Experienced Points: $600 for the The Oculus Rift?

By Shamus
on Jan 12, 2016
Filed under:
Column

Five hundred and ninety-nine U.S. dollars is indeed a lot to ask for a gaming peripheral. My column this week talks about the price, why I think it went up so sharply, and why it has me a little worried.

It’s the classic manufacturing problem:

The more you make, the cheaper it is to produce each unit. Let’s say it takes a million bucks to establish a factory to produce Widgets. Custom machines need to be built, people need to be trained, and space for the raw materials needs to be acquired. On top of this, it takes about fifty dollars worth of parts and labor to produce a single Widget.

If we only sell one, then we need to sell it for $1,000,050 to break even. If we sell a million, then those setup costs get spread out over all the units, so we only need to charge $51 apiece to break even.

Shamus, everyone knows this. Why are you wasting my time with this “Intro to Business 101” crap?

Well, when you’re talking about a new product with an unknown demand, then you need to play a dangerous game of brinkmanship. If you produce too few, then the shelf price will be way too high, fewer people will want it, and you’ll end with with a failed product. But if you go the other way and overestimate demand, then you get stuck with a bunch of Widgets that nobody wants to buy. Sure, that $51 price is nice and low, but there is an upper limit of the number of people in the world who will want a Widget. Some people just aren’t interested, no matter how low you can make the price.

Getting stuck with unwanted units is the worst. If you make too many, then you’ve got this big pile of very expensive Widgets that nobody wants to buy right now. You have to store them, which means they’re costing you additional money on top of what you initially paid to produce them. This is particularly true when retailers realize your product isn’t selling, so they pull it from the shelves to make room for crap people actually want. If a lot of retailers all return your unwanted product at once, you may have more units than you can physically store. What are you going to do, throw even more money into this hole by buying long-term storage? Sure, you can cut the price and wait for them to eventually sell, but if your product is bad enough or unwanted enough, it might end up costing you more to wait for them to sell than it would to simply throw them away. Which is how you end up with thousands of unsold computer games dumped into a landfill.

Yes Shamus. We’ve all heard the story about Atari.

The point is that you’re looking for the sweet spot on a demand curve when you have no idea what that curve is shaped like. Maybe $69 is the magic number that will make the Widget 1.0 irresistible to consumers. Maybe there are 1.5 million people in the world who actually want a Widget. But you have no way of knowing these things for sure. And market research can only take you so far.

This is still pretty obvious, Shamus.

Okay, so you’re trying to solve an equation for which most of the variables are unknown. Now here’s the tricky part:

When dealing with products that benefit from the network effect, popularity can form a positive feedback loop that will drive up demand. More people will want it, and the people that already want it might be willing to pay more. But you need to sell a lot of units before that happens.

In the case of the Rift, not only do they need to solve for the right spot on the demand curve, but you need the initial install base to be large enough to be a viable target for developers. Sure, you can sell 10,000 units for $500, or you can (humor me here) sell 1,000 units for $5,000. You make five million bucks either way. But no developer in their right mind will want to make games for a device that’s only owned by 1,000 people. So you’re not just trying to balance you own costs, but also trying to make predictions on behalf of an unknown number of potential VR developers.

More users mean more games, and fewer users mean fewer games. On top of this, games themselves have positive feedback loops. The more popular a game is, the more people want to talk about it. If people want to talk about it, they will click on articles about it. Which gives the press an incentive to talk about it even more, thus further growing the user base. People who passed on the game at first might end up getting it just to see what all the fuss is about, because people want to be part of the conversation.

Which is to say: Pricing the Oculus Rift is a hard problem and I’m glad it’s not my job.

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A Hundred!204There are 124 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

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  1. chiefsheep says:

    And the bonus joke is when you are in an industry that has a hyped product, and therefore a potentially huge amount of pent-up demand (ie possibly many, many people sitting with their wallets open yelling “Take my money!” at the screen) and you are first to market.

    Now you have to pitch your price point in the sure and certain knowledge that your competitors can and will adjust their pricing as a result, and if their product is the same or better (or possibly even if it is inferior), just a slightly lower price may well catastrophically (for you) determine how many of whose units get sold.

    I, too, am glad I am not making these decisions. (Although at least FaceRift has the oceans of reserve monies to take a hit if they are waaaay off.)

    • This problem may be the reason why the backers all suddenly found themselves getting an unexpected Gift Rift. Those are (obviously) people who are *emotionally* invested in Wanting This Product To Exist and Succeed. So if there’s going to be a Network Effect, it’s going to originate with that crowd.

      Solution: make sure they all have access to the product.

      They can also make the Rift have a better chance by making it as developer-friendly as possible, so it’s very easy to “plug in” to an existing bit of software rather than needing an entire team to make a functional port. *cough* PS3 *cough*

      There may not be a lot they can do to fix the price, but they do seem to have made at least one smart move that may prevent that price from biting them in the ass too hard.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      this comment hit me right in the sega console ownership

    • MadTinkerer says:

      As an HTC Vive fanboy, this thought brings joy to my heart and a smile to my face. :)

      I probably can’t afford to buy either until the winner is clear, but when it comes down to whether I’d prefer Facebook or Valve to win the VR fight, I’m cheering for Valve.

      • Retsam says:

        I dunno, personally. While I’m not the hugest fan of facebook as a company, I’m really not super comfortable with the vice grip Valve has over the (PC) gaming industry. While I’m not going to buy an inferior product or stop using Steam just to spite Valve, with essentially a new gaming market (hopefully) opening up and all else being equal, I’d really rather see someone who isn’t Valve be the dominant player.

        And on second thought, I don’t really know how I feel about Facebook as a company, yet. I think my main gripes is with Facebook, the product, and is really just a gripe with the whole social network “customers as product” thing. Perhaps I’ll feel better about Facebook when they branch out into less ethically uncomfortable areas.

  2. SyrusRayne says:

    Your “inner heckler” voice is a jerk, Shamus. You should stop reading the Escapist’s comment threads.

    Still, I really want VR to take off. I’d love to buy into it now, but it’s not really a feasible investment. I can’t spent 600 dollars (Much less the 850 $CAD it would actually cost me) on hardware like this when I don’t know what sort of games are going to back it up – if games are even going to back it up. I’m just not this kind of early adopter.

    That said, as soon as we’ve got cybernetics and man-machine interfaces worked out I am on board.

  3. Matt Downie says:

    The real trick is to find a way to sell the widget for $5,000 to the people who would be willing to pay $5,000, and selling it for $51 to the people who are only willing to pay $51.

    This mainly happens with ‘software’ products where the production costs are small. Selling hardback books to the author’s biggest fans, followed by paperback books to the mass market later on. Selling virtual spaceships to kickstarter backers. Selling cosmetic DLC to free-to-play gamers. Or just selling games at full price, but making them briefly available in an online sale at 75% off a year later.

    I wonder if it’s possible to do the same thing with expensive hardware?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Didnt Shamoose talk about this very thing about some processors in one of his early posts?

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Yup. Cream-skimming is a thing.

      Essentially you’ve got a market where there may be 250,000 people willing to buy a Rift at $350, some of whom (say 50,000) are enthusiasts willing to pay as much as $500, and in them are a select few (10,000) willing to pay $600.

      If you sell all 250,000 at $350, your income is $87,500,000. If you skim the cream, you take in $6,000,000 from the select few, $20,000,000 from the enthusiasts that weren’t willing to cough up $600 but thought $500 was okay, and everybody else (200,000 people) pay the $350 later, or $70,000,000. That gives you a total of $96,000,000 or $8,500,000 more money than you’d get selling them at the “real” price, for essentially zero more costs, with more time to ramp up production.

