It’s been a little less than a year since Oculus started shipping the Rift CV1. After years of anticipation, hype, and Oculus executives telling us the Rift would be an affordable (sub-$400) device, Oculus dropped a bombshell on its fans and released its VR headset--with motion controllers--for $600.
The initial sticker shock undoubtedly stopped some people from buying Rift HMDs, but Oculus didn’t have any trouble overselling its production capacity, though it certainly didn’t help that production problems shortly after the Rift's launch caused shipment delays that lasted for several months.
On top of dealing with a problematic hardware launch, Oculus was busy trying to bring the Oculus Touch controllers to market. The controllers were supposed to ship in Q2 on 2016, but in December 2015, Oculus revealed that it would be delaying the release until later in the year. Oculus spent most of 2016 working on the Touch controllers and curating a lineup of content to complement them. The company finally launched Touch in early December, but again, the price was a bit higher than people had hoped.
The Touch controller package launched at $199, which gives you a pair of tracked controllers and an extra Constellation camera to track them. Considering the price of a single Xbox One or PlayStation DualShock 4 controller, the price of the Touch controllers shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was enough to deter some people from upgrading.
Now that the Rift has an install base of at least a couple hundred thousand units (no official numbers have been released, but analyst estimates peg the Rift at north of 200,000 units sold) and the Touch controllers have been available for three months, Oculus is moving to make buying into VR more affordable.
You can now buy a Rift headset with Touch controllers for the same price that just a Rift would have set you back yesterday. Oculus is now selling the Rift + Touch bundle for $600. The company also slashed the price of the standalone Touch controllers in half to $99 and dropped the price of the extra Constellation cameras from $79 to $59.
Curiously, Oculus appears to have dropped the standalone Rift as an option. Instead of dropping the price of entry by $100, the company is offering a better package for the same price. Last year, Oculus stood by the merits of seated VR experiences played with a gamepad, and now it almost feels like the company is moving towards a future of motion control games.
“We know this from responses to hundreds of thousands of surveys taken at our retail demo locations, as well as from empirical evidence before us: Console VR is less expensive and currently outselling PC VR, and even less expensive Mobile VR headsets, like our Gear VR device, are outselling Console VR,” said Jason Rubin, Oculus VP Content. “Bringing the higher quality of PC VR toward these lower price points is an obvious win for both consumers and PC VR. This price drop was as inevitable as it is beneficial. This is how the technology business works.”
We agree with Rubin, at least to some extent. Tom’s Hardware did a survey of our readers last year to determine what, if anything, was holding people back from investing in VR. Overwhelmingly, the results indicated that price was a primary factor keeping people from joining the VR revolution. And he's not wrong about console VR. The PSVR hit the market in October 2016, and its software lineup is sparse, but that didn't stop Sony from selling almost a million units already. The price of entry undoubtedly played a considerable role in the PSVR's early success.
Gabe Newell disagrees, though. He believes that content is the key factor holding people back from buying a VR system. “If you took the existing VR systems and made them 80% cheaper, there’s still not a huge market,” Newell said in a recent interview. “There’s still not a compelling reason for people to spend 20 hours a day in VR.”
Fortunately, Oculus is looking at the software side of the equation too. The company is doubling down on quality content for 2017. Oculus plans to launch new in-house developed titles from Oculus Studios on almost a monthly basis.
The Oculus platform already has several excellent games, such as Superhot, The Climb, Chronos, and The Unspoken. And let’s not forget about Arizona Sunshine. But you would be hard pressed to argue that VR’s killer app is here already.
“I can’t say for sure that this year’s line-up is going to have VR’s World of Warcraft or GTA, but with every new release, and with every new discovery, VR gets closer to finding its killer app,” said Rubin.
Building a AAA game takes time, and most VR developers haven’t had enough time to make that kind of game. VR developers are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and VR locomotion is not yet a solved problem (not for lack of trying, mind). Thankfully, solutions for those problems are becoming clearer all them time.
“We have to remember that as of this GDC, our developer community has had dev kits in their hands for less than two years and has only been able to get feedback from consumers about what they’re doing for a year,” said Rubin. “With that frontier style development behind us, and with second-generation development and informed design taking place, the sweet spot for developers to create breakout hits opens. Some of these titles will become perpetually loved VR series that are with us for generations.”
Things are looking up in the VR industry. Price cuts and better content can only be good for everyone. Who's ready to join me in the metaverse?