The Oculus Rift pricing has surprised many PC gamers, but is it a cause for concern? Back in 1995, PC gaming in virtual reality (VR) was becoming all the rage. I think most PC users at the time were excited that VR was finally becoming a reality.
Before you read on, watch this promotional video from Forte, released in 1995, which will give you a better idea of the hype that was starting to build. Pay particular attention to all the magazine front covers (and exuberant splash quotes) early in the video.
It’s gloriously cheesy, but the references to aspects like ease-of-use, industry support, and cutting edge technology should all be very familiar to those following the latest round of VR.
In recent times it’s been easier for players to experience VR for themselves, but there is still that nebulous element of hype surrounding this form of gaming; especially from those with vested interests like Oculus, Valve, and other publishers and developers.
VR has been especially interesting to me. I built my first business around it, and imported the first VFX-1 headsets into the UK in the 90s. I had back-ordered 4 VFX-1 headsets at a price of around $1,000 each, which was a small investment to get the business up and running. For a business $1,000 per unit may not seem like much, but for an individual it was beyond what most PC users could reasonably afford (especially back in the 90s).
This brings us to today, 6 January 2016, and the reveal of the Oculus Rift pre-order pricing of $599.00. Cheaper than the VFX-1 and a much more impressive headset, the Oculus Rift has helped drive the excitement surrounding consumer VR over the past three years.
The Oculus Dev Kit 2 was released for $350.00 which led most of us to speculate that the final consumer version of the Oculus Rift would come in at around the $400.00 mark, to make it affordable. The $599.00 price tag revealed today has been disappointing because VR suddenly feels like it has moved out of reach of many players.
On top of that, we have to also consider that there’s no dedicated input device for the Rift yet; something that’s going to cost extra when it gets released later this year. At least the VFX-1 shipped a with puck controller with a 2DOF tracker.
Today’s price reveal is slightly worrying for the VR movement and especially for developers thinking about developing for VR in the next twelve months. The install base may end up smaller than predicted, which in turn would make it less worthwhile to develop games specifically for this generation of VR.
If there was one thing I learned when I jumped on the bandwagon nearly 20 years ago, it was that VR will never take off unless the prices drop and the technology gets better. The Rift and Vive are far superior to what was kicking around back then, but the games have also got better, the hardware requirements to run a VR system are still very high, and the cost of a complete VR ready system may not be worth the experience players will have with it.
I have read comments from some users this year stating they do not experience motion sickness and can, in fact, use a Oculus Rift DK2 for very long periods. This may be the case for a few, but for a significant number there is usually some form of nausea after usage periods of longer than 15 minutes or so. It’s a problem that cannot be ignored, and gamers wanting to step into the world of VR have to take this seriously.
Wouldn’t it be disappointing to spend $1,500 USD on a VR ready system, only to find you could only use the headset in small bursts?
Is VR dead before it even arrives? It’s not unreasonable to be concerned now that Oculus has shown their hand. Based on past history with the VFX-1 and other similar products the pricing may stall or even halt mass market adoption. It’ll once again be a niche technological device, unable to deliver on the accompanying hype. History repeating itself, perhaps? In another ten years we might be looking at the Oculus press conferences in the same way as that Forte promotional video up top.
We still don’t know the price of the HTC Vive, but if today’s price reveal from Oculus is anything to go by, then we can probably expect that to be in the $500 range (or even higher). HTC might surprise us all yet, but one thing’s for sure, Oculus may have made a big mistake with the Rift pricing.