Oculus Rift AMA Clears Confusion While Searching for Relevance

Welcome to the Internet. New technology gets announced, and battle lines form. No one has the consumer version in hand, but let’s make some proclamations anyways. Context? Yeah, let me Wikipedia the definition…

Yesterday, we finally saw the pricing for the Oculus Rift. $600? Good lord, what does a decent kidney go for these days? What am I gonna have to sell on craigslist?

Or, the flipside of what did we expect? First-generation Blu-ray players destroyed bank accounts. Remember the introduction of plasmas? 4K? All can be had well under a grand now.

Bleeding edge tech will always cost. But, does it cost? Think of what you buy. The Oculus at $600. Pricey, but not damn, I better win the Powerball pricey. A high-end PC. For the love of God, quit buying doorbuster deals on Black Friday. They are and will always be pieces of shit.

Yes, you need something more than the equivalent of a hand cranked PC. That’s a good thing. We buy $800 phones every year. Tablets. Smartwatches. It’s time to upgrade the dinosaur in your office. It needs a bit of love too.

And it couldn’t be cheaper. Not just for VR. For your sanity every time you look at your tablet and sigh in disgust knowing you need an actual computer to get any work done.

DIYers know the $1500 Oculus experience price can be had cheaper. Not rocket science but people new to cracking open a PC tower might want to watch YouTube for a minute.

Oculus Rift – The Price, Content and Eventual Relevance

Most observers will point to the price being a barrier. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Preorders ripped through supply like it was standing still. The March shipping dates? Prepare to wait until May and we are only 24 hours past the announcement.

Price isn’t an object. Content is. And it’s not gaming content. That’ll come. No, VR will live and die by its applications outside of gaming. People will want to see experiences. For one, it won’t need a damn brick of a GPU to run a travel experience unlike if Activision tries to shoehorn Call of Duty: Advanced Whatever # on it.

Plenty of gamers already have mini supercomputers sitting by their beds. We have the GPUs easily run Oculus hardware.

Oculus Rift readies March 2016 launch

No, what we need is a slow burn. I know. I know. We live in a world where if everyone doesn’t have what we wanted yesterday, we get pissed and go home. I’ll save you the trouble. Go home. Virtual reality is bigger than the catchphrase of – 2016 is the year of VR. Name me anything that had a ‘year’ and still exists.

We need a VR industry, not for the Oculus to sell a few million units and Facebook gets a handy tax write-off. It needs to be in retailers, malls and conventions. Hell, toss it in airports. A captive audience of do I really want to eat Subway again, or maybe I should check out the Grand Canyon in virtual reality.

Oculus won’t ‘win’ 2016. And that’s a good thing. The whole assigning winners to each segment is overdone for headlines only. It’s not a pretty looking taxi cab app. Oculus, Sony, HTC and others want to change how we interface with our computers. If the debate is framed as profit or abject failure, well there you have it.

Oculus Clears Air in Reddit AMA

Hey, context. Was the Oculus pricing messaging a mess? The short answer is hell yes. Long answer? Palmer Luckey explains:

I handled the messaging poorly. Earlier last year, we started officially messaging that the Rift+Recommended spec PC would cost roughly $1500. That was around the time we committed to the path of prioritizing quality over cost, trying to make the best VR headset possible with current technology. Many outlets picked the story up as “Rift will cost $1500!”, which was honestly a good thing – the vast majority of consumers (and even gamers!) don’t have a PC anywhere close to the rec. spec, and many people were confused enough to think the Rift was a standalone device. For that vast majority of people, $1500 is the all-in cost of owning Rift. The biggest portion of their cost is the PC, not the Rift itself.

For gamers that already have high-end GPUs, the equation is obviously different. In a September interview, during the Oculus Connect developer conference, I made the infamous “roughly in that $350 ballpark, but it will cost more than that” quote. As an explanation, not an excuse: during that time, many outlets were repeating the “Rift is $1500!” line, and I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself. My answer was ill-prepared, and mentally, I was contrasting $349 with $1500, not our internal estimate that hovered close to $599 – that is why I said it was in roughly the same ballpark. Later on, I tried to get across that the Rift would cost more than many expected, in the past two weeks particularly. There are a lot of reasons we did not do a better job of prepping people who already have high-end GPUs, legal, financial, competitive, and otherwise, but to be perfectly honest, our biggest failing was assuming we had been clear enough about setting expectations. Another problem is that people looked at the much less advanced technology in DK2 for $350 and assumed the consumer Rift would cost a similar amount, an assumption that myself (and Oculus) did not do a good job of fixing. I apologize.

To be perfectly clear, we don’t make money on the Rift. The Xbox controller costs us almost nothing to bundle, and people can easily resell it for profit. A lot of people wish we would sell a bundle without “useless extras” like high-end audio, a carrying case, the bundled games, etc, but those just don’t significantly impact the cost. The core technology in the Rift is the main driver – two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise, and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high-end DSLR lenses. It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices – phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599. There are a lot of mainstream devices in that price-range, so as you have said, our failing was in communication, not just price.

It’s a good answer. It will come down to getting more efficient and smaller GPUs into the home PC. The mentality of you just bought a $200 computer from Walmart needs to be changed.

$800 phone each year and every five years, a person buys the equivalent of a typewriter for a home PC. That’ll never work. The same way having people drop a grand on a Nvidia Titan X will never work. It’s the happy middle. Want virtual reality to become an industry? Own the middle with content and price points that don’t horrify parents looking to impress their kids with the latest tech.

Virtual Reality from Oculus Rift or Sony will need a solid 2016. Neither needs to ‘win’ 2016. Instead, focus on being viable. Sony has a closed ecosystem of 35 million customers. The ‘pc’ portion is already in living rooms across the world.

Oculus has Facebook. Considering the company essentially owns everything we do on mobile devices, dismissing the company out of hand is a mistake. Remember its IPO and how they couldn’t crack mobile ad revenue? I don’t work for Goldman, but I think the company figured it out.

It will be about content. Pricing will come down, but it has to have a reason to come down. 4K fell off a cliff for one reason. Netflix, Amazon and YouTube dove in.

The adage of content is king gets annoying on the Internet, but for a new tech vertical? It’s more paramount than pricing. A price tag quickly becomes secondary when people are having ‘oh shit’ moments looking at the newest game or some other experience.

That is where Oculus and others will live or die. Not a $600 price tag.