"VR is here to stay this time" - Virtuix CEO

The market may not be ready for the Omni VR treadmill just yet, but Jan Goetgeluk would rather his company be early than late

Last week, Virtuix announced a $3 million round of seed funding to complete its flagship product, the Omni virtual reality treadmill. While a far cry from Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, the Virtuix investment is yet another indication that investors believe in the potential of virtual reality.

Speaking with GamesIndustry International after the funding was announced, Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk stopped short of crediting the Facebook deal with drumming up investor interest, but nevertheless called it an exciting endorsement for the entire VR field.

"Haptics are fairly complicated; it's very difficult to make it work in a way that's affordable for consumers and accessible for a mass market."

"It certainly validated the message that we've been presenting to investors when fundraising, which is that VR is set to become a mass market new medium, with applications that stretch way beyond gaming," Goetgeluk said. "Social activites, health care, fitness, you name it...VR is not set to stay a niche; it's set to be a mainstream platform."

Facebook isn't the only company trying to turn VR into a mainstream platform. Last month's Game Developers Conference was a coming out party for a number of VR headsets, including Sony's Project Morpheus.

"I think investors now believe and see that given all these headsets coming to market, and given how compelling the experience is--not just for the headsets but the Omni--the bottom line is it's an excellent experience, and it's here to stay," Goetgeluk said. "It's not a fad. It's not just a fun thing to try out. It's an incredible experience and a new medium that will impact various aspects of our daily lives. And investors that tried the experience were convinced, and that's why they invested."

Even with the rush of companies looking to stake their claim in the VR field, the preponderance of activity seems to be in the headset market, with fewer companies looking to tackle the haptic part of the VR equation. Goetgeluk suggested two main reasons for that.


"One, the visual aspect of VR is certainly a crucial part," he said. "If there's no visual element of the VR system, then there's no virtual reality at all. It's also a problem that is easier to solve than haptics. Haptics are fairly complicated; it's very difficult to make it work in a way that's affordable for consumers and accessible for a mass market. The visual problem is an easier nut to crack, and certainly with immediate applications."

Of course, the Omni only addresses one element of that haptic problem. But when asked if Virtuix had plans to tackle other elements to complete the illusion of VR for players, Goetgeluk said the company had more pressing concerns in simply getting Omni to market.

"That's our focus right now; we don't have the resources to do much beyond that at this point," Goetgeluk said, adding, "The pressure is on to deliver a top quality product in a timely manner."

The Omni is set for a release this summer, which poses a potential problem. Virtuix is creating a $500 VR peripheral that is largely reliant on the user having a VR headset as well, but the two biggest names in the field, Sony and Oculus, have yet to even announce commercial release windows for their VR headsets. The idea of being a product "ahead of its time" doesn't really bother Goetgeluk.

"In tech, you're either early or you're late. So we're certainly early, but that's not necessarily a bad place to be," he said.

Given Virtuix's production capacities, showing up to the party early might not be the worst course of action. Virtuix has already sold 3,000 Omni treadmills, and new preorders placed through the company's site aren't estimated to ship until September. The company might not mind arriving a little earlier than the VR headsets, but it definitely needs them to arrive.

"We're a VR product and if VR doesn't take off, then we'll stay a niche product, and that's not the intention."

"We're a VR product and if VR doesn't take off, then we'll stay a niche product, and that's not the intention," Goetgeluk said. "I think VR is an incredible experience, the technology is here, and I think VR is here to stay this time."

That's not the only potential concern critics of the Omni may have. When asked about the difficulty for players to find room to keep a VR treadmill next to their PCs, Goetgeluk said he expects people to be surprised by the final production version of the Omni. The company has made a number of changes to the hardware from what they've been carting along to trade shows.

"That's our prototype, which is made of wood and certainly looks a bit big and clunky," Goetgeluk said. "The final product will be a tad smaller and certainly sleeker looking, smaller than a regular treadmill, and also easy to disassemble and store away. It's not a small product, but I don't think size is necessarily an issue."

Additionally, Goetgeluk brushed aside concerns about developer support for the device. It acts as a plug-and-play substitute for a gamepad or keyboard, and developers who choose to actively support the Omni can access more advanced features, such as mapping travel speed in the game with the player's speed on the Omni, or to decouple the walking direction from the looking direction. Virtuix is also creating its own demo, TRAVR, to showcase how the Omni could be integrated with traditional first-person shooter and horror games.

