Yesterday Oculus Rift announced the US price and launch date of their much anticipated forthcoming headset. Shipping from the 28th March, 2016, you'll soon be able to enter the first generation of consumer VR devices for U.S.$599.99. New technology always creates a buzz, but the overwhelming online feedback has been one of dismay at the price. Yes, it costs roughly $100 more than expected, but of all the feedback, it's surprising to see how many hardcore gamers and journalists seem to be taken aback, with the internet now rife with complaints and moaning. What did everyone think it would cost? On what comparisons are judgements being made.
Entering a new generation of technology and experience
For the last few years gaming technology has taken slower steps forward, with the XBox One and PS4 both largely underwhelming in their performance. Forever the issue of low or fluctuating framerate or finding that balance between framerate and attempting to push a new level in visual fidelity. Rather than taking a risk of making a console with a small initial income, or increasing the price for a bigger technical leap they've played it safe. So people will moan about performance but it's what they've asked for. It's like saying I want a £100K Aston Martin but I'm only willing to pay £10K for it, something has got to go. But Aston Martin is not a mass market car, and in the same way Oculus Rift is not a mass market product right now. It's a stepping stone towards the future developments that it could potentially unlock.
Besides costs of the contents, the R&D budgets are huge
So the car analogy might not work for everyone, let's look at gamers. Back in the 1980's and 1990's we would regularly pay the equivalent of £700 for a new games console and when 16 bit cartridges came to the fore, we'd pay the modern equivalent of £100+ per game. But none of this mattered because we knew what we were buying into. We weren't just buying the console, there's the R&D to consider plus we were spending more on the system while the format holders were making next to nothing on hardware. We didn't moan about the price because we knew the score, instead gamers were grateful for the experience provided.
The PS1 works out to $650 while a Commodore 64 would be $1500
This is the mind-set that pushed the industry forward and now all of that appears to have been lost. What's $600 when you need a PC of at least $1500 dollars to run it properly? Oh there will be those PC builders that say, 'I can build a PC for $500 that will run it'. These phantom PC's have never appeared in my reality and when they do it often fails to factor in the cost of the OS while not to mention the bottlenecks where corners have been cut. At the end of the day technology is expensive, R&D is expensive. So if you can't afford it yet (and many who moan can) then wait out a few years. Another example would be television development, a standard definition plasma TV was £10,000 in the late 1990's, today that same TV would incorporate 4K technology and retail at merely £500, so its all about evolution.
3x screens like this would enable purchase of 4x Oculus Rift's
Looking forward we'll shortly be seeing the announcements for HTC's upcoming Vive headset which could cost even more. While Sony probably hold the best alternative for entry level with the Playstation VR due to launch later this year. Will PS VR be cheaper? Yes, expect around $100 cheaper, after all it doesn't include a controller or camera, it's also lower resolution. So back to the original argument, you get what you pay for, and I for one am glad that VR companies understand that cutting corners won't give the format a chance to succeed, and it needs to succeed, because VR has the ability to unlock so many wonderful experiences. Maybe not this year or next, but in 5 years and 10 years, because either way, as a gamer for over 30 years, there's nothing quite as exciting anywhere else.
Top promotional images provided with permission by Oculus Rift.
All other images: Alan Boiston