Samsung's (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) virtual reality headset may have just scored its first major win.
In recent years, few mobile games have been as heavily praised as Monument Valley. In 2014, it was one of only eight iOS apps to win Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) prestigious Design Award -- a shining example of the best iOS has to offer. Gaming-focused publication IGN named it the third-best mobile game released that year, and it scored an impressive 89 on Metacritic.
Now, Monument Valley's creators are on the verge of releasing their next game -- but not for Apple's hardware.
Land's End is slated to make its debut on October 30th. The virtual reality game will, at least initially, be exclusive to Samsung's Gear VR headset, downloaded through the Oculus store. While it is only a single title, it should give consumers a reason to choose Samsung's mobile devices over Apple's. More broadly, it highlights what could be an increasingly important advantage for the Korean tech giant in the months ahead.
Strong buzz for Land's End
Without a finished product, it's difficult to tell just how well Land's End will be received. Still, Monument Valley's strong reputation suggests that the game will be high quality. Early previews have been almost universally positive. Wired called it "stunning." Engadget declared that even aging relatives would "have a blast."
To be clear, Monument Valley isn't on the level of Call of Duty or Candy Crush -- its creator, ustwo, is a small indie studio. But it still managed to rack up over 2.4 million downloads. For a time, it sat atop the paid iTunes app chart, and even today, remains in the top 25. Land's End could produce similar results, as it, like Monument Valley, eschews the free-to-play mechanics and viral social aspects that make the most popular mobile games succeed.
Samsung readies a new GearVR
Nevertheless, it should be one of the more attractive apps available for Samsung's latest GearVR. The GearVR is a special headset designed to work in concert with Samsung's Galaxy smartphones. The handset plugs into the headset and provides the display, audio, and sensors. To date, the GearVR has largely been a hobby for Samsung -- it's experimented with it, but never really pushed it as a marquee product. Samsung has slapped the "Innovator Edition" tag line on its GearVR headsets, as if to warn consumers not to take it too seriously.
That will change next month. In September, Samsung announced the GearVR (non-Innovator Edition). It will support all of Samsung's 2015 flagships, including the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, and Galaxy Note 5. At $99, it's pricey for an accessory, but it offers something Samsung's competitors can't match.
One big reason to buy a Galaxy
Samsung doesn't have a monopoly on virtual reality by any means. There's Google Cardboard, which supports most Android handsets and even Apple's iPhone. But it isn't as good as Gear VR, and it doesn't have the dedicated app store or end-to-end integration. There's the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR -- all slated to arrive sometime next year. But they're all orders of magnitude more expensive than the GearVR, and require pricey gaming-class PCs or video game consoles to function. Samsung is the first company offering an affordable, comprehensive virtual reality solution aimed at consumers.
That should give Samsung's Galaxy handsets a key selling point over the competition, including Apple's iPhones. Samsung's mobile handset sales and profits have dipped in recent quarters, as its competitors have undercut it on price or matched its large displays. With the GearVR, Samsung will be able to offer something novel once more.
Whether or not that translates into additional sales will depend on content. Land's End is just one game, but it's an unmistakably positive development.