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Monetising your app: business models for a mobile economy

Monetising your app: business models for a mobile economy

According to American IT analyst firm Gartner, 102 billion app downloads were performed last year, but only a fraction of these apps are profitable in the sense that they generate a steady stream of revenue.

Tim Rea, CEO of global messaging app Palringo spoke with TechRadar Pro about what he believes are the ingredients of success for a profitable app business, and how his own company drives business revenue by trying to stay close to its online community.

TechRadar Pro: So what are the key ingredients needed to make an app profitable?

Tim Rea: It goes without saying that the service needs to be good quality and engaging. I use the word service rather than app because in many cases I think it is dangerous to think and talk about "an app" as though it is a one-off piece of development that a developer throws out there. A service is different. We have a substantial development, operations and infrastructure commitment associated with delivering a high performance service.

In terms of profitability, the term profit implies that you can generate more revenue from the service than it costs you to run. With some of these quality services, the cost of running can be high if you consider cost of hosting, bandwidth, operations management, denial of service protection, storage.

We put a lot into establishing an efficient operation. For many, if not most businesses like ours, the big cost is in acquiring customers. Here again there is a cost/value equation. With deep pockets you can spend a lot of money to ensure a big flow of users into your service, but that doesn't mean they are going to be the right users.

It is a non-trivial exercise to develop a view that tells you the difference between an engaged user vs. someone who just logged in for no particular reason and never comes back, or between a user who spends or brings value to the community and ones that might be getting involved for the wrong reasons. It is important to focus on acquiring the right users at an economically viable cost.

Finally, the model has to make sense. Advertising on mobile still has its challenges, but it is possible to build a business based on advertising if the conditions are right. Many apps take what I'd call a "box shifter" approach to generating revenue: pay a £1 and the app is yours.

However, there is not much of a revenue stream beyond the original sale and so it is hard to grow the business. Then there is the "sell stuff" model: sell users things that improve their experience. This can be hard to do without creating a scenario where people feel they cannot gain value without paying e.g. a messaging app where you have to pay extra to use the vowels!

TRP: How do you monetise your users?

TR: We operate in the "sell stuff" category. Our users can get full value out of our service without buying stuff, but we have tried to strike a balance in finding ways to add value to a user's experience with extra virtual goods that they would be happy to pay for.

TRP: How is your monetisation model different to that of other global messaging and social sharing apps?

We started life with a pure messaging view of the world and much work went in to achieving efficiency in supporting the communication experience. As we began to seriously consider how best to generate revenue, we also spent much time studying usage patterns.

This led us to the conclusion that, although our messaging component was a crucial aspect of the service, our users were more focused on building communities and that the building of these communities, as well as the participation within established communities, had a very competitive dynamic, similar to many games.

Pure messaging suffers from a lack of a clear business model in that users are hesitant to pay for the communication utility. We need only look at Viber which got away with a very nice sale price, but despite impressive sounding user numbers, had paltry revenues and substantial costs. In our case, the critical step was to think like a game.

We began by creating simple games like Hangman and we've gone on to build a substantial gaming capability that will allow us to build and develop these games further. Our efficient communications platform enables us to support real time conversation within a community, and the messaging and community capability supports a unique approach to gaming.

We are not building a communication capability that can be incorporated into games, but looking to build games that revolve around the messaging and communications capability.

TRP: What additional services do users benefit from if they decide to pay for additional functionality?

TR: There are a few functional elements related to monetisation, but for the most part we try not to take the approach of forcing users to pay to have the core set of capabilities required to fully engage. I hate the "ok, now you have to pay if you want to keep going" approach, or the "if you don't pay we will ruin your experience with irrelevant ads", or just a general "this is going to suck unless you pay us."

There are optional extras that users can buy to, for example, build their communities more quickly or manage their communities more effectively or give their users some games to play to add to the amusement

TRP: How many of your customers decide to pay for additional services and why?

TR: This is always a tricky question, so let's start by saying that we have not *yet* looked at ways to increase the number of spenders. At the moment, we typically see 1-3% of our user base spending money on a regular basis. And as to why? They spend because it is cool - obviously!

TRP: At which stage in the development of the app was it decided that you monetise through incentivisation of your customer base?