      • WWWebb says:

        The risk of cream skimming is that a fast follower will come in and undercut your price enough that they overtake your sales and become the dominant hardware. See, for example, the game console wars of the past 30 years.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          Funny thing is, you can overdo it. I think a lot of companies got genre savvy the last few years and as a result we got all of these cheap android based consoles when it turns out people who actually sit down to play games at home are willing to throw down a little more to get a beefier console.

    • Abnaxis says:

      In theory, you can sell at a higher price to early adopters and then cut prices later, but apparently that just makes customers angry these days.

    • John says:

      Right. Please pardon my pedantry.

      What you’re describing is called first-degree price discrimination. It’s easiest for businesses to do when they can easily distinguish between groups of customers and it’s difficult for the group with the low price to re-sell to the group with the high price. Software licenses are a good example, but in ye olden times the standard examples were senior citizen and student discounts.

      The gradual decrease in price through, ahem, “sales” is called third-degree price discrimination. I once blew some students’ minds when I asked them what the “real” price of something was: the initial high price or the subsequent low one? Are you really getting a bargain at the low price when both you and the seller knew that the price would drop like that?

      • galacticplumber says:

        You are making a fair transaction. Your ”discount” is actually your return on being willing to wait. In other words compensation for having to wait.

        The early adopter pays a premium for the right to use the product NOW. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Certainly not a few months down the line much less a full year. They get it now.

    • ehlijen says:

      It happens with expensive hardware already:

      CPUs for example are sold in many hertz ratings. They are not made in more than one rating, though. Some chips just have some of their bits broken to make them less capable so they can be sold for less.

      In other words: please pay us not to break the thing we’re selling you.

      • Ranneko says:

        Sometimes, sometimes the production process is such that only some chips perform perfectly, others have features that are semi-broken (and are more stable if those features are then turned off)

        That then gives you a range of products off of a single production process.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And to a certain extent, both sides were basically right: $600 is pretty good for high-end VR hardware, but $600 is also pretty extreme for a gaming peripheral.

    No,they arent both right.$600 for a cutting edge tech is pretty low.Remember how much more expensive flat screens were when they first appeared?Well this is the next leap in screen technology,and anyone outraged by the price is just an entitled brat.Heck,a decent monitor these days is around $200-$300.If you want to be an early adopter,you have to pay an early adopter price,thats how it always worked.

    • boota says:

      i’m not outraged by the price. it’s pretty much lower than i expected.

      there is, however, not a snowballs chance in hell that i buy one for that price, and upgrade my computer in order to be able to use it on top of that. i’d be looking at an investment of about $ 1200. I’ve got mortgage and student loans to pay back and a child to feed. It simply doesn’t fit with in my households budget.

      the OR is, simply put, too expensive.

      i don’t really see how that makes me a spoiled brat

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        You’re not going to buy it, but you also don’t seem to be outraged. Daemian is only calling the outraged people who take to the internet to tell people of their outrage spoiled brats.

    • Zekiel says:

      I agree. I was rather surprised that people thought $600 was expensive. I wouldn’t pay it, but I’m a late adopter with tech anyway so my personal preference is irrelevant (I wouldn’t pay $200 for it either at this point).

      I figure the outcry is basically because the $350 dev kit created a “price anchor” which meant people generally assumed the mass-market one would be around this price (or even cheaper, given they’d presumably be producing more copies).

      Assuming that (as Shamus posits) these devices are significnatly more advanced than the dev kits so this price hike actually is reasonable, I’m not sure how the makers should have dealt with this problem.

    • Shamus says:

      And to a certain extent, both sides were basically right: $600 is pretty good for high-end VR hardware, but $600 is also pretty extreme for a gaming peripheral.

      Look at that carefully constructed sentence I created for you. You’ll notice that “high end VR hardware” was in the first half, and “gaming peripheral” was in the second. I was illustrating how two different people see this device. I was explaining WHY this disagreement exists and how we got here. For lots of people the Rift has been this curiosity that’s been popping up in the news once in a while for the last two years. They don’t know the tech, they don’t know the challenges. They just heard a new toy was coming.

      Obviously the second group of people are thinking of the Rift differently. They’re thinking of it in terms of “gaming peripheral” and not in terms of “new tech”. There are a lot of reasons for this. Some of them thought all that devkit stuff WAS the early adopter phase, and now the product was supposed to go mainstream. Some of them perhaps thought that $300 would be the early adopter price, and it would go down later.

      The point is: $600 is indeed ridiculous for a gaming peripheral. If that’s how you see the Rift, then it makes no sense to buy it.

      • Shamus says:

        Oh. An analogy:

        Some people say that 400lbs is pretty light for a grizzly bear, but other people say that 400lbs is also really heavy for a house pet. And both people are right.

        The problem isn’t the weight, the problem is considering a grizzly bear for a house pet in the first place.

        I’m pushing this point because I’ve been watching the internet chase its own tail for days, repeating the same arguments again and again. Simply saying, “Yes, $600 is a lot for a gaming peripheral, and if that’s what you’re looking for then this isn’t what you want.” would solve 90% of the problem here. If you tell people it’s “worth” $600 or that it “should” cost that much, then you haven’t attacked the fundamental misunderstanding.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I see your point, but I don’t know if people really see it as just a “gaming peripheral.” I think we both are limited by our own anecdotal experience, but I have yet to hear anyone refer to OR as a mere “peripheral,” even people who only hear about it third hand or occasionally on the news.

          Even the first generation of Rift was basically a smart-phone you strap to your face (from a non-technical, average consumer point of view). Consumers have been paying $600+ for small screens in the form of smart phones for more than a decade now (hell, the OR doesn’t even require a contract signing!)

          I think Zekiel is more on the money with what happened here: Oculus set expectations with the $350 dev kit, and did a poor job of marketing to justify whatever new shiny perks they added to justify the $600 price tag. Without justification, it looks like a cynical cash grab–sell $350 worth of hardware for $600 and the early adopters will be dumb enough to pay for it.

          Even if they didn’t change anything users will notice, they should have come up with a way to trumpet the consumer version as shinier, techier, and better then the dev kit in every way leading up to releasing the new price, to give all their supporters something to reference as they argue on social media.

          • Ingvar says:

            Let me answer you this. I know it’s a high-end VR thingie, but I don’t give a purple ptwoie about high-end VR gear in and of themselves. To me, the only useful purpose that an Oculus Rift serves is as “a gaming peripheral” and I’ll likely consider buying one once they are verified as working with glasses and drop to the $250-$350 price point. Which they may or not, and I am fine with that.

            For low-end VR gear, the Google Cardboard unit I have seems to do exactly everything I want (that is, let me polay with VR every 12-24 months, for maybe 10-15 minutes).

            • Abnaxis says:

              I think we’re having problems with the word “peripheral.”

              A “peripheral” is a thing that doesn’t fundamentally change the way a piece of technology works, it just enhances it a little. For example, a bluetooth headset is a “peripheral” for your phone, because you don’t need that headset, it’s just more comfortable/convenient than holding the phone up to your ear.

              Excuse me if I am putting words in your moth, but I’ve yet to see anyone seriously consider the OR as “oh boy, this will make the games I already play so much better!” Everyone talks about it in terms of “just think what new cool kinds of games you can create and play with it!” That is not a peripheral, any more than the touch screen on a smart phone is a peripheral–it doesn’t just “enhance” your experience with your gaming rig, it enables you to do new things previously impossible without the extra hardware.

              If you aren’t interested in paying for an OR, it’s not because it fails to improve your current gaming enough, it’s because you aren’t interested in VR-specific games.

