Despite being a first mover in the VR space, Oculus seems to be falling behind in selling devices. This is why that could actually be a good thing for the company
In a surprise announcement last week, virtual reality dynamo Oculus released that they will be slashing prices for the Rift and Touch package down to $598. While still not chump change, this new price sounds a lot better than $798.
Posting to the company’s blog, an executive from the company named Jason Rubin laid out how they continue to see VR as the future of computing, and hope that this drop in price will help in “making the high end of VR more attainable” for the masses.
But will the price shift be enough to drive sales? There are a couple of other factors to consider that could keep the Rift from becoming a household item.
1. The high price of gaming computers
Taking a gander over at Oculus’s site, they were kind enough to lay out a number of machines that they have termed “Oculus ready” and are up to snuff for gameplay. So what are we waiting for?
Well, according to the Amazon link provided on the page to pick up one of these sweet packages, the basic machine will run me about $900. Add on the Rift and we’re up to $1400.
At these kinds of prices, only a small and very dedicated group of hardcore gamers and first adopters will be willing to lay out this kind of money. It could also hurt their ability to reach out to younger users since this kind of purchase probably falls outside of most parents’ Christmas gift buying budget.
2. Not enough content
A platform is only as good as its content. As such a young gaming system, there are still only a limited number of titles out there to play. Almost as important here is the chicken and egg situation of fewer developers wanting to jump in and make games for a less popular platform. So how do you get past this?
Rubin addresses this need early on, touting that a number of brand spanking new games should be headed our way pretty soon. The five games that we should look forward to this year that are listed on the blog post are a good start, but it may not be enough.
3. Stiff competition
Even as many people associate Oculus as being out in front of the VR revolution, the good folks over at HTC and Sony have done a decent job playing catch up. Having decided perhaps wisely not to release their sales numbers at this point, the tone of Rubin’s post seems to confirm that they have not reached the level that perhaps they wished they would have been at by this point.
Sony for their part appears more confident, even a bit surprised by their success, announcing that they have sold over 915,000 devices thus far. This actually makes sense that they would have an easier time making initial sales since their headset can be paired up with their gaming console and does not require the user to go out and pick up a high-end gaming machine just for the VR experience.
However, the real challenge to the Rift will more likely come from the integration of better VR tech into mobile phones like we have seen with the Samsung Gear. Cheaper platforms that do a lot more than just let you play games, these devices are more likely to be the future than the big wired headsets that we see now.
Reasons for hope
Given the evidence, Oculus’s future as a headset seller seems less bright than we may have thought.
To be fair, having taken Rift for a test run or two, it is one hell of a solid product. The game play is way smoother on their device than any of the mobile-based versions have shown themselves to be. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really matter much.
The issue is that even if it becomes the dominant platform among gamers, this is not why Facebook decided to scoop them up for $2 billion. By all accounts, Zuckerberg and co intend to see Oculus and VR at large become a major medium for communication.
Whether through video conferences with avatars or some style that hopefully feels more realistic, we’ll just have to wait and see. But how will they pull this off without mass adoption?
This is where we see the interesting question over the future of Oculus as a company emerges. In three to five years, will we be thinking about them as a technology platform powering how we interact with VR or as a consumer device?
We have seen Oculus moving to put their technology behind Samsung Gear, a product not in direct competition which might actually have a much better chance of popularizing VR.
Bringing it back to Facebook’s interests, the smart money will be on them going the technology route. Today, Facebook does not care whether you scroll their app on an iPhone or a Samsung. All they want are your eyeballs.
As twisted as it may sound, this is why I am hopeful. I don’t see myself picking up a headset since I’m about the furthest thing from a gamer you’ll find in the tech writing racket. However, I am addicted to my phone and excited for the next few generations of phones that will likely have advanced AR or VR capabilities. I can watch a video, chat, and basically do anything else I would want on a VR headset in the palm of my hand without the heavy demands of gaming.
Whether or not they succeed embedding themselves into the ecosystem and guiding it along the path they have envisioned is still a mystery. So sit back and enjoy the show while they figure that one out.