We went through various stages starting with a naive view that we'd have a cool messaging app, generate some ad dollars and then charge people for some element of usage. We then went through a phase of thinking maybe we shouldn't worry about getting money from consumers, but instead try to deliver parallel services to telcos (white label) and to enterprise and just charge them, maybe justifying the consumer service on basis that it is a great testbed.

Then a little over a couple of years ago we took a cold, hard look at the situation and decided that we needed to focus down onto a particular niche and build a suitable, sustainable model that we could then expand up into a viable business.

TRP: What are the benefits of incentivising users to pay for added functionality over free-to-use apps and advertising-based revenue models?

TR: It focuses attention on what users are doing, what they are interested in and what they want. It generates some money (vs free to use apps!) and is a basis for a real business (vs ad based approach!). As I said, an ad-based approach can be viable but it's tricky.

Generally in the mobile world it just doesn't work well because we have got into a view of the world that has most publishers thinking "if my users don't pay I will show them ads" so they are basically saying "hey, I've got a bunch of people who I know will not pay and I'll show them your ads!"

That is why they are not worth much. Beyond that, a service needs decent, coherent volumes of users and an ability to properly characterise their audience and package them for sale. Not so easy.

TRP: Can you share anything in terms of where you see the mobile messaging space heading? What monetisation models do you predict have the potential for growth?

Messaging in terms of the communication utility is seen as a right, not a luxury. Users don't think in terms of paying for it even if it is faster, fancier etc. I get free, unlimited SMS with my core mobile contract, Apple offers a free messaging service that sits right alongside the SMS on my iPhone, there are dozens of messaging apps I could download to use, many of which offer the "advantage" of disappearing (anyone realise that it is harder to actually keep the messages and offer a history function?!).

The Viber and WhatsApp - and now Snapchat - hype has created a rush to build more messaging apps. Build it, hype it up, get as many users as possible and maybe then it will get bought by someone with very little sense but a lot of cash! Messaging services have very little scope to provide the basis for sustainable businesses. However, messaging-based services can be interesting: messaging can be the core, but it is what is on top that is important.

Dead Rising 3: Apocalypse Edition Review

In the world of Harry Potter, where the laws of natural selection seem to favor whichever genes carry the most whimsy, there exists a species called a Boggart which takes on the appearance of your greatest fear, and is defeated by laughter. Unfortunately for the poor Boggart, there's also a spell that's laser-targeted on its ironic weakness, as Harry & co. discover in class. With the wave of a wand and the incantation "riddikulus," a Boggart in the assumed form of a giant spider gets shod with eight roller skates. A snake Boggart gets magically transmogrified into a Jack-in-the-box, which is actually kinda creepier, really. Alan Rickman ends up in a dress for some reason. I haven't read the novels, so the movies are a bit confusing for me. But the lesson of the Boggart is a familiar one all the same--you can master the object of your fear by rendering it absurd.

Our Boggarts are all zombies these days. "Walkers" in The Walking Dead, "infected" in Resident Evil, "vampires" in The Strain...all scary in their own right, certainly, but a zombie outbreak also tends to reflect back to us our fears about modern society. We watch our umpteenth cubicle-dweller swallowed up by the horde and think--have we become too sedentary? We stare, as fragile alliances of survivors fracture over who should make the run for the flare gun in the pickup's glove compartment--would we sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones? Could the government be *that* corrupt? Has the selfie generation become too self-absorbed to survive the apocalypse? It's all getting a little heavy and a bit overwhelming and then--


--suddenly there's Dead Rising, running zombies over with a lawnmower, hitting them with a gumball machine, jamming a shower head into their scalp that causes them to emit cranial fluids through the nozzle. Since the start of the last console generation, Capcom's brawler series has been one big clown nose on face of the undead, now three entries deep. The latest release--last year's Dead Rising 3--has been newly minted on PC, putting keyboard & mouse users in the jumpsuit of one Nick Ramos, Los Perdidos mechanic and nascent zombie-slayer. While the Apocalypse Edition is not the most lovingly crafted PC port around (locked at 30 frames per second and a tad jittery), the quality is agreeable enough, it supports controller or keyboard well, and the game's four downloadable content missions come bundled in.