              People have been paying $600+ for the capability of doing new and shiny things with technology for as long as I have been alive at least, and OR is no different. I posit that the “it’s only a peripheral” divide isn’t there, and isn’t driving the outcry.

              • Phill says:

                I don’t think you should get too hung up on precisely defining them term peripheral. I’m ahppy to call OR a peripheral precisely because its utility to me would be exactly as something that might somewhat enhance some kinds of games I could play quite happily without it. If that use of the word bothers you we can call it a “bunny” instead of a “peripheral”.

                The point is that for some people (and several have already posted here saying precisely this) that no matter what you might think of the technology, for some people it mentally maps as having essentially the same purpose as a gaming peripheral, or a better monitor, or a driving wheel for a racing game. And it is not going to sell to those people at its current price.

                Which is fine. They (we) aren’t going to be the early adopters anyway – that’s the VR enthusiasts like you. We’re going to get it when the price comes down and the utility goes up at some point in the future.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Let me put it another way–if a game is actually properly designed for VR, do you actually think you’ll be able to play it without a VR headset?

                  This isn’t about opinions, or what I might think or what you might think (I’m not an early adopter either, for the record), it’s about what the technology actually does and how people at large understand it. I’m cool if your opinion is that you’re just fine passing on all those games you’ll miss without the OR, but that’s not the same as calling it “peripheral.”

                  When Joe Consumer decides they don’t want an OR, I think they understand that this is the choice they’re making: “$600 is not worth it for OR games.” It’s more like not wanting to buy a console, but you make it out like it’s the same as not wanting to buy a high-end wireless mouse. There’s a difference, and it convolutes the conflict to mischaracterize the debate.

                  Tech companies have been charging $600+ for brand new capabilities–internet browsing, touch screens, camera-phones; hell, Windows 3.0 was probably well more than $600 in today’s money for the software and hardware required when it was released–for a long, long time, but now all of a sudden $600 is too much? People engaged in the debate are hung up on something more than “it’s just a peripheral.”

                  • guy says:

                    We call things that let you play new games with your current console peripherals. The OR isn’t the first periphial to be mandatory for some games. Note also that the last console priced at $600 at launch lost. The OR is more expensive and has fewer games games than a console and you also already need a gaming machine.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      We call things that let you play new games with your current console peripherals.

                      Erm…we do? Is there an actual example of this, that isn’t just an alternative input device? Like, a Guitar Hero guitar controller is a peripheral, but you don’t need it to play the game–you can use a plain old controller.

                      The closest thing I can think of to this is Sega CD from way back in the day, and nobody called that a peripheral. It was an add-on that let you play Sega CD games

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      I don’t think you can compare this to the Playstation 3. PS3 was a leap forward but mainly in terms of cranking up the numbers. Oculus Rift is a fundamentally new experience (at least at the consumer level).

                      I think its easier to justify 600 bucks for this than for the PS3 at launch.

                    • Matt Downie says:

                      Playing Guitar Hero without the guitar peripheral is a lot like playing a VR game on a monitor.

                    • guy says:

                      Mostly Wii games that are flatly unplayable without various plugins to the Wiimote. In ye olden days days before my time there were apparently also console upgrade packs. And of course plenty of games that are only technically playable without a joystick, much like a hypothetical VR-focused Occulus game.

                    • Demo says:

                      A Guitar Hero controller is actually a pretty good example of a peripheral which changes how the game plays, but to give an even clearer example consider a DDR pad.

                      Some people, myself included, can quite happily play DDR (Stepmania in fact, but that’s splitting hairs) on a keyboard. However, playing on a keyboard and playing on a mat are so different as to practically be different games. Considerations like balance and alternating legs simply don’t exist when playing on the keyboard.

                      Likewise, it will doubtless be a long time before we see games which literally cannot function without VR headset. As far as I’m aware, whilst some of the experiences begin offered on the OR are significant improvements over what is possible on a monitor with a standard mouse/keyboard or gamepad, there isn’t anything being offered which cannot be emulated to an extent on existing devices.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I don’t think you can compare this to the Playstation 3. PS3 was a leap forward but mainly in terms of cranking up the numbers. Oculus Rift is a fundamentally new experience (at least at the consumer level).

                      I think its easier to justify 600 bucks for this than for the PS3 at launch.

                      @Wide and Nerdy (SO MUCH NINJA): Technically speaking, yeah, but I don’t think you’re average consumer really cares about specs–they care about what you can do with it. Technically all PS3 did was crank some numbers up, but from a consumer point of view, PS3 let’s them play the latest Call of Warfare or NBA roster update because they’re not being released for the PS2 any more.

                      By the same train of thought, OR let’s you play the new OR games that come out, regardless of the numbers of pixels or the quality of the lenses. If you’re interested in OR games, you’re interested in OR just like you’d be interested in PS3 for the NBA games. That’s a different sort of conflict than I think Shamus was characterizing it as.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      @Demo: I find it difficult to believe to will be long before there are games that will only function in VR. I’ll admit I’m mostly going off my own thoughts, but it’s such a different interface I just don’t see how the engineering will work if you create something for VR from the ground up, to be ported to a KB and mouse and still function properly. There are too many channels of input you don’t have access to with KB&M

                      As I understand it, most software on the OR right now is ported KB&M software that doesn’t work all that well.

                    • Demo says:

                      I can certainly see porting well being a challenge. An OR essentially gives you 6 degrees of freedom for camera control (3 for angle and x,y,z for absolute position). However, of these a port could probably drop head ’tilting’ and forwards/backwards positioning without major issue. The remaindered could potentially be handled by a modifier key, i.e. holding alt causes the character’s head to pan rather than rotate.

                      Yes it would be clunky and no it wouldn’t give the full experience, but it would almost certainly be enough to handle most cases. Joysticks have already come up in this discussion and they are another example of trimming down the degrees of freedom in a control scheme to work for people without the peripheral (a typical Joystick has 6 degrees of freedom).

              • Ingvar says:

                I think you are putting words in my mouth. I’d probably pay $600 for an “all-inclusive Oculus Rift Gaming experience”, if it included all the hardware I needed to play my games (that is, GPUs, CPU(s), RAM, disk, …). I’m just not interested in paying it for something I hook up to the periphery of my gaming rig.

                I see it no more and no less a peripheral than a NAS, a detachable Flash disk or portable disk of some sort (or, indeed, a screen, keyboard or mouse, peripherals all).

                To me, it doesn’t really enable any more gameplay I am interested in than, say, flickering LCD eyepieces with position and head angle tracking.

                • Dev Null says:

                  I think this is the key to what Shamus was getting at with the term “peripheral”. Regardless of whether it augments your experience or creates an entirely new one, you need another grand and a half worth of gear before it does anything but act as a paperweight.

              • Moddington says:

                Not quite sure where you got that definition, a peripheral is just anything plugged into the computer. Headphones, mouse, keyboard, monitor, speakers, everything. Meanwhile a touchscreen on a phone is built into the device, so it isn’t one.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Except its not just any old gaming peripheral,its a high tech gaming peripheral.Or,to use your analogy,people who consider grizzlies to be house pets are insane.Insanity doesnt need to be justified or accepted,it needs to be treated.

        • Shamus says:

          “Except its not just a gaming peripheral,its a high tech gaming peripheral.”

          Just as I said.

          “Insanity doesnt need to be justified or accepted.”

          They’re not “insane”. They have incomplete information about a new technology. This is a very common and understandable problem to have.

          • Phill says:

            Not even that they necessarily have incomplete information. Maybe they are just looking at it as a peripheral that would somewhat enhance a few games they have. It’d make playing a flight sim a better experience, much as would buying a dedicated flight sim controller, but the game plays just fine without it. No-one is going to fork out $600 if they are approaching t from that mentality.

