Oculus Rift…DOA!?

“2016 is the year of VR!” Everyone screamed in anticipation as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony’s Morpheus and/or Microsoft HoloLens started releasing and changing gaming as we know it forever. Well the time for hyperbole has ended. Today, Facebook opened preorders for Oculus Rift at the low, low introductory price of $599.

And all the cheers were silenced across The Internet.

Oculus RiftSpeculation placed Oculus Rift around $400. When the Kickstarter launched, Oculus was offering the first generation to backers for $250. After the initial fundraiser closed, anyone could purchase a development kit for $300. There was even a second DK that was still sold for $350. It isn’t often the prototype for new hardware is actually less than the retail version, but much to the chagrin of VR enthusiasts that is what we are seeing with Oculus Rift.

At this point you could be saying, “Mr. EXP,” (please, my friends call me Nerd), “the PlayStation 3 was $600 at launch and I remember home computers being thousands of dollars.” You are correct…and the first VCR sold for $1,280 and more recently the first iPod was $499. All of these products cost a fraction of what they do today – and if VR continues to thrive it will fall in price as well.

If it survives is the key. The difference between most examples that come to mind and VR is that these products can either function independently on their own or with a piece of hardware that is already in every home. The minimum specs for a PC to even run Oculus Rift will run anywhere from $800 (if you are extremely lucky) to a more realistic $1,000. If you are the type of person purchasing a $600 peripheral…you probably don’t want the minimum specs.

Oculus indicates they will offer bundles for those looking to upgrade a Rift compatible PC starting around $1,500 but final pricing and details aren’t available. For those interested, the PC bundle can be added to any pre-order once they are available.

The Oculus pre-order does come with wired headset, camera to track movement, Xbox One controller and a media remote. As a value-add, and jumpstart to the VR library (around 100 compatible games in 2016), collectors who pre-order Oculus Rift will receive Eve: Valkyrie, a space dogfighting simulator that seems perfect Oculus Rift Touchfor VR, and Lucky’s Tale…a platformer set in a colorful world, which feels like an odd inclusion. No information is available on the pricing model for additional VR games and products.

More importantly is what Rift doesn’t come with – Oculus Touch controllers which won’t even release until the second half of 2016. These controllers increase the immersion experience by allowing players to use their hands and gesture controls to interact with the world instead of just button prompts. Most demos at tradeshows report using the Touch controllers and the added benefit they offer the VR experience. No pricing is available for the Touch controllers.

Based on the above, I don’t see a bright future for Oculus. The hardware is too expensive for all but the most hardcore (which reminds of the ill-fated 3D TVs) and it will fall victim to there’s not enough software developed because not enough people buy it loop (like the hardcore favorite Vita). Just because a product is good, great or even revolutionary doesn’t mean it will be successful.

However, almost everyone who plays VR loves it. They are the disciples attempting to convert the cutting edge gamer who will in turn advocate to the mainstream. Oculus will never succeed with a $600 price tag, but I assume the good people at Facebook (and the bad…) know what they’re doing. This is a calculated risk to sticker shock the public (success!) and focus on those who truly believe in VR. This becomes even more evident as Oculus is giving away the retail version to everyone who was part of the initial Kickstater, which is an amazing PR move and huge boon to all who believed in VR from the beginning…though in a ‘you can’t please everyone situation’ this announcement is tasting a little salty to those who purchased the development kit versions.

Oculus Rift might be launching the third iteration sold, but it is still very much a beta product. If/When VR succeeds, it won’t come into its own for another 5+ years and be on Oculus Rift 3.0 (much like the iPhone). People preordering Oculus Rift with the intention of playing on March 28 know they are paying a premium to shout “First!” on message boards.

The focus is on Oculus right now because it is first. But you know what else was first, Betamax (kids go ask your parents what Betamax is). HTC Vive, a full room VR system that tracks motion and Sony Morpheus are poised to learn from Oculus’s reception and adjust their plans accordingly. Either are in an interesting position to split the

Is this the new face of gaming?

Is this the new face of gaming?

market with Oculus. Vive will be more expensive but more immersive experience. Sony indicated Morpheus would be the cost of a system and if they can position it around $299, Oculus will be hurting to compete with a VR product that costs roughly 1/3 the total price.

VR is more than just gaming (that is just the primary, i.e. marketable, way to showoff the power and specs) it will also allow for simulation experiences. Imagine going to The Louvre but never vising France or surgeons practicing their craft through simulations. Obviously, movies and a virtual desktop are the most realistic transitions for VR headsets…but the potential is endless.

With endless possibilities and a consumer unfriendly pricing model, it doesn’t look like Oculus will find success in 2016. Fans hope it doesn’t go the way of Kinect, PlayStation move, PlayStation Eye, waggle controls, the Wii Fit board or 3DTVs but instead will become a new piece of hardware as ingrained in technology as a television or monitor.

Either way, I’m going on a limb here and calling it now, “2021 is the year of VR!”
Level Up, Friends!