UPDATED 16:54 with comment from GAME at end of story
The internet went into a bit of a meltdown over the weekend when several GAME stores around the country launched their new campaign in an effort to get more people trying PlayStation VR: book an appointment and pay to try out the virtual reality headset that we are trying to sell you.
People interested in trying out PlayStation VR are able to book a demo slot, paying £5, £10 or £15 for a 10, 20 or 30 minute demo session. As you'd expect, the twitterverse was not happy about this:
.@GAMEbromley Scummy. Really scummy. Also pretty sure it's in breach of software EULA.— ??IL (@NeilCastle) October 22, 2016
@GAMEMerryHillLL I remember the days when you could try hardware for free before deciding you want it to buy it or not.— Mark Bentley (@markbentley111) October 22, 2016
@GAMECyfarthfa Charging people to use psvr because it's not expensive enough of a purchase already? This is actually pretty disgusting.— Kevin Nott (@Kevin_Nott) October 22, 2016
@GAME_Bullring is this a joke? I'll buy mine from a retailer who doesn't charge. There are plenty of them. This is exploitative.— Matthew Buckley (@miffbuckley) October 23, 2016
GAME has justified this move by stating that whatever you spend on the demo is redeemable against the cost of a headset but people still understandably not happy.
Imagine if you were interested in purchasing a new car and the dealer tried to charge you to test drive the car. You'd be outraged, you'd go elsewhere, you'd tell everyone you know not to go to that car dealer. That situation is the same and it sets a dangerous precedent going forward in retail.
Yes, we already have demo shows like EGX where gamers can pay to go along and demo different games before their release, but this is different. With those kinds of shows, consumers are getting an exclusive, sneak peek at a game before anyone else. People aren't paying to try out tech that they can then immediately purchase.
Bose, for example, create a luxury, showroom experience for consumers interested in their products. They have cinema rooms set up in their stores where sales assistants who are drilled with a routine exhibit the technology to interested shoppers. Passers through may or may not be interested in purchasing a speaker system after the demo, but chances are that they will be impressed by the experience and left with a positive attitude towards the company and, more importantly, a greater willingness to purchase its products thereafter. Bose knows this and that's why the company is happy for users to try out its products in an optimal setting. Paying to try out a virtual reality headset in a bright corner of a loud store is not that optimal setting.
This move exhibits either a lack of confidence from the retailer in a product that it doesn't think will sell well, or a money-making exercise looking to exploit interest in an emerging technology. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on the company towards a consumer and it doesn't help to create that sort of rapport previously mentioned. At best it's a misguided attempt to get more people to try out VR, at worst it's anti-consumer. And this is without even considering whether Sony will be happy for companies to profit off of its product in this way.
So will this become the standard? Will we see retailers charging shoppers to look at a TV they're interested in or get a hands-on with the latest smartphone? If the public outcry is anything to go by then probably not.
GAME has issued a statement in response to the public backlash surrounding this sitution:
“Our pay-to-play PlayStation VR experience is a GAME-led initiative. The cost to use the in-store PS4 pod is entirely refundable for customers that go on to buy either the headset or a PS4 console. The payment allows us to ensure that we have dedicated staff manning the PlayStation VR pods who have been fully trained to adhere to best practice demo guidelines. The demos are intended to give our customers access to one of the most exciting new gaming technologies in 2016 and provide them with the opportunity to get a feel for VR before they commit to buy.”