            And that’s not that far from my position to be fair. I do have a decent understanding of what is involved in making VR that works well enough to be a consumer product, and I can entirely understand why it has a price tag of $600, which is pretty reasonable for what you are getting. But at the same time, for something that I fundamentally have very little use for, it is far too expensive. (Even if one or two games I play might be better with VR, it’s pretty irresponsible to stick VR goggles on when you’ve got small kids to watch out for. I can get away with playing civilization while child #3 plays quietly with trains on the floor nearby, because the game can live with the frequent interruptions. The amount of time I could reasonably put on a VR headset and get immersed in a game averages out at minutes per day). At half the price I might be able to justify it to myself, or maybe as a birthday present, for the occasional use it would get. At a third of the price I quite likely would.

            I’m not saying that they therefore should sell it at that price. Merely that there is no overlap between what it is worth to me, and how low they can afford to set the price, because its utility to me is as a low-use peripheral.

            I keep wanting to use the Yorkshire word ‘foil’ in writing this. I can’t foil spending $600 on the Rift. It kind of means that I technically have the money, but can’t spare it without sacrificing elsewhere, or can’t justify the money for what something is worth to me personally. I spend nearly £100 taking the family to see The Force Awakens at an Imax 3D cinema – something I could afford. But I couldn’t foil £100 to see the Peanuts movie – even though I can afford it – because no-one cares about the Peanuts movie. It’s a great word, and you should all start using it, although no-one outside Yorkshire will understand you (at least, not at first).

          • guy says:

            As my engineering school is fond of reminding people, the average consumer doesn’t actually care that something is new and fancy technology and companies that count on them buying something because it’s new technology tend to go out of business. Nearly every company making consumer electronics these days has sent a competitor relying on simply having a technologically superior product to the grave or at least into another industry. Tell most of the people on the “it’s too expensive” side of the debate that it costs that much to make because it’s new technology and they will nod and proceed to not buy it because they don’t care and won’t pay $600 out of charity. If they could sell the dev kit for $350 they should have brought it to market and waited to bring out these upgrades until they could sell it at $350.

            • Abnaxis says:

              That kind of thinking put Sega out of business thanks to the under-powered Dreamcast.

              You can’t make broad statements about these things and expect them to apply universally. The upgrades might price OR out of the market, or they might be something consumers are interested in paying for, or they might get OR out ahead of competitors who have also been working on the same enhancement. Only time will tell.

              One thing is for sure though–if you raise the price, you got to sell it somehow

              • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                The key of course* is that the user has to be able to see and appreciate what the tech is doing for them. Some of it is down to marketing helping the user see the benefit. But in the case of a game console the customer is generally going to notice when one console has inferior graphics technology (I’m talking like Wii U vs PS4, not XBone vs PS4) or another console has an easy to grok wand.

                By contrast, as happy as I am when I can pack a little more power into my PC, I have to admit I usually don’t see much difference. You have to be an enthusiast to appreciate the relatively marginal gain of going from a GTX760 to a GTX970. Yes it will make a noticeable difference in the latest games but thats it. So far my 970 has only impacted Dragon Age Inquisition, Witcher 3, and Fallout 4. Everything else I have runs about the same (or maybe I can pack on a few more graphics mods without dropping my framerate too bad but try selling THAT to your average consumer.)

                But I guess I’m in the camp that can appreciate a 600 dollar Oculus. I’ve been checking in and before Oculus, the Vuzix at 720p for something like 2000 dollars was the best I’d seen (and I never tried it myself, who knows where else it fell short). I’m not saying I’ll buy it at that price but I can appreciate the huge leap forward this represents. At this point it, its pretty easy to see that most of us will get VR in the next few years. Its no longer “Just 5 years away”.

                • Mike S. says:

                  Though I think the graphics card thing is partly because we’re currently at something of a plateau for various reasons. (Partly the slowdown of die-shrinks, partly the fact that most PC games are constrained by being console ports, I think.)

                  I built a PC in the mid-aughts with a then top-of-the-line card (Radeon X1900XTX) to play Oblivion. After a few years of not gaming much, I bought Mass Effect and then ME2 in 2010. Mass Effect ran okay, but ME2 had real problems. (The ending in particular turned into a slide show.)

                  By contrast, I built a PC in 2011 with a high-midrange card (Radeon HD 6950). And five years later it’s… fine. Some games have to be dropped to mediumish settings, but so far nothing as dramatic as the issues I ran into last generation. I sort of vaguely plan to get a new card when Mass Effect Andromeda comes out, but if I don’t I expect that it will still run usably on my system at non-painful settings.

                  I’m not sure how long it will be until I actually need more power to run the games I want to play, rather than it just making things prettier. (The way my poor nieces and nephews with embedded graphics do. If only they had desktops that would take one of my old graphics cards, instead of laptops…) That’s a big change from even half a decade ago.

                  Though thinking of that: as long as the VR systems are running off PCs, they’re dependent on overall PC graphics hardware trends to go mainstream. Enthusiasts just need a killer app and a price point. But for my Xbox-playing nephews to get into the Oculus would require their dad not just to sign off on the $600 headset (which only one kid could play at a time), but on a computer that would work with it. That won’t always be top-rank graphics cards, but I suspect it will be a while before Intel Iris Graphics are up to handling it. Suggesting that even once the Oculus has come down (as I expect it will), it’s still going to be an extension of a relatively expensive gaming platform for a while afterward.

      • Hitch says:

        Another way to look at is is to compare with the nearest functional equivalent available on the market now. A quick search of gaming monitors got me a PC Magazine article about the 10 best, which range in price from $275 to $800. Considering that this is at it’s core just a fancy gaming monitor that you strap to your face, $600 seems to be right in that range.

        • Dev Null says:

          Right. But since you – quite rightly, I think – compared it to the 10 best monitors on the market, it’s fairly top-end. The problem is, the games that you’d play on those top-end monitors can also be sold to folks with a low-end $60 monitor. You’re trying to convince developers to write for the audience of _only_ top-end monitor owners. They could quite easily do that now, and that’s not a bet you see many developers taking. Which is kind of the point. If the developers don’t make cool things to play with your Rift, is it now worth paying $600 for? For VR-heads, sure. But for general consumers?

        • Zak McKracken says:

          On top of what Dev Null said: It’s also a fancy monitor that you probably won’t want to use for all your monitor purposes. You can use your fancy 800-$ monitor to write e-mails and sure the web but you probably wouldn’t want to do that on a OR, at least not anytime soon.

          => Yep, it may be a reasonable price for what goes in but it won’t become a mass market thing anytime soon. Then again, that might have been a bit much to expect.

          • Hitch says:

            What both of you have said is true. This price is only acceptable to dedicated enthusiasts and early adopters. It’s not going to be widely popular until the economics of scale bring the price down to mass market viability.

            People bought early VCRs for over $1000 before porn became the killer app and drove the price down.

    • Duoae says:

      [edit] Seems I was late to this party – left the window open overnight and didn’t refresh before typing my comment. Pretty much everything I said below is said by someone else above. :)

      Actually, Daemian – I agree with him.

      It is very cheap and expensive at the same time. And, no, this isn’t new screen tech – it’s using existing screen tech on a small scale as part of a product.

      I’m not outraged by the price because I don’t see the point of VR on the consumer scale (I think AR has way more chance of success in the mass market) and because I knew it would be expensive to run – not just because the units themselves would be expensive but because the computer to run them would be as well.

      You don’t need a €2000 set-top box to use your new €2000 “new tech” TV, do you? So that analogy sort of falls on its side.

