Today was supposed to be the day that virtual reality finally entered the market, ushering in the “Year of VR” as many had been calling it. However, what should have been a celebration has become the internet equivalent to a riot as the hype train that was Oculus Rift flew off the tracks. With one simple announcement, the price tag of $599, Oculus might have sunk the very ship that they helped build in the first place.
$599.99 is not in the same ballpark as $350
For months people have been asking what the price of the final Oculus Rift would be. Initial estimates put it in the $300-$400 range, with comments from Oculus itself fueling this fire. However, once the actual launch got closer, the comments changed.
We heard from a VP that it would be “at least $300“, which then changed to “more than $350” when Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was asked, however one phrase stuck with people the whole time. In that same interview, Luckey said that the price would be “in that ballpark”, referring to the $350 price tag. As the currently top post on the Oculus Rift subreddit says, “$599.99 is not in the same ballpark as $350”.
In fact, the $599 is on the low end for what people will have to pay for an Oculus Rift. Considering that it is a $600 device, it is very surprising that there is no free shipping option for the Rift, with shipping inside the US costing a ridiculous $30 extra. Non-US customers have been doing the math and found that they are paying even more for their devices, with Europe paying almost $800 for the headset plus shipping.
Other countries have similar, sometimes worse situations, with Canadians paying $915 and Australians paying $1105 in their respective currencies. And this is even without the Oculus Touch controllers that will likely become standard for future VR use, and the highly expensive PC needed to run games in VR. All of this adds up to Oculus Rift securing a place as a niche product, which is exactly the opposite of what it needed to be.
VR isn’t brand new technology. The current iteration of it is an evolution of what we’ve seen in the past. However, it finally seems ready to deliver the experiences that gamers have been dreaming of from the tech for decades. Unfortunately the ghosts of VR’s past still linger over the entire affair, which means that VR is essentially fighting an uphill battle for the mindset of the general public. VR headsets need to get into consumers’ homes so that they and their friends can try it out and see how it actually works this time around. With a ridiculously prohibitive price tag of $600+ that simply isn’t going to happen.
While it might be anecdotal, the Oculus subreddit gives a good idea of the general reaction to the announcement. There’s the aforementioned thread, but also thousands of other comments scattered around criticizing the choice in price. Two separate threads declare that the hype train has derailed on the Oculus Rift, and seeing the price along with the general reaction of the technology’s biggest evangelizers seems to back this up.
Anyone who remembers Sony’s disastrous E3 2006 press conference could have told Oculus that no one wants to hear the phrase “599 US dollars”. It’s just too high a price for most consumers to pay for a hobby. Even dropping it by $100, down to $499 would have helped immensely, as that was within the high range of the expected price, and is a figure that many already accept paying for video games.
Of course, some will still hop on board, and Luckey has recently tried to say that this first generation of hardware will be aimed at the early adopter. He has also commented on the uproar today, saying “To reiterate, we are not making money on Rift hardware. High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is.”
The argument against this is pretty simple though. Oculus’ executives set the initial expectations with comments that it would be “in the ballpark of $350”, and it’s that expectation that is the main problem. Also, why does the Oculus Rift come with an Xbox One controller, headphones, and other expensive items that most enthusiasts wouldn’t need? Dropping these could get the price around the right spot, but they are required with every purchase for some reason. Tack on the high shipping cost and the feeling that Oculus doesn’t have the consumer’s best interest at heart really starts to sink in.
So it seems that at least this version of the Oculus Rift is relegating itself to a niche audience of extreme gaming enthusiasts. That’d be fine, but the bigger concern is that we might not have the chance to get to Gens 2, 3, and 4 if VR doesn’t have at least a decent rise in popularity at the start. Sure, Facebook and a bunch of other companies plunked huge chunks of money down on the technology, meaning they’ll support it heavily. But we need actual games to be made for these things if we want them to be successful. And how many games will be made for the Oculus Rift if it costs so much that few gamers actually buy it?
I know this might sound like the usual doom-and-gloom, and in a way it is, but VR is an emerging technology, and it needs to hit the ground running, or it won’t ever take off like it needs to. Let’s just hope that HTC, Valve, and Sony see this for the opportunity that it is. Perhaps they can mimic another, far better Sony E3 press conference and announce a price $100 lower than the competition, thus ensuring their market dominance for quite some time.