what gamers will be able to experience in GameStop stores.

During a presentation to GameStop (GME) executives and investors on Thursday, Koller said Sony (SNE) will be offering consumers over 500,000 in-store demos across retailers from June through December this year.

Koller said experiential marketing will be a big part of Sony’s marketing plans for PlayStation VR, which the company is launching as a new platform. He highlights games such as RIGS, Highwire Games’ Golem, CCP Games’ EVE: Valkyrie, and Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront VR.

The one major difference between launching the PlayStation 4 a few years ago and PlayStation VR is that this new technology “needs to be lived to be believed,” according to Koller.

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“Trial drives the conversion to purchase,” Koller said. “You have to be able to go into a GameStop to try this. We’ll have a fantastic technology, but you need to get your hands on it.”

Tony Bartel, COO of GameStop, said GameStop will have a significant number of stores with dedicated PlayStation VR demo stations. In addition, Sony will be touring some trucks that will pull up and show the new VR headset to consumers.

“We’re clearly going to be the key launch partner,” Bartel said. “We’ll be selling Sony PlayStation VR hardware, bundles, and games in stores.”

Paul Raines, CEO of GameStop, said, “We’ve played all the VR that’s come through our office, and the setup time for PlayStation VR is significantly easier and the space required to demo is small, so I expect we’ll have a lot of demos in stores, unlike the Oculus or HTC.”

GameStop has rolled out an in-store HTC Vive demo program in 10 stores across the country, but the retailer is clearly hedging its bets on Sony and its 36 million PlayStation 4 consumer base in the virtual reality race.

“We want to create a large footprint in high-visibility stores to have front-window demo experiences,” Koller said.

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Rob Lloyd, chief financial officer at GameStop, forecast that virtual reality hardware and software could generate $15 billion over the next years. He said GameStop could own 20% of that market, which would translate to $3 billion in sales.

Koller said Sony’s target audience for PlayStation VR in the first year is PS4 connoisseurs—the gamers who were waiting in line in the snow to be first to pick up their PS4.

“They’re active, buying a lot of games and really enjoy PS4,” Koller said. “That’s going to be the early active PlayStation VR consumer.”

That consumer overlaps very nicely with GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards customers. Bartel said over 1 million PowerUp Rewards members have already shown interest in purchasing PlayStation VR. And the headset preorder bundles sold out almost instantly.

Beyond retailers, Koller said Sony is going to create consumer influencers and work with media influencers to build awareness of PlayStation VR.

Koller also previewed a commercial that showcases PlayStation VR Worlds, the free pack-in game with PlayStation VR. It’s part of an “advocacy” promotional push that markets virtual reality by featuring an actual player wearing the headset and placing him in exact scenarios from the various game demos on that disc, including The London Heist and Into the Deep.

Sony launches PlayStation VR in October. It retails for $400 and $500 with a bundle that comes with PlayStation Move controllers and the PlayStation Eye camera.

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