      People won’t buy these things and their utility as an actual piece of technology is pretty limited compared to AR. I’m not saying VR doesn’t have utility but it’s very narrow – practically useless in business environments, isolating (and expensive) in homes. Its application is games, walking tours and art-pieces.

      I really can’t get why people are so sure this is going to be a big thing – especially at this price point.

  5. Decius says:

    Plus there’s playing the curve: if the profit-maximizing point is $300, but there are 1k people who will buy at $600 anyway, you make an extra $300k by selling at $600 until that demand is sated and then selling for $300 or so.

    Customers are also starting to learn this, and the resultant behavior is complicated.

    • Duoae says:

      Exactly! One of the side effects of the consumers knowing the game is that you now can’t release a product at it’s final intended cost to the consumer because they expect a price decrease!

      AAAAND!! If the price decrease isn’t “enough” in the eyes of the consumers, they will wait for it to become even cheaper!

      Haha, talk about unintended consequences.

      This, of course, is speaking about a product that is not immediately, uncontrollably desirable…

  6. Primogenitor says:

    And then there is the competition. Which is this case is also unknown, since no one knows what anyone else is going to charge too. Or how good the products are. Or how much of a cost/quality compromise how many consumers are going to make.

  7. Primogenitor says:

    And also, for many consumers they will need to try-before-you-buy (or its a one-way trip to vomit city…). I think all of these companies are missing a trick by not partnering with a physical store chain where potential customers can be wowed by the new VR tech in person.

  8. David W says:

    Network effects and consumer psychology make it even more fun.

    Network effects mean that at the same $599 price, you can have multiple stable solutions. Either you sell to a hundred people who think that’s a fair price for a tech demo, or you sell to a million you think that’s a fair price for being able to play all the games that are being made for a million-man market. Both outcomes are possible, but you can’t really get from one to the other; they’re self-reinforcing. You have to take the right path to get there.

    So, you’d want to consider maybe introducing the thing cheap, and then ramping up price once you have a critical mass to ensure there will be games. At that point, you run into the fact that everyone expects consumer electronics’ prices to go only down. Not really an option, although you might be able to get away with a smallish preorder bonus.

    So….here’s where Marketing earns their money. They’re the ones who nudge the device onto one path or the other. One way, the company earns 60K. The other direction, 600 million, plus whatever they can do with the Oculus 2, 3, 4. No pressure, guys!

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      I’m genuinely curious if you speak with experience on this, if only because I’d like to know how marketing handles a situation like this where you’re on the cusp of a true revolution in consumer tech and the groundswell of enthusiasm and word of mouth is already at a fevered pitch (at least in any tech/geek/gaming circles).

      For once, I’m cheering the marketing people on, even if their colleagues have created a tremendous amount of noise over the years for them to try to boost a signal through.

      • guy says:

        Let someone else screw up and sweep in later with a cheaper product seems to be precedent.

        • Richard says:

          Actually, the most common is “Let someone else screw up, then sweep in later after deciding what they did wrong”

          Cheaper or more expensive have both worked – in some cases in the same general product category at the same time.

          In my experience marketing people are just as terrible at predicting the market for brand-new product types as everyone else.

          Predictions are hard, especially ones about the future.

      • Supahewok says:

        The introduction of the smartphone seems like it’d make a good case study to establish precedent.

        • Mike S. says:

          Of course, it’s ultimately good for the market if someone’s willing to be Palm or Handspring, even if the future ultimately belongs to the equivalent of Apple and Samsung. Pioneers have a huge mortality rate even for product categories that succeed wildly (bought an Altair or TRS-80 lately? how’s VisiCalc doing?), but the optimism that moving in early will lead to dominance is a necessary part of the process.

          And sometimes it does work: being the first to get a telephone to market ensured Bell’s dominance for over a century. Apple was an early personal computing pioneer that, despite a decade in the wilderness, went on to massive success– and the iPhone is visibly a philosophical and design successor of the first Mac at least (if not of the Apple I or II). Having Facebook behind it might give Oculus the staying power it needs for the long buildup and to weather the challenges of other companies walking the trail it blazed.

          (Always assuming there’s a killer app at the end of that trail.)

      • Duoae says:

        Well, one way of handling this from a marketing perspective is to give away free units (e.g. Wii on talkshows like Ellen and whoever was morning ‘doctor’ at the time) creating an effective low cost entry point and huge buzz around the product.

        Of course, you have to be big enough to be able to do that.

        There are other ways but they’re more risky… plus, marketing departments tend to get micro-managed by other departments. You have to be either really lucky, independent or strong-willed to pull this sort of stuff off – otherwise you get the upper management/lateral management with zero-marketing experience criticizing or offering their advice on your marketing plan…

        Though, bear in mind that this also falls downwards onto developers and producers of products where the sales department wants to sell features you don’t have! :D

      • David W says:

        Nope, not a marketer, just an engineer who’s begun to appreciate all the work non-engineers do (and understand that it is, actually, work).

  9. Cordance says:

    I think people need to stop thinking of VR only for games. The real draw is business. I know this is a bit of a way off but VR meeting rooms could save companies thousands in the IT industry if not millions when your talking about executive’s time. This is why I think Facebook bought into VR.

    I think the app that would move the most units would be a Virtual desk space app. Point a web cam at your actual desk so you can “horror” look at the keyboard and mouse or a notepad if needed or some other virtual keyboard interface I havent thought of. Then make 3 or more virtual screens to work on. Convincing people $600 to replace 3 screens for as long as you can stand having the goggles strapped on is a significantly easier sell. I dont know a huge amount about VR programming but I would like to believe that compared to some of the other environments created in VR it seems relatively simple. For tech support create a program that is like team viewer only you get a virtual computer to sit next to you.
    This isnt even considering the psychological benefits you could be getting from being in a virtually spacious office while packed in like sardines.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Why? I have 4 4K screens hooked up on my desktop, which is easy, efficient, and I can still turn around and talk to my colleague. Conference calls only get one screen, while I continue to work on other stuff. What benefit would I have strapping two screens on my face? Less actual screen size (due to resolution), less mobility, less ease of use. Unless you’re really going full Holodeck, a VR set brings nothing new to a conference call/meeting.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        If we all had four 4K screens, I might agree with you.

        But even if we did, VR is more flexible about where you can put screens and how many within fluid VR space.

        • Duoae says:

          I have to agree with bubble181. I’ve seen this”business” argument before but really can’t see where you’re coming from. In conference calls you need to be able to see your note pad or laptop and other reference materials. That’s an actual negative to using vr for those sorts of use cases.

          While being able to see another person’s face is important in a conversation, vr won’t do that either unless it’s used in conjunction with some sort of facial mapping tech. But then you still lose all that facial expression, social behaviour and personal mannerisms which is even more important than being able to see someone’s face.

          More importantly, for situations where there are a group of you speaking to another remote group you also lose the local visual interaction that you may need.

          Ultimately, in those sorts of conference calls, sound quality is the most important feature closely followed by being able to share screens. But you don’t need vr for that and vr doesn’t add to that.

          Simply adding more virtual screena and more cameras linked to virtual screens to just overcomplicating things way too much… and adding a huge cost to everything.

          The technologies that DO these things and work well with existing use cases would be AR and holographic projection.

          • Bubble181 says:

            AR could really make a big difference, indeed.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            Certainly I think of VR and AR under the same banner (even if they’re technically different concepts, you can really grey the boundaries based on how much of the space you overlay.)

            But again, those notes? Reference materials? That could all be digital and thus could all exist in VR.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The real draw of vr is porn.Thats what boosted phones,after all.

