With pre-orders just unleashed, we now know how much we’ll be charged for an Oculus Rift. And we also know that’s too much for a device which was supposed to make virtual reality a democratic tool for both developers and users, something everyone could have afforded. Oculus Rift costs $599, which in Europe become (due to taxes and other charges) roughly €750, with no shipment, included – the exact contrary of what one could expect looking at the early claims.
Palmer Luckey, the guy who actually made virtual reality popular four years ago, first apologized to users mislead by those statements that let everyone think they could have bought a good VR device for about $350; then, he said something like “hey, we’re not making any money with Rift, it’s just the tech stuff it includes that’s expensive on its own because Facebook allowed us to invest more on components”.
Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014 and, yes, allowed Oculus to spend more than it was supposed to do by just using the dollars coming from the first Kickstarter campaign, but those investments should have had one target: make VR less expensive than it currently is. Achievement (not) unlocked. Fail, and it’s an epic one for a few reasons.
Oculus Rift is the first PC and formerly mainstream (now it would be crazy to say it’s mainstream, so we won’t anymore) virtual reality headset, possibly the one which will define the idea itself of “virtual reality” in people’s minds. To offer it like a $600 device means people will think VR is not something for them, just like an expensive OLED and curve 50+ inch TV which is awesome but no one will care about until it gets a “human” price.
So, the failure here is not only for Oculus, that won’t have a mainstream product in its hand for a while but for the entire virtual reality business. While having a so much expensive competitor could make Sony happier than ever, it’s clear they can’t be enthusiast since PlayStation VR will suffer as well from VR being considered an elite business, something common users can’t afford now. This is going to be the toughest challenge PS VR is going to face when it launches later this year and it needs to be not more expensive than $400-450 to win.
Getting back to the Oculus Rift price, it should also be noted that this device is not a standalone product but needs a very powerful PC to run properly. So you have to be ready to spend about $1000 to own a machine that can handle the virtual reality offered by Oculus which brings the total price to an optimistic amount of 1500+ dollars required.
Of course, you could say “you should only look at Oculus Rift if you already own a powerful enough PC” and it’s ok, but I could answer that, again, Rift was supposed to be the democratic virtual reality headset, not to take the role of HTC Vive which we already know will be even more expensive! The problem is really there, also because I gave the headset a try in a couple of occasions and it works fine, I was ready to pre-order for the right price.
And this price is not right. We should consider that the package won’t include Oculus Touch as well but just a Xbox One controller (Luckey said you could sell it to can some money back…), which is not so great. I mean, the Xbox pad is great, the best on the market, but I am buying a $600 device that relies on another platform’s controller knowing I will be charged once again to get my $600 device’s true controller and at a later date? That’s crazy.
Another signal coming from this price tag is the will to make Oculus Rift something more than a gaming device. Like Kinect, it is getting advertised such as a multi-task headset that can be useful in various spaces and areas for those who love technology, and this has not helped Oculus to shape up a product which is meaningful in all of its aspects to people caring only about video games. Gamers want great gaming experiences and magic, and welcome compromises like 1080p screens instead of a 2K resolution, for example, if they can make the technology reach that achievement earlier.
I still believe virtual reality is an interesting path video games can walk and probably they will, gamers need new experiences and, if producers can solve the isolation deriving from using such devices (online multiplayer titles could do it), we’ll have great accessories for our existing platforms and possibly more. But it’s clear that launching Oculus Rift at the $600 price tag means this process will be much slower than we could have thought before pre-orders opened.
Now it’s PlayStation VR’s turn, which can count on the name “PlayStation” (it was enough to make PS4 the most sold current-gen console for a while…), on a better distribution network and on a platform that doesn’t cost about $1000. Hope we won’t be disappointed one more time. In the meanwhile, let us know your opinion in the comments.