Finally, Virtuix needs to figure out how to get people to experience gaming with Omni first-hand. Appearances at trade shows have been a good first step and one Virtuix will continue pursuing, but the company is also considering placing Omni demos in certain retail stores or malls.

"We certainly want to make it as feasible as possible for people to try out, because it's a device where when you try it, that's when you realize its potential," Goetgeluk said.

Latest comments (8)

matthew bennion Web Development 5 years ago
$500 plus treadmill + $350 headset + $? computer hardware to use it. How can this possibly make it to main stream at the backend of a recession. I really don't see these products going beyond niche until the manufacturing cost comes way way down!

Sadly we don't even have shows like games master anymore to make use of them :)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Even without the treadmill, the entry barrier is a bit steep. Even if the headset is $200, it still requires something relatively powerful to run it and that thing is something that has to be maintained by users more used to a plug an play experience. Granted, early adopters, people who go all in and CAN maintain the goggles and a decent rig on a regular basis and other folks who know what they're doing will be getting the most of this. I predict a ton of confusion elsewhere in the marketplace because we all know someone who is lousy at tech stuff and ALWAYS needs a helping hand with even something as simple and minor as setting up something out of the box even with a detailed manual they're flummoxed by.

Eh, we'll see, as usual...
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises5 years ago
If games play well on it, then the $500 is worth the cost. You have to compare it to a home theater setup.

Instead of spending:
$1000 for a projector
$500 for speakers
$1000 for a couch
$300 for a screen
($2800 total)

You'll spend:
$500 for the treadmill
$350 for the VR headset
$500 for the computer
$??? for the controller.that makes you believe you're actually holding a gun or a sword or a baseball bat.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Craig: I'd bet some people outside of those jumping into this feet first want something they can plug and play, so your list is like selling someone a 3DTV, new Blu-Ray player and a few pairs of glasses when all the want is to toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave and plop down in front of the TV for a decent Saturday night. If using VR requires a home theater spend for those not yet set up, it's already pricing out people who aren't used to that sort of thing.

Eh, we'll see. I know commercial VR units WILL be bundled by shops once it gets ready to go live...
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Roberto Dillon Associate Professor, James Cook University5 years ago
a treadmill is good for a gym, at home we need a VR sofa instead! ;)
Seriously, I thought Kinect already showed most people *are* lazy and playing on a couch with minimum physical effort is the preferred way by most to relax and unwind in front of a videogame after a hard day at work/school. I'm afraid a treadmill VR will always remain a niche product.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roberto Dillon on 29th April 2014 4:20am

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Eric Leisy VR Production Designer, Nike5 years ago
I'm a huge proponent of VR tech- I work with it at the office, and I'm EAGERLY awaiting my DK2 to arrive after July. Having said that, I just don't see this type of thing really fitting elegantly into the mainstream VR experience just yet- especially after hearing their own creator / marketer describe its use. It sounds like it would be a bit of a clunky experience to control, and I also see it being used in practice as much as people use all of those normal treadmills they bought.

This could work as a product in a gym, or an arcade (do those still exist?) - but I don't see this becoming a popular home item, at least in this incarnation. It's too limited, by design.
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Eyal Teler Programmer 5 years ago
I think that the Omni will always be an niche product. However, to get that niche there's need for VR to become mainstream. (And when I say "mainstream" I mean that a decent percentage of people who buy graphics cards at $400+ will also buy VR glasses.)
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Wouldn't it be far cheaper to just buy a pair of good shoes and go out for a jog? ;)
I had envisioned a multi-direction VR treadmill in my head for a very long time. You may still use a lightgun, or even a pad to control yourself, but looking and walking are two instincts that go together naturally. The addition of sensors on your shoulders so the machine can tell if you're leaning and maybe replacing that hip-clip with something wireless I see as the next major step... afterwards it will purely be about finding the right controller.
After reading this I instantly thought about something like Kinect. You wouldn't need any additional controller in that case. Of course, if would need to be more precise than what we currently have...

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Krzysztof Nizielski on 29th April 2014 2:02pm

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