Virtual reality was certainly top of mind for many in the industry this week. Not only did Sony's PSVR finally get a series of mixed reviews from consumer and mainstream press, as its somewhat muted launch draws near, but Google probably gave Samsung fits with its Daydream View unveiling and the world watched an agonizing 2.5-hour presentation on VR from everyone but Palmer Luckey at Oculus Connect.
Luckey, who as founder of Oculus would have ordinarily been one of the key speakers at the event, was conspicuously missing. His absence, and indeed the fact that no one during the show even uttered his name or alluded to his absence, spoke volumes about Facebook's real feelings towards him and possibly about his future with the company. It felt like Oculus just collectively put its fingers in its ears and screamed "La, la, la!" repeatedly.
In case you somehow missed it, last week Luckey was called out for funding a pro-Trump "shitposting" group, and numerous developers questioned whether they could support Oculus anymore. Some even called for Luckey's immediate resignation from Oculus. Beyond that, fellows within Oculus' own Launch Pad diversity initiative questioned whether they could support Oculus in the wake of the revelations about Luckey. The fact that Oculus sent out Ebony Peay Ramirez, the company's head of diversity, to announce that Oculus will commit $10 million to "diverse programs for virtual reality," felt like a direct reaction to the circumstances surrounding Luckey. Not addressing the elephant in the room, however, felt incredibly awkward. It's also worth noting that the event stream's Twitch chat was made moderators only - clearly a deliberate move to circumvent any inappropriate discussion that could remind viewers of that aforementioned elephant.
"Oculus is now running the risk of splitting its user base. Developers making games for Vive know that the controllers and room-scale are built in, but how many Rift owners will also be Touch owners and use room-scale?"
The keynote conference as a whole also unfortunately dragged terribly. Rather than keeping their message succinct and on point, Facebook trotted out every person on the team it could muster to dive into the science of VR, the challenge of VR and full-on prognostications about where it's all headed in far too much detail. Games took a backseat to the idea that social VR will forever change how we communicate as a species, and Oculus spent way too much time talking about avatars, as if they had just invented them. To top it all off, they sent out an under-the-weather Michael Abrash to essentially give us all a TED talk on VR and what could be coming in five years, because, you know, the previous two hours of conference wasn't long enough and what better way to end a conference than with a detailed science discussion? It's ironic that messaging is such a weak point for a company that's all about communication.
When Oculus did devote some time to games in VR, we got to finally hear the price and date for the Touch controllers. At 200 bucks, the Touch makes an already expensive proposition incredibly cost prohibitive. Oculus, which also announced room-scale support, has slowly but steadily brought itself on par with Vive, except with Valve's VR system you get everything in one package. Oculus, on the other hand, is now running the risk of splitting its user base. Developers making games for Vive know that the controllers and room-scale are built in, but how many Rift owners will also be Touch owners and use room-scale? I will say, based on my experience with them at E3, the Touch controllers feel very natural and are great to use, but the $200 price tag is going to be tough to swallow.
To its credit, while it's a no-brainer, Oculus did reinforce the idea that they need great software to push VR. It's encouraging to see that they're willing to invest another $250 million (on top of the previous $250 million) into the ecosystem to make that happen. Some may have criticized the Facebook purchase of Oculus for $2 billion, but Facebook is a behemoth with a big war chest, and by leveraging that chest the company is helping to push the VR medium forward at a much faster pace than it would have progressed otherwise. If you're a VR enthusiast, you should be grateful for that.
This week was also the week that all the analysts came out of the woodwork to provide their own estimates on the VR market - probably not a coincidence given that they knew it would be a big VR news period. SuperData has predicted that the overall VR hardware and software market will ultimately reach $30 billion by 2020, while Juniper has offered an incredibly bullish prediction of $50 billion for the hardware side alone in 2021. IHS was the most conservative of the bunch, forecasting total VR entertainment and headset spending to come in at just over $11 billion by 2020. I'm not confident which forecast I'd lean towards more, but the fact that they vary so widely is a sure sign that anyone reading these estimates should understand that they're just that, and should be taken with hefty grains of salt. The truth of the matter is that forecasting exact market conditions for nascent technology is incredibly hard. Juniper itself explained, for example, why its own mobile games forecast of $10 billion (issued in 2006 for 2009) ended up being off by over $4 billion.
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