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Oculus Rift: The Ecosystem

Oculus Rift: Changing The VR Landscape At CES 2013
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How about the software side? Oculus’ strategy is relying on game developers to support its hardware directly. So, don’t expect a software wrapper like 3D Vision or TriDef 3D Ignition to provide aftermarket support for already-available titles. This creates a causality dilemma. Without the hardware, why would developers invest time into enabling the Rift? We've seen this stand-off kill too many promising products. But there is good reason to be optimistic about the Oculus’ future: developers appear to be chomping at the bit to implement it.

The company sought funding via Kickstarter with an original goal of $250,000, offering prototype development kits starting at $275. They received about $2.5 million dollars in one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever. John Carmack is a big fan of the Oculus, actively lending guidance for SDK development, in addition to committing to support the Rift in Doom 3: BFG Edition. Chris Roberts is clearly excited about the Rift, announcing his intention to support the game in the upcoming Star Citizen. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games was quoted saying the company will support Rift in the Unreal Engine. Official support was announced by the developers of Hawken, and even Valve's Gabe Newell has gone out of his way to support the Rift Kickstarter project.

Development kits are scheduled to ship in the first quarter of this year, and the company expects to supply about 10,000 of them by May. Of course, its too early to tell whether the Rift will get enough support to achieve critical mass, but it says something that high-profile personalities in the industry are getting excited about it. They want to play in virtual worlds as much as everyone else, and they're able to make this happen by adding support to their games. For Oculus' part, company reps made it clear to us that a robust SDK and strong developer support is a priority.

How much can you expect to pay for the Rift when it launches? Oculus’ goal is to drop the price relative to its $300 developer kit, or at least keep it in the ballpark. I thought the thing would sell for more than $1,000 after trying it out myself. Comparable, professional VR hardware is in the five-figure range. Even 3D-capable monitors cost more than $300. At the estimated price, I'd happily buy one for each member of my family.

Thanks to Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus and inventor of the Rift, our dreams of interacting with virtual space are closer now than ever before. His primary focus is clearly on pushing VR forward into the mainstream. Imagine the possibilities if a VR headset could be combined with something like Microsoft's Kinect for body tracking. Some of the science fiction ideas from The Matrix and Star Trek suddenly seem possible within the next couple of years.

In the future, gamers could end up being the most active and physically fit folks around. Sitting in the humble demo room with Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, and Nate Mitchell, I felt like I was present for the start of something bigger than anything in the flashiest, most colossal booths on the CES show floor. It was a privilege to see history in the making.

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