For virtual reality to become a key pillar in entertainment, we have to get its introduction right

POSTED BY Toby Berger January 11, 2016 in Articles
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Last week’s Oculus presentation at CES was noteworthy for a handful of reasons, with a release date and price point finally announced for the long-awaited consumer version of the Oculus Rift. In the wake of the plethora of announcements, the price point of the Rift has been of most concern – with it officially priced at $599 USD, which roughly translates to around $860 AUD. The outcry is understandable, given Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s previous statements regarding the Rift’s pricing. Interestingly, the uproar seen from this announcement is similar to previous major hardware announcements, and above all else should act as a reminder that VR is unproven technology – it can still fail.

Microsoft’s infamous Xbox One reveal in 2013 was a thorn in the company’s side. The same can be said about the ludicrous price announcement of Sony’s PlayStation 3 all the way back in 2006. Both were major turning points for Microsoft and Sony, sending them swirling into a wave of negative press and angry consumers. But, to their credit, they learned from their mistakes and they’ve come out as better companies because of it.

A lot has changed for Xbox since 2013.

A lot has changed for Xbox One following its reveal in 2013.

Now we find ourselves looking down the barrel of another major hardware launch, in a currently unproven sector of tech, and something tentatively similar has happened – albeit on an arguably smaller scale.

The introduction of both virtual and augmented reality is going to play a pivotal role in whether the technology succeeds or fails. These companies are going to be laying down the foundations for what will no doubt be a long journey in reaching the true potential of VR. And considering this is the first generation of the tech, there are going to be a plethora of hurdles and problems to work through as the years come and go.

Oculus’ price announcement is important for a number of reasons. We now know how much it’s going to cost to get one of these headsets in our hands, first and foremost, but it’s a relatively steep jump into a world of unproven tech. We don’t know where this tech will be in the next five to ten years, or if it will even be around anymore, so it’s understandable that a lot of consumers are unwilling to fork out such a hefty fee at such an early stage.

Similarly, not a lot of us even have $860 stowed away for an Oculus Rift. The average gamer may only have enough money to afford a couple of games each month, with bills and other necessities taking priority thereafter.

Some will have the money, of course, and that’s great. Early adopters will most definitely have been looking forward to the Rift for quite some time, and if it’s as good as we hope it is – they’ll feel like they’ve invested in something that will define the next generation of entertainment. But for those of us who don’t elect to jump head-first into the world of the Rift, there are still options available, and Sony and HTC in particular can find themselves at an advantage by releasing their headsets at a lower price point.

VR has the potential to be the next step in entertainment consumption, but it also has the potential to completely fail.

Sony, Microsoft, and HTC would no doubt have kept tabs on the Rift announcement and the subsequent commotion that followed. They won’t want this to happen with their products, and so this should serve as a lesson they should take in stride. We’re entering a new world of interactive entertainment here, and the first steps into this space are significant. If anything, the introduction of VR will be an integral part of heralding in this technology – it will dictate whether or not we’ll regularly see it in households or see it as another gimmick in a few years time. It has the potential to be the next step in entertainment consumption, but it also has the potential to utterly fail.

We also can’t forget that 2016 is a big year for video games. We’re starting to dig into the titles that have been brewing for a while and are making full use of the power of both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, as well as the gargantuan power of the PC. It’s also looking likely that Nintendo will officially announce the NX and a release could be coming in Q4 this year. That’s a lot of money potentially allocated already, without even bringing VR into the equation.

Reports say Nintendo's NX is scheduled to launch this year.

Reports say Nintendo’s next home console is scheduled to launch this year.

So we’re at a bit of a crossroad. It’s obvious that the excitement surrounding the potential of these headsets are big. That’s undeniable. I don’t expect some of the headsets to sit above $599 USD, and I really hope that at least one will sit comfortably at $300 – $400 USD. If this does happen to be the case, I can see virtual reality finding a way inside many households throughout the next couple of years rather than being spotted throughout one or two households here and there. These first few years are going to be incremental to VR’s success, so we need to get these first couple of steps right.

In light of all of this, there’s no real sense of doom and gloom for the Oculus Rift. Its preorder numbers are good and I’m hopeful that we’ll hear more positive things about it when it launches in late March. Following last week’s announcement, what other companies can do, however, is help facilitate the introduction of VR to the masses by dropping their price to be at least within touching distance for the average consumer. Perhaps if Oculus look into releasing a barebones version of the Rift that’s cheaper, there might be potential there as well. But for now, we’re still sitting in the dark pondering what’s to come.

The potential of VR seems endless, but both the consumer and the companies above need to understand that we’re looking at the first generation of this tech, and there are going to be problems throughout. There are also other factors at play when it comes to buying a VR headset, of course, ranging from video games readily available and apps usable, and that will be a major factor throughout the next couple of years as well. In saying that, if the price is reachable and the tech’s great, we’re taking one giant step closer to a world where VR is a major pillar in the way we consume entertainment, and that’s a world I can’t wait to see.

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