      • Mike S. says:

        And the Internet. And VCRs. But they need to have a plausible non-porn use as well to go mainstream. (There’s a market for unambiguous high-tech sex toys as well, but it’s much narrower.)

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          I can see why that worked for internet, VCR, and why its going to work for VR. But phones? I’ve never gotten why people want it there.

          • Mike S. says:

            It was the first major viewing advance usable in more… private environments since the invention of the magazine.

            (Well, there was the laptop, but a laptop is more noticeable and unwieldy.)

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Heh. Pretty sure that Shamus has got a reasonable background to talk about VR spaces as virtual meeting rooms. But I’ve got some stories to tell too.

      My previous employer made a REALLY big push to put meetings into Second Life not quite ten years ago, and they did everything possible to do it right. They established protocols. They published guidelines for avatar creation and behavior and people mostly followed them. They invested in their own server grids to host their own spaces minimize server impacts. The meetings and events held in Second Life worked smoothly and reasonably well.

      What years of experimenting did NOT do was provide much added value to the meeting over the other technology at hand: a conference call line, a screen-shared slide presentation, and a chat system for both public and private sidebar conversation. It was fun and pretty, but it didn’t work BETTER than the stuff that already happened, and it took a LOT less resources to make the call/presentation/chat function, both on a one-time setup and hardware expense basis, and on an ongoing basis in terms of the time it took to integrate everything that needed to get integrated for that particular meeting, for everyone to get connected, for everyone to get settled in a place that they could “see” and “here” properly, and undistracted enough to pay attention.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        I definitely see that. The established tech you’re talking about works well for my company and having played Second Life I could hardly imagine any gain (and believe me I tried. I explored SL thoroughly with this sort of thing in mind and I’d love to hear more about what you guys did as SL is kind of a preview of the Metaverse.). You’re still staring an a screen and manipulating a keyboard to interact.

        Now something like Second Life with VR and, say, a Kinect-like function could make a big difference. Especially if it can capture facial expressions and hand gestures. Its not quite a replacement for being in the same room, the overall fidelity of experience still being limited, but it would be a real gain in interaction vs the established teleconferencing approach.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Whoops I posted this at the wrong place originally. Posting it here correctly.

      I agree that VR should have many uses besides videogames and that we are being too focused on video games.

      Me, I think devices like that Microsoft one that offer enhanced reality by displaying “holograms” would be something interesting to anyone doing 3D design in the first place.

      Also entertainment could be one of the uses. Daemian mentions porn in the next post, but also why buy a big plasma TV when you can watch a movie on the BIG cinema screen using your VR headset, from the comport of your home. Same with watching sport events. VR could allow you to feel like you are there.

      PS: WHAT?!? Why was this posted here again. I tried replying again to Cordace. Hmm. I was obviosly clicking on the wrong link.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Test

      Again? F that I quit.

  10. WWWebb says:

    I’m fine if Occulus Rift becomes a peripheral for a “gaming experience” at Dave & Busters (an adult arcade/restaurant). At that price, it will probably sell very very well as a peripheral for architecture and real estate sales. It will probably be less than two years before the “virtual tour” on expensive real estate listings get really impressive.

    By then, Google Earth will have established themselves as a premier content provider of virtual tours to exotic locales.

    …and by then it will be time for the price cuts and competitors, which is good since all those games that start development this year will want to have affordable hardware at their booths.

  11. Eric says:

    It’s a chicken and egg problem. VR needs killer apps for people to be interested but right now it has nothing much more than tech demos.

    The thing that hasn’t been reported on much is that Oculus and others have been throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at developers in an attempt to get them to develop titles for it. Few of them would be willing to make games for it if the VR makers weren’t footing the bill. That doesn’t even account for the absurd amount of money they will need to put into advertising and hands-on demos to break down the “you look like an idiot while doing this” wall and get it in the hands of potential customers.

    That is the long game. The guys pushing for VR as the next big thing know that they won’t make their money back in a year. They won’t even necessarily make it back in five years, or ten. But they do know that if it catches on, they will be poised to take a big piece of the pie that the traditional console owners currently have to themselves.

    The $599 price point is a funky, weird and probably-too-high intersection of those who want to push VR meeting with reality.

    This is the real reason why Oculus was doomed to failure/obscurity as a simple Kickstarter project. It would never become something that could make it to mass market without a ridiculous amount of capital behind it. The manufacturing costs, as well as the costs of incentivizing developers and advertising, would simply be way too high. It was either come out as a hobbyist’s dream before someone else came along and created a viable product for the mass market, or do it themselves.

    • Richard says:

      I suspect that OR could win and become profitable by selling at a significant per-physical-unit loss but making a profit by selling huge numbers of them.

      Via a percentage of every OR-enabled game/application sold.

      The problem with this approach is that the price of failing to build a market is extremely high – if nobody makes a hit game, you lose.

      • Eric says:

        Yep. Hence why Facebook owning it is both a blessing and curse. The incentive is there to make tons and tons of money – but it’s kind of a risky move even under ideal conditions (there is no guarantee a super-low price would increase sales), and Facebook likely does not want to risk so huge a loss. Its pockets are deep, but nobody wants to risk a Kin-esque disaster.

        • Ravens Cry says:

          I’ve heard flight sim and space ship games are a good fit. They reward looking around and a sense of depth, but they keep you seated, so moving feels natural. The latter is making a resurgence (Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous come to mind), and the more ‘hardcore’ of the former have deep pockets, spending a lot to ‘enhance’ the experience, up to and including mockup cockpits.

  12. Bubble181 says:

    1. This has nothing to do with VR, but I don’t really know any other way to contact these people – Chocolate Hammer isn’t active anymore, and Ninja Blues is down too. How or where are we supposed to get our Jarenth/Rutskarn blog fix now?

    2. VR, at the moment, at this price point, is interesting for virtual tours of musea, for real estate tours perhaps, perhaps for very specific games or presentations. I could see it work in an arcade like environment. It simply isn’t worth it for an individual consumer, in my eyes. For Regular Gamer Joe, who wants to play some games to unwind, it’s effectively a very expensive peripheral, or a very *very* expensive new console (because you need to buy a pc to go with it). Once games that are only playable with VR are around, we’ll see – but for now it’s the IMAX of gaming. Sure, it’ll improve the experience in some ways, but it’s far from necessary, and for most, a useless expense. “A bigger/better screen” is all it is, to me, right now. Which isn’t worth €800.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Ruts has moved his content (Half-Time, Altered Scrolls) to this very site. I’ve no idea about Jarenth.

      • Supahewok says:

        Rutskarn also has a patreon, where he posts novellas and stuff. I don’t think anything went up for December though, although that might just be because the internet dies down for the holidays.

        • MichaelGC says:

          Aye, that’s right. For the moment the Patreon is supporting the Half Time LP & the Altered Scrolls essays, so stuff did go up – it just went up here. :D

          • Supahewok says:

            I unfortunately can’t afford to support his Patreon as of this month, so I can’t go back and see what he’s posted, but I believe there are about a dozen novella-length stories, around 50 pages each, the first few were a series but most of the rest are stand alone, and he wrote a novel live for November. All of it was pretty good stuff, even the novel which only took him, like, 5 sessions of a few hours each? Watching him type it out was insane, particularly how good it was for basically coming off the top of his head without revision, and it coming out almost as fast as I could read it.

            He also tried to start up an RPG/Fiction forums for his backers about a year ago, but that went caput after a couple of days, unfortunately. It looked for a little while that it would be the second coming of Chocolate Hammer. He’s made a couple sounds about going back and reviving it, but I don’t think it ever happened.