The city of Los Perdidos is in a bad way. It's been all but given over to reanimated corpses, and as we join Ramos and his small band of leftovers, they're attempting to jury-rig a mode of transportation that'll get them out of Dodge. They're up against a fairly tight clock, but unless you're playing on the included "Nightmare Mode," it's not so tight as to prevent Ramos from indulging in a copious amount of assorted clowning and speciously relevant errands for the city's other survivors. Collect three spray cans, find that lost briefcase, and could you stop by the pharmacy on the way back? Games with this sort of laissez-faire attitude on direction tend towards morally inconsistent, strangely acquiescent protagonists, and Dead Rising 3 is no exception. Take Ramos' innocent, almost puppy-love sort of affection for a fellow member of his group, named Annie. When Annie flies the coop, he volunteers to capture and deliver her to a shadowy figure who wants her for some unknown end. A few scenes later, when it's revealed that Annie's part of a rebel band of "Illegals" (a real-world analogy that's invoked, then summarily ignored), Ramos is back by her side, and never a question is raised.

The game is saddled with deeply sexist and mean-spirited overtones.

Ramos may only be marginally more perceptive than the shambling remains of the rest of the populace. But fortunately for him, the horde is less a threat than it is a slowly shifting, listless object to be acted upon--electrocuted en masse, perhaps, or paved over with a steamroller. As far as raisons d'être go, that's not much, even if Dead Rising 3's zombies get second billing to its unusual arsenal. The thrill of squishing them wears thin when you realize the extent of their haplessness--stand at the top of a ramp, and one after another will trip over the incline, forming a pile of dead undead without you so much as revving your chainsaw. Even a resurrected corpse deserves a little more agency than this, if only to make besting it a bit satisfying. Dead Rising 3 feels over-tuned to accommodate the player's activity. Firing a weapon into the space between two zombies seems to consistently result in one of them getting hit. Player button presses feel prioritized in a way that makes the zombies appear almost deferential when you wade into their midst, brandished swordfish a-swingin'. It's also quickly revealed that Ramos is immune to “the bite,” and you could say that this old chestnut represents a final breakage of the “there but for the grace of God” connection between survivor and shambler. Dead Rising 3's zombies, thusly neutered and fully divorced from their status as once-humans, can more comfortably sit in the crosshairs of say, a leaf-blower that fires "personal massager" missiles.

Not your cup of tea? Perhaps the sledgehammer with grenades duct taped to its head, then? How about the vehicle that shoots fireworks that pierce zombies and launch them into the sky? At one point I stumbled across a dictionary that can be weaponized. Well played there, Dead Rising 3: you know everyone's got that one item they'd like to hit people with. There's a wonderfully diverse arsenal lying about, begging to be picked up and brandished by a curious player, and ad hoc weapons and vehicles can be thrown together with a few clicks of the mouse. It's a shame that these imaginative combinations can only be made once unlocked via collectible blueprints marked on your map, however. The tidy, rationed flow of blueprints kills the potential for creative discovery in favor of more prescriptive rewards. "Here's a traffic cone" Dead Rising 3 says, like a tween's exasperated parent, "Go do something with the traffic cone."

Remember to change your oil every 3 months or 5,000 zombies, whichever comes first.

There's something of an evocation of Los Angeles' sprawl--four clusters of low-rise urban landscape connect via knotted highway ramps. But it feels too staged, too self-contained, and it quickly begins to feel like you're a lab rat, cycling around the same track, turning in the same colored blocks for the same pieces of cheese. Take a ride on one of the long-spanning causeways, and you can see the dead-zones to either side: empty plots of land at the corners of the intersections, cordoned off by barricades. There's a wearying amount of roadblocks in the playable space too, and they rarely divert you into interesting areas. Mostly they break up the flow of driving, which becomes immediately obnoxious when some errand inevitably forces you to commute back and forth between multiple districts. There is some clever staging, like an open-air fireworks store you just might blow through while driving a low-rider full of loose fuel tanks. But these exceptions make the larger blandness all the more conspicuous.

But hey, there sure are a lot of zombies. Many of Dead Rising 3's most enduring images come when you stand atop some burned-out car, surveying the field of hundreds of on-screen undead with their arms outstretched. You're a post-apocalyptic rock star, sometimes, and maybe you're even wielding a proper axe. Yet Dead Rising 3 reiterates the common lesson of zombie fiction: that in a world where the majority of the population eats brains, the salient dangers are still posed by your fellow man. In the long view, that danger comes from the power-mad general who'll be nuking Los Perdidos in six days. But in the here-and-now, the biggest threats come from the game's various human bosses. "Psychopath battles," as the game dubs them.

