Roundtable: Rift's $600 aftermath
Does Oculus' premium price point hurt the headset's chances of success? Could it hold back VR as a whole? The GI.biz team weighs in
Oculus yesterday announced that the long-awaited Rift VR headset will cost $599 when it launches in March. That's a significant step up from the $350 the company was charging for dev kits, but the consumer version of the headset will come with an Oculus Remote input device (not to be confused with the delayed Oculus Touch), an Xbox One controller, and two games: EVE: Valkyrie, and Lucky's Tale.
It's probably a little more than what people were expecting or possibly hoping for from the first major contender in the new wave of virtual reality headsets (with apologies to Gear VR), especially since a computer with the specs to run Rift games is a substantial expense in its own right. But how much does that matter? In the long run, does the $599 price hurt the Rift? Is there any chance it could damage the new wave of VR as a whole? The GI.biz roundtable weighs in, and shares whether or not they're planning on picking up Rifts of their own.
I'll be honest, $600 doesn't affect me one way or another. As much as I'd love to get an Oculus Rift, that was never going to happen. I work on a Macbook Air and don't own a high-end PC. There's no way I was about to spend another $1000 or more to acquire that PC anyway. My initial reaction to the price point was along the lines of, "What? Have they all gone insane? Don't they remember PS3's launch?" In fairness, though, new fancy technologies almost always sell at a premium. Look at how much people spend on iPhones. Oculus is looking to usher in a new kind of computer-human interaction, and that was never going to be a mainstream effort from the start.
"I don't think the $600 price is going to harm Oculus or VR's prospects over the long-term, but it certainly isn't helping in the short-term."
The initial wave of Oculus buyers will be hardcore PC gamers who probably already have the necessary hardware and think nothing of spending hundreds on new graphics cards all the time. For those people, $600 gets them a pretty sweet VR bundle with two games and a controller. They've been waiting for this moment and were going to pre-order regardless. For the rest of us, we'll simply have to wait for the price to drop, as it undoubtedly will.
I don't think the $600 price is going to harm Oculus or VR's prospects over the long-term, but it certainly isn't helping in the short-term. Remember, the console crowd will be getting their chance with the PlayStation VR, and that will likely sell for a good deal under $600. We also don't know how much the HTC Vive will sell for, but now that Oculus has made its move, there's a good opportunity for the others to undercut the Rift at a better price point. For people like me, the simplicity of a console and the plug-and-play nature of PlayStation VR was going to win out from the start. My larger concern, from an industry perspective, is if the $600 price tag limits the initial adoption of VR overall, it could make life very difficult on a number of studios who've dedicated themselves to the technology and need to get a return on their investment sooner rather than later. Jobs and livelihoods could be at stake.
$600. Ouch. The price tag has comes as a bit of a shock, but I do feel some sympathy for Oculus VR. It's the first of the high-end virtual reality headsets to name a price and it has the added pressure of being seen as the pioneer in the space. If you want to maintain your position as standard bearer for a medium you can't afford to bring out anything less than your best product.
"The mistake Oculus did make was not managing expectations when it came to that price."
The mistake Oculus did make was not managing expectations when it came to that price. The dev kits sold for around $350, and Palmer Luckey had hinted we could expect something in the "ballpark" for the final price. People settled with that price in their mind, they had conversations with their partners where they explained they'd probably pay $400, they looked at their bank accounts and figured they could probably make it work. When you're a bunch of top tech executives, when your company sold for $2 billion, it might feel like an extra $200 isn't such a big deal. It is.
Oculus has already sold out of day one pre-orders and the Rift will continue to sell, even at $600. There are plenty of rich people who want shiny new things and there isn't much newer than the Oculus Rift right now. The bigger challenge will be keeping the interest of the audience it's cut out of early adoption with the high price tag. Those people, myself included, are fans, huge fans, who now have to wait for a price drop until we can afford a headset and the necessary PC upgrades - video card, processor, some sort of USB hub for the four the headset require. (Yes, four, count your spare USB ports on your computer right now.) We'll probably wait, but we could just as easily be distracted by HTC and Valve's Vive due in April. HTC has been smart enough to warn that it's a premium product, (read pricey) so you can't expect cheaper, but you can expect competition. As for PlayStation VR if I was Sony I'd be using the might of my manufacturing power to ensure I could offer a $600 PS4 and PlayStation VR bundle. Who needs PCs?
The price will come down, tech always does, and developers who have staked whole studios on the medium will need the install base to go beyond rich nerds with massive wallets but minimum gaming time.
First things first: $599 is a fair price. Not a mainstream consumer price, but far from the gouge that some are decrying it as. The Rift is a high-end, bleeding-edge piece of tech which is yet to be manufactured at the sort of scale which will make it possible to sell at a broadly acceptable price point and $599 is an eminently reasonable cost - especially when Oculus doesn't have any obvious way of scraping a long tail of revenues from licensing or app store cuts, unlike both Valve and Sony. That said, Luckey's allusions to the relative cost of phones, TVs and other luxury consumer electronics are all well and good, but they all have far wider appeal than a device which is still very much in the emergence phase and don't really bear direct comparison.
"$599 is an eminently reasonable cost - especially when Oculus doesn't have any obvious way of scraping a long tail of revenues from licensing or app store cuts..."
The thing is, it's not really Oculus' fault that everyone expected the Rift to be marketed at everyone with an above average graphics card and a desire for solitude. Although they've not gone out of their way to counter any of the hype in the media (and why would they?) Facebook's marketers didn't plant the seeds of VR-for-everyone overexcitement, either - that was the games media, hungry for a new filigreed figurehead to strap to the bow of the good ship Gaming. In fact, Luckey and Zuckerberg (Zuckey? Luckerberg?) have both openly stated that VR isn't a mainstream tech, that it won't be for years. One day, they expect it to be as comfortable and accepted an interface as monitors are now, but the initial run is for enthusiasts, early adopters, people whose Joneses are harder to keep up with - and there are evidently more than enough of them to make a run of $600 headsets a viable idea.
I can't afford one, and I have a PC that would take the strain, but I don't feel betrayed by the price - it's just another shiny gewgaw that won't be in my house until it's cheaper. A word of warning for anyone who's holding out for Valve to undercut the Rift, though - the Vive is almost certainly going to be this generation's 'premium' device, maybe selling at $750 or more with controllers. If you want more affordable VR in the immediate future, keep an eye on Sony, but don't blame Oculus in the meantime.
Well this doesn't help. I'm still not sure VR is ever going to be the sort of market that's worth buying one's way into for $2 billion, but it seems a little less likely to me now than it did before Oculus revealed its price point. Yes, early adopters will buy the Rift anyway, and yes, the prices will come down to more mass market-friendly price points in the future.
"I'm a little worried that instead of the next big thing, VR could go down as the next 3D TV."
But VR needs help getting around a chicken-and-egg problem. It needs great content to build an installed user base, but it needs an installed user base to justify developers investing in great content for it. Despite the participation of giants like Valve, Sony, and Facebook, I don't see many content creators creating VR experiences that would sell even a modestly priced console, much less a $600 headset and a $1,000 PC.
I'm a little worried that instead of the next big thing, VR could go down as the next 3D TV. The technology works great, and it allows for some wonderful experiences, but it's a novelty to most, and there simply isn't enough content made for it to justify the price of admission. I still believe VR has plenty of room to avoid that fate, but at first blush, the Oculus' price point seems like a step down the same path.
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