            • MichaelGC says:

              Yes indeed! – all of that is quite correct, of course. Since the speed-novel, though, everything Patreon-related has gone up here, so you haven’t missed anything. No idea if that will remain the case – if there are e.g. future novellas and whatnot, I’d guess quite possibly not – but certainly the LPs and essays seem to fit in well around here (well, I reckon they do, and hope others do too!).

      • Asimech says:

        Ninja Blues should be back in February.
        Here’s more information on it.

  13. TMC_Sherpa says:

    What is the killer app? That, in my opinion, is a bigger question than how much does it cost. I’m not going to say cost isn’t an issue but for all the bellyaching folks still bought PS3s.

    I’m looking for BLANK will sell the Rift.

    And no, the concept of VR isn’t an acceptable answer.

    WordStar and VisiCalc sold computers to business.
    Windows used to force hardware upgrades because the new version ran like crap on the medium/low (sometimes high) end gear available at launch.
    Myst sold CD-ROM drives.
    Halo sold XBoxes(1).
    God of War sold PlayStations(1).
    Mario sells Nintendo whatevers(1).

    Is it EVE Valkyrie?
    Famous shooter VR remake?
    Tiger Woods?
    Tony Hawk?
    Cabelas shoots woodland creatures?
    Debbie does Dallas(2)?

    You have to play BLANK will sell hardware after the early adopters have their fill.

    PS Shamus, feel free to nuke this if you think my last example was in poor taste.

    [1] Your choices may vary, these were the first things that came to mind
    [2] I’m operating under the assumption that most of us are adults and even if your not cultural osmosis means you know what I’m talking about without having to look it up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t bother looking it up.

    • guy says:

      Frankly, what I’ve heard from people who have actually used the Rift has left me less sold on VR as a concept than I was when it was first announced. No one has mentioned a particular demo as being actually a fun game and they raise questions about whether VR in this style even can support good games. The only one I’ve heard mentioned that’s more than a bad port or a cute toy is a space sim that no one seems vastly excited about and hasn’t led to gleeful calls for a new age of space sims. At this point I’m not sure I’d buy it at $200 unless there’s a killer app in some genre. Heck, not necessarily even a genre I play, just something to convince me this isn’t a dead end and we’re better off waiting for DNI

      • Matt Downie says:

        This is already a new age of space sims. At least, it is on Kickstarter.

        Mostly they still haven’t found a way to deal with the fact that flying through space is kinda boring compared to, say, driving through a city or walking across Skyrim. In space, you point yourself at your target, and you wait. If you’re the sort of person who’s patient enough to play Euro Truck Simulator, that probably won’t bother you, but it’s a limited market.

        There’s also the arcadey space sim (Rogue Squadron, etc.) But they usually don’t have much longevity.

    • ehlijen says:

      What they really need is Rebel Assault III or X-Wing: The Resistance.
      That’d sell the OR.

      But from what I hear about the latest SW Battlefront game, I don’t think Disney is at all interested in cutting its potential customer base even in the slightest. They’re not going to gate any of their output behind anything they don’t make themselves.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      This might actually be one reason that they’re not making too many and selling them expensive rather than making lots and selling cheaper: The early adopter types are more aware of what they can do with the OR, many of them are possibly developers themselves. Selling to these people helps solve the supply side of the “what can we do with it” question. These people will also be less upset then most others if there are still some problems with the device, so Rift gets to improve the device ebefore it’s in the hand of the mass market. They also have the ability to ramp production up gradually, while seeing what the preorder front looks like, and what the main applications for it turn out to be.

      After some time and if the right applications are found in time and demand increases, they can bring down the price, ramp up the production and there you go. It won’t (and probably could not) happen over night.

  14. Dev Null says:

    Oculus can’t do that. The Oculus needs rich 3D experiences, and those experiences need to be designed with VR in mind. You can’t just port Half-Life to the Rift and expect people to have a good time.

    I take your point… but I’m not entirely sure that it’s _necessarily_ true. Back in those bad old days of crappy VR I remember people wiring up Doom to simply plot two different POVs a couple of virtual feet apart, and throwing one at each eye. I’m not convinced that you couldn’t similarly port Half-Life 2 to the Rift – with a significant amount of effort, maybe, but certainly less effort than writing it from scratch – and have a game that would be pretty awesome to play.

    It’s actually the kind of thing I could easily imagine someone at Steam doing just for fun.

    Which doesn’t in any way detract from your point that new, purpose-built VR experiences are necessary to really make a VR headset worth it at that price. But it would sure help jumpstart the process if someone took a couple of old games and made them work.

    • Eric says:

      I agree, I think there’s room for traditional games that use VR. The main benefit is in immersion. You can do all sorts of motion controls, crazy scale changes and other “tricks” with VR that will wow people, but you can also adapt an existing game and it’ll still benefit from that improved immersion factor. I would love to play Half-Life 2 in VR for instance – sure, it’d be a gimmick, but it’d be a really cool one.

      I also think VR has some potential benefits for other consumer applications, like watching 3D movies. I am not a 3D fan – the piddly glasses don’t do it for me, darken the picture and make things directly outside my focus look blurry – but with a VR headset that may no longer be an issue. I wouldn’t touch a 3D TV with a 10 foot pole, but I’d probably have a blast watching Star Wars in 3D on a VR headset.

      • Dev Null says:

        True, and 3D movies might be an angle they could push, given their popularity. (I hate them, so it’s not going to sell me, but the theater is full of them…) It does fairly fundamentally change the experience of watching a movie at home to have a box on your head though. It’ll be interesting to see whether 3D movie fans will buy a headset.

        • Mike S. says:

          The failure of the big 3D TV push doesn’t bode well for that as their killer app. I’m sure it’s better– higher res, more immersive. But it’s a bulkier headset, is completely useless for non-solo viewing, and it’s still not clear how much overall demand there is for 3D movies at home.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        There are major problems with porting existing games to VR though. Traditional first person movement games tend to generate nausea when played in VR, which is why there are so many people focusing on space sims where you sit in a chair.

        I think it was brought up on a recent Diecast that Half-Life in particular is terrible for VR because you hit a ladder and abruptly start climbing at 30 miles per hour.

        • Supahewok says:

          I think elevation changes in general might be bad for VR, because then your sense of balance is out of sync with your vision. Some people get nauseous just watching Josh bunny hop in SW. I’d imagine they’d puke if they were bunnyhopping in VR.

          I dunno, someone who’s actually used VR can probably expand on that more than I can.

        • ehlijen says:

          Absolutely.

          Remember how player characters in shooters dropped to much lower speeds when 3rd person cameras became popular?
          FPSs had ridiculously fast protagonists! It looked bizarre to see yourself run that fast in third person, so the devs dropped the speeds.

          Remember how shooter gameplay changed when Halo burst onto the console, ie controller based system, market?

          The way a game is presented and controlled has significant impact on how it is played, and VR will be a huge shift.
          Will holding the gun in the bottom right of the screen still look acceptable? That was a design decision made for screens a few feet away from the player.
          Can you still have a HUD display, if so, can you keep the same HUD or will it be too hard to take in at that distance from the eye? Will it distract? Be readable?
          How fast can the player turn and move before X% of the population throws up?
          What FOV angles are acceptable, which will make the game look distorted?

          Half Life 2 was carefully designed to work with a PC screen, mouse and keyboard (or so I’m told). Whether it will be as enjoyable, or enjoyable at all, with VR is not a given.

  15. Andy_Panthro says:

    Most of the things I’ve read about VR so far seem to lean on the way that people are converted to it when they experience it. However, the ability to experience it is rather limited, mainly tech shows and gaming events unless you have a friend with a devkit. This leaves very little opportunity for people to see the benefits of it.