These fights are demonstrably harder than any zombified creature Ramos runs up against. There's even a cutscene where a new, frankly terrifying zombie type is revealed, and, lo and behold, when control is handed back to you it's mysteriously gone, later revealed to be a new enemy type that simply populates the streets--marginally tougher than the normal fodder, but equally susceptible to a flame-throwing steamrollercycle, as it turns out. The humans you fight, by contrast, are veritable bullet-sponges, and just intelligent enough to employ frustrating stun-locks that bounce Nick around the battleground, or charge moves that home in with a will. They all seem to pack multiple health meters. Scary stuff.

As far as items and weapon combinations go, there's something for everyone.

They're uniformly miserable encounters, and it isn't just because they're chock full of clumsy, tired mechanics that overtax Dead Rising 3's loose, brawler controls. One psychopath is a Chinese man, bearded and dressed as a monk, fought in a temple garden, who attacks you with a medieval polearm and kung fu. The game stops just short of playing "Chopsticks" as an accompaniment (but it does ring a gong). One is a sexualized policewoman wearing a Halloween-costume version of the uniform. One is a female bodybuilder that the developers, through Ramos, gleefully misgender. Another is a chap-wearing bisexual man in a pink cowboy hat. He has a phallic flamethrower.

Is there a Harry Potter fan in the audience? Maybe one with a good command of the series' bestiary? Because I think what we have here is a Boggart, reflecting back someone's subconscious fears about minorities. And to conquer those fears, they've cast a mean-spirited spell to turn the things that frighten them into ridiculous caricatures. It's a cruel portrayal, and superfluous besides: in a game that's ostensibly about zombies, shouldn't the zombies be scary enough on their own?

Minecraft for PS4 released on PSN, coming to Xbox One on Friday

Minecraft for PS4 released on PSN, coming to Xbox One on Friday

Minecraft for PS4 has been released on PSN ahead of the full disc-based version, while Minecraft for Xbox One will be out on Friday, 5 September.

After a few certification-related delays, Minecraft for PS4 has gone live on PSN, selling for £12.99.

Those who have already bought the PS3 version will be able to upgrade to the 'next-gen' edition for just £3.69, again through PSN.

While it might seem silly to upgrade when Minecraft has such basic-looking graphics, there's a big upside to the PS4/Xbox One version.

Minecraft on the latest consoles offers worlds 36 times the size of those on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Saves from the PS3 version can also be transferred over to the PS4 as well, meaning you don't need to throw away your old creations.

The lower-cost generational upgrade is available to both those who downloaded the game, or bought it on disc – you just need to have played it with online access for it to have registered.

via PlayStation Blog

Week in Gaming: Samsung’s Gear VR, hibernating demon babies and Destiny: the fragrance

Week in Gaming: Samsung's Gear VR, hibernating demon babies and Destiny: the fragrance

It seems petty to forbid a company from advertising a game for its own console, but kids, that's just the world we live in. Due to PlayStation's association with Destiny Microsoft's been restrained from marketing the open-world shooter for Xbox, but this week it found an interesting way to bypass the problem.

It launched a spoof website for a Destiny perfume - 'The new fragrance by Xbox'.

The page appeared and contained the following: "Okay so here's the lowdown. Destiny is actually an epic new first-person shooter, available on Xbox. Thing is, we didn't have the permission to run adverts for the game. So we didn't. Thansk for smelling that something was up. Now get the game and become a legend."


Unfortunately all that has now pulled and replaced with some words asking visitors to check with retailers for some "great Xbox One offers" with no specific reference to the game.

But you have to hand it to Microsoft, its little marketing ploy was pretty admirable. We do wonder what that fragrance would have smelled like. Probably unchanged underwear and lawsuits.

Gear VR

You also can't help but respect Samsung's ability to find space on the wall of ideas at which it ceaselessly throws ideas in the hope of making them stick. This week it was Gear VR, its play in the burgeoning virtual reality market. In fact, it looks like Samsung's Gear will be the first big consumer-ready VR device since the 'rebirth' of this category.

