Minecraft and VR are set to give Samsung Big Edge in 2016

Colin McMahon
May 3, 2016

The first quarter sales numbers are in, and Samsung has posted a 12% gain from where the company was one year ago. This comes at the same time that Apple reported its first ever decline in the sales of the iPhone. Samsung has given credit to its increased sales to the early launch of its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. With the strong first quarter, the obvious question becomes: “Can Samsung continue this pace?”

Two large factors suggest that they can. First off, the Samsung Gear VR has had a strong launch, helped largely in part to Samsung’s decision to bundle the Gear free as a preorder bonus with the S7 and S7 Edge. Mobile VR headsets were projected to sell 16 million units this year (for the record, over nine million VR-capable S7s and S7 Edges were already sold in this first quarter, a good portion of them paired with a Gear headset – so this figure is likely very low).

With Apple still scrambling to release a mobile VR headset, Samsung is currently without peer competition. Other mobile VR interfaces exist, but without phone manufacturer backing . While it is logical to expect that Apple will have their headset out by holiday 2016, it is unclear (and unlikely, given Apple’s history) that it will be open-sourced and enjoy the Oculus platform, which is available on the Samsung Gear VR.

A patent filed by Apple to allow an iPhone to dock to a VR headset.

A patent filed by Apple to allow an iPhone to dock to a VR headset.

This is a large factor driven primarily by one piece of software: Minecraft. As of last year, Minecraft had sold more than 70 million copies in total. It has been less of a game and more of a cultural phenomenon, rivaling Nintendo’s Pokémon of the 1990s. Last week, Samsung and Oculus announced the launch of Minecraft VR edition on the Samsung Gear.

Every new technology needs its defining product, software that proves it works. An example of this was 2007’s Wii Sports, which single-handedly proved the effectiveness of motion controls and ushered the Nintendo Wii to over 100 million units sold. Make no mistake; Minecraft has the potential to do this for VR. The game’s immersive, world-building nature creates a perfect fit. Players were already getting lost in Minecraft, spending hundreds of hours creating virtual worlds – imagine what they will do with the next level of immersion.

The largest stumbling block against virtual reality’s takeoff is its price. Samsung, however, is in a position to do what Oculus and HTC cannot. With the current delayed payment method on smartphones, consumers could own an S7, a Gear, a copy of Minecraft, and a controller for under $200 USD. This is over a thousand dollars less than the barrier that PC VR currently faces. For many players anxious to experience Minecraft in a whole new way, this price point will not pose a problem.

The smartphone market is maturing. It is unknown whether or not VR will create the extra push needed to generate new sales, or be enough to encourage consumers to upgrade their phones. Samsung Gear VR only works on the Galaxy S6 and above, so many consumers will need to upgrade to a compatible device. With the addition of Minecraft, an open-source software market, and a low cost of entry, Samsung has positioned itself for a successful 2016.

The company is also bringing the Gear 360 to market this year. At present, however, it is not known if it is a global launch or confined to the Asian markets.

UPDATE (5/12/16): Samsung announced that it has hit one million monthly active users on the Gear VR.

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