    I’m more than a little wary myself, and $600 (or whatever it is in GBP with shipping etc.) is far too much for something that I might get very limited use out of. Especially since I have a huge backlog of games to play which won’t work at all with VR (have recently been playing Shadowrun: Hong Kong, for example).

    I’d also have to have a big PC upgrade too, which is a major stumbling block. So the costs (for me) would increase by a few hundred quid more, since I’d need at least a new graphics card.

  16. I’m genuinely curious how well the $600+ ‘real’ VR machines are going to do in a market where you can just download a free app to your smartphone, and then stuff it in a cardboard box you strap to your head.

  17. Zak McKracken says:

    Remember when LCD screens were new? I had a nice 17″ CRT monitor, and those things cost twice as much for 14″, you couldn’t even look at them from an angle. I still don’t understand why people bought them, although I do understand (now) why people in the know said they were the future: Because they knew what further development in price and quality was possible, and that they would eventually be bigger, brighter, sharper, lighter and cheaper than CRTs all at the same time. As of now, many even have better colour reproduction (though that took a while).

    I suppose that VR headsets will either develop in a similar way, or they will fade, But which way it goes does not depend on the opening price of the OR. The opening price of the OR only decides which position Rift will have in the early market. Whether VR makes it depends on whether it has enough to go for it. And that depends on useful (not just gaming-related) applications beyond the “wow, immersion!” generation of demonstration projects, and on the prices that may become possible with mass-production. Also of course on the development of the technology. Will it eventually be good enough for someone who gets nauseous on a bus to be in VR for an hour and feel fine?

    => I’m definitely not buying one now but I’m also definitely not concerned for VR’s future. Let’s let the people to who are interested enough to pay the money have a go, let them figure out what cool stuff we can do, and if it’s sufficiently cool, the price will come down for sure.

  18. I’ve been trying to think of what applications it might have beyond gaming…
    Best I’ve come up with in “killer app” terms would be much improved telepresence for dangerous/fiddly things where you’re using one or more robots plus cameras as subs for human eyes and hands. Yup, a screen works, but I imagine it’d be easier to do if you’re using a Rift to see and it’s tracking where you look and moving the camera so you can just focus on controlling your hands substitute. I can certainly see docs doing laparoscopic surgery like seen here using a Rift or something similar. I’m not sure how much easier it’d make things (never done any sort of that sort of thing), but I could see people gradually switching over from current systems.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I bet medicine will be one of the serious applications to start with. One of the London universities just developed a training thing for dentists-to-be, where they see a CG patient on a 3d screen, hold a drill which is connected to an apparatus which gives them tactile feedback and then go for it. How much better would that be in VR?

      Also there are some jobs which just cannot have enough monitors — VR gives you essentially the biggest monitor of all.

      In engineering sometimes visualisation is a thing for which VR is sold. At the last place I worked at we had a VR room (large projector screen, 3D glasses, space-tracked controllers) but it was only ever used for fancy presentations because booking the room and getting your stuff on the machine was just way more work than spending a lot of time making sense of that complicated 3D structure of stuff on your old monitor. Would have loved to use 3D on screen, though, and there may well be some places where people will use a VR headset instead. If your workstation costs 10k anyway, it’s not such a huge investment anymore.
      … although I’m not so sure how much of that will actually really prove to be helpful and how much is just fancy technology for the sake of itself.
      Then again: all kinds of simulators (flight simulators, driving…) might become a lot cheaper and more immersive at the same time if you could replace the surround screens with one OR.

      In terms of games, I sometimes feel like people are massively overestimating the potential because everything where the protagonists run around will have problems. 1: you cannot let people with a VR headset actually run around, 2: Most of those games will make you sick in VR, thus would need to be re-written, not just adapted a bit. Really the only safe thing is a “sitting simulation”. That would of course include driving and flying simulators but otherwise be limited to presenting a fancy VR interface to strategy games and the like.

      Now, I think that’s still pretty cool but unless someone invents a new genre which only works in VR and dominates games the way FPS dominate now, I don’t think that gaming will switch over to VR in a big way anytime soon.

      Oh, one thing that could thrill me is a VR desktop environment. My hopes are none too high, though. I think there could be huge usability improvements but something tells me that at least the first iterations will just be a fancy waste of time, like that 3D desktop for Windows XP which shipped with my Geforce 6600GT back in the day.

      As for video conferencing: I’m not sure how the experience could be enhanced if I had to look at an immersive 3D video feed of people with VR headsets stripped to their faces… In a 3D game where everyone’s got an avatar, maybe? Maybe with some kinect-like thing to transfer real body motions to the avatar? But that would still be a weird scenario for a serious meeting.

      • allfreight says:

        There, I just saved your university $600.

      • guy says:

        I could see architectural design/civil engineering VR use really taking off. $600 per sounds a lot smaller when you compare it to “build a $150 million building, realize you made a horrible usability mistake, spend $7 million remodeling.” Basically the virtual building tour except before you actually build it.

  19. Dreadjaws says:

    There is another problem generated by this price. Competitors. When you’re the first to announce the price for a new product, competitors will have the upper hand. They will almost all inevitably sell at lower prices, even at a loss, just to get first sales.

    This is a potential problem in two fronts. For the Oculus, obviously, because they’d be losing a lot of initial costumers, who are very important in shaping the peripheral. And the other problem could be for VR itself, because if the competitor products that end up selling more turn out to be subpar, people might yet again be turned off from VR, as they’d be thinking the tech is not yet good enough.

    Remember the motion controls. Now, the Wii sold a lot, yes, but the inmense majority of the games for the system turned out to make a crappy use of motion controls. This made people think that motion controls weren’t really worth the effort and now they’re basically dead. This generation of consoles prefers to ignore them for the most part. Sure, part of the blame was on software rather than hardware, but the Kinect helped ruin things pretty quickly. How about movies in 3D? Most of them decided to do post conversion instead of filming with 3D cameras, and now pretty much no one cares about 3D anymore, to the point where 3D TVs are not even being promoted. If the industry doesn’t play their cards right, we might end up with another long hiatus for this tech.

  20. SKD says:

    I can think of several games I currently own which would, in my opinion, benefit from a VR headset to enhance the experience.

    War Thunder – World War II flight and tank combat simulator
    Euro Truck Simulator 2 – Big rig driving simulator
    Farming Simulator 13/15 – Tractor driving
    Need for Speed X – Race driving sims
    SubNautica – First person waterworld based minecraft?
    Elite Dangerous – Space sim

    These are just the ones that come immediately to mind without referring to my Steam library and with the exception of Subnautica they feature gameplay where the ability to control your movement is or can be easily divorced from your character viewpoint. Vehicular simulation is the killer app for me. I have even played similar games in a VR booth at a mall sixteen years ago and have been looking for a home experience ever since.
    A flight game I forget the name of and Mechwarrior were fun to play and immersion was greatly improved with the ability to look around freely, although Quake was awkward. I would love to have a VR headset plugged in right now but the graphics card upgrade requirement and the unit cost of the Oculus Rift put the purchase of a nice to have but unnecessary peripheral out of my budget. Maybe when I build a new gaming rig.

  21. Decus says:

    Can somebody explain to me why wearing VR headgear is not like wearing a tanning salon for your eyes? What is the stated “only stare into this thing for x hours with x minute breaks” warning on it?

    If the answer is sufficiently laughable I will begin calling it a $600 eye tanning salon. I mean, I know you’re not meant to stare at even your phone or something like a 3DS in a dark room for prolonged lengths of time–and I still laugh at MH addicts complaining about their eyes burning–so I cannot even begin to imagine how OR solves that when it seems to be that times ten.

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