Though powered by Oculus, Samsung's Gear VR is merely a vessel for the Galaxy Note 4, which slots into the headset and provides the display.

We had a play with it ourselves at IFA 2014 and it were surprisingly more impressive than we had expected. But it's best to think of it more as a neat Note 4 add-on rather than comparing it to dedicated devices such as the Oculus Rift.

So long as Samsung continues to aggressively expand the catalog of games and other experiences for VR (and we expect it will) then this could be a key factor in bringing virtual reality to the mainstream. And you know what? It's not the most ridiculous-looking thing you can strap onto your face.


Gear VR

You've got a date with death

No, literally. The Sims 4 launched this week, and as you'd expect there were still a few bugs in the system - including one where you could date the Grim Reaper. There was also a bizarre glitch that would see babies "incorrectly hibernating within household inventories". They sort of became one with the furniture. [CVG]

Anyway, EA has released a day one patch to fix these and other problems. Another of our favs was: "Babies no longer multiply if left in the Household Inventory while editing the lot via Manage Worlds"

But not addressed in the patch notes is the little matter of DEMON BABIES. Some players have been experiencing a strange phenomenon where babies come out all gangly and possessed. We really hope EA's fix has also exorcised whatever entity has been causing this to happen.

Sims 4

So what does everyone think of the game? Unfortunately a review embargo has meant the jury is still out for now. Buy many fans of the series have been disappointed by the omission a number of familiar elements, including swimming pools. Expect the verdicts to start rolling in next week.

Dance Central Spotlight Review

If the two

You get a lot of bang for your buck on the store, but the way you have to skip past featured downloads before getting to your personal library can be a little annoying.

But there is one irksome quality to the game's tried-and-true formula. Do well and you'll see the screen explode in a fireworks display of light and color, with score combos and star ratings going out of their way to tell you just how hard you're nailing it. But botch a move and all you get is a red outline on your character's limbs--the same feedback system that's been used since day one.

That minimalist feedback has always been nice because of how non-invasive it is, allowing you to keep having a blast even if you happen to be making a real hash of Rihanna's latest single. But in Dance Central Spotlight, it's a bit at odds with itself. That's because Dance Central Spotlight's progression system requires you to unlock new dance routines by collecting flawless performances on various dance moves. Generally speaking, this system is pretty forgiving; there are so many dance moves to collect that you never really hit a brick wall in terms of progression. But in those instances where a trickier dance move just doesn't click with you, it's hard to tell exactly what you're doing wrong.

Nonetheless, other improvements to the dancing experience ease the process of learning new moves. Now you can pause mid-song and jump into a quick practice mode, running through a move over and over again--even slowing it down if you prefer--until you feel comfortable with it. Once you've got it, you can pick up right where you left off. No need to jump out to the main menu and launch a separate practice mode.

You unlock routines by getting a "flawless" score on enough dance moves, but the scoring is pretty forgiving and the new routines come fast and often.

In fact, Dance Central Spotlight is pretty light on extraneous game modes altogether. There is a neat little fitness mode that lets you design a custom playlist of routine types, set the overall length of your dance session, and then see how many calories you've burned according to your height and weight. But beyond that, there's the song store and little else.

But even without the delightfully silly story mode and assorted minigames of its predecessor, Dance Central Spotlight's core offering still delivers a tremendous value. For a mere $10, you get an album's worth of songs that all feature five distinct routines to learn. What's nice is that each song you buy from the store--which run for $2 each, with some bundles offering a small discount--also offer the same generous assortment of choreographies. So whether you end up spending another $10 or $40, the library you assemble gives you plenty of ways to shake it while simultaneously reflecting your own musical tastes.

Indeed, Dance Central Spotlight feels like an admission that sometimes you just can't be all things to all people. Rather than beef up the feature list, Harmonix has taken the opposite approach: it's slimmed down the game, offered way more value, and removed the obstacles between you and just getting out there and dancing. It's a different take on Dance Central, but the party is just as fun as ever.

Minecraft for PS4 released on PSN, coming to Xbox One on Friday

Minecraft for PS4 released on PSN, coming to Xbox One on Friday

Minecraft for PS4 has been released on PSN ahead of the full disc-based version, while Minecraft for Xbox One will be out on Friday, 5 September.

After a few certification-related delays, Minecraft for PS4 has gone live on PSN, selling for £12.99.

Those who have already bought the PS3 version will be able to upgrade to the 'next-gen' edition for just £3.69, again through PSN.

While it might seem silly to upgrade when Minecraft has such basic-looking graphics, there's a big upside to the PS4/Xbox One version.

Minecraft on the latest consoles offers worlds 36 times the size of those on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Saves from the PS3 version can also be transferred over to the PS4 as well, meaning you don't need to throw away your old creations.

The lower-cost generational upgrade is available to both those who downloaded the game, or bought it on disc – you just need to have played it with online access for it to have registered.

via PlayStation Blog

Buy a Xbox One next week and get a game for free

Buy a Xbox One next week and get a game for free

Microsoft really, really wants you to buy an Xbox One and now on top of taking the Kinect out, it's throwing in a free game.

Buy an Xbox One between September 7 to September 13 and Microsoft will throw in a free Xbox One game of your choosing. We really mean any game of your choosing as long as it comes burned on a retail disk and does not cost more than $59.99 before tax - so anything from Titanfall, Watch Dogs, Diablo III: Ultimate Edition to next week's hotly anticipated launch of Destiny.

The offer is good with any Xbox One purchase whether it be with or without Kinect. Microsoft also says it will pick up the free game tab for users picking up a Forza 5, Titanfall or Madden NFL 15 bundle.

The only thing that won't fly is users can pay for preorders using the promotion. The offer also can't be used with the purchase of a refurbished Xbox One.

A Microsoft spokesperson also told TechRadar in an email that most major retailers in the U.S. including Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Toys 'R Us, Amazon and Walmart will honor the promotion.

Bust a move

We have to hand it to Microsoft, the timing of this deal just before the big fall crush of new games is really smart. What's more, by making this move just before Destiny big release could cause some users to rethink picking up a PS4 just for Bungie's new genre-skewing shooter.

Sony recently announced at Gamescom 2014 that it had sold 10 million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide since launching the platform last year. Despite PS4 continuing to lead with better console sales, Sony has been rather quiet about adding more features and services other than the poorly priced PlayStation Now.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has been making a lot of risky moves in an effort to pull ahead. In the last few months Microsoft invested heavily to secure a timed exclusive on the next Tomb Raider game, added EA Access to its platform and now this.

It'll be interesting to see if these moves are enough to sway the gaming nation, but it seems too little, too late for Microsoft to take back the lead this console generation.

The Oculus Rift could cost as much as a PS4 or Xbox One

The Oculus Rift could cost as much as a PS4 or Xbox One

Many agree that virtual reality is the future of gaming - or at least a big part of it - but so far the world is still holding its breath to find out how much VR is going to actually cost.

Now Oculus VR co-founders Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey have provided an answer, though not an exact one: the company hopes to ultimately sell the Oculus Rift for between $200 (about £120, AU$215) and $400 (about £245, AU$430).

"That could slide in either direction depending on scale, pre-orders, the components we end up using, business negotiations," Mitchell told Eurogamer.

And Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey added that "whatever it is, it's going to be as cheap as possible," echoing Facebook CEO and Oculus owner Mark Zuckerberg when he was quoted saying he wants the first consumer Rift to be "the best quality product at the lowest cost possible."

Setting the bar

At the top end of that range, that means the consumer-grade Oculus Rift headset could cost as much as an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 console.

And keep in mind the Rift doesn't run by itself - with its current iterations you need a gaming PC to actually run the games, while the headset displays them and interprets users' movements.

Then again none of Oculus's friends and rivals in the burgeoning VR marketplace have come out and said what they're going to charge for their own headsets, like Sony's Project Morpheus and Samsung's Gear VR (which Oculus is even helping out on).

Despite how candid Mitchell and Luckey were in parts of the quoted interview, the two still haven't shared any hints about when a consumer version of the Oculus Rift might actually arrive, besides that it's not happening any time soon.

It will be interesting to watch whether one of Oculus's would-be competitors tries to get in early and undercut the Rift, and who will ultimately get to set the price that all other VR headsets will be held against.

Hopefully we'll learn more at Oculus Connect on September 19.