The creator of the Oculus Rift says that neither existing nor imminent VR headsets have what it takes to go ‘truly mainstream’.
Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey said as much in a new entry of his personal blog posted today. In it, he reasoned that it is the quality of the experience, not price, that will ultimately make VR take off.
“Hardware sales get a lot of attention and speculation from analysts and consumers alike, but the real name of the game revolves around the number of people logging in and spending money each week, the life force that makes everything actually go,” he wrote, further adding that cheap VR headsets like the phone-based Google Cardboard may have millions of owners, but few people continue to use them and buy content for long.
As such, Luckey argues that VR headsets need to get to get to the point where they can offer a near-faultless VR experience comparable with the Matrix to really start selling.
“Lower pricing for existing VR technology can help expand the size of the active and engaged userbase, but not to nearly the degree many people would expect,” he said. “I want to take this a step further and make a bold claim: No existing or imminent VR hardware is good enough to go truly mainstream, even at a price of $0.00.”
Luckey’s claim obviously encompasses already-available headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive but, from the sounds of it, he’s also talking about devices like the new Oculus Quest standalone device. That launches in the spring of next year for $399 and offers an all-in-one VR experience that doesn’t require a PC or smartphone to run, drastically reducing the barrier to entry. It’s not as powerful as a Rift, however, and doesn’t implement long-awaited improvements like greatly improved display resolution, realistic haptic feedback or varifocal displays.
That said, it’s important to understand what Luckey means by the concept of ‘truly mainstream’, which he himself explained.
“If I had to make a concrete bet, I would put a hypothetical ultimate ceiling for VR in the next two years at perhaps 50 million active users, and that could only happen with an unreasonable amount of investment that would be better spent on other parts of the problem,” he said. “That is okay! That is fine! That is great, even! That is more than enough for a healthy VR ecosystem, especially given the high spending potential for engaged VR users, but well short of the ultimate potential.”
That ‘ultimate potential’ likely refers to VR becoming an essential device that almost everyone owns, like a smartphone or PC, rather than a luxury entertainment product like the PS4.
His comments come at an interesting time. Though Luckey himself left Oculus last year following a lengthy court battle with ZeniMax Media and the allegation that he had funded a political smear campaign, last week it was announced that former company CEO and fellow co-founder Brendan Iribe had also parted ways with the team. A report from TechCrunch claimed that Iribe left Oculus after the cancellation of an iteration of an ‘Oculus Rift 2’ that his team had been working on as parent company Facebook doubled down on standalone VR. Oculus denied that this was why Iribe had left and confirmed that it is still working on a future version of the Rift. The work seen in Oculus’ Half-Dome prototype does include some major upgrades to the VR experience.
“Every dollar that goes into making those things better now will pay huge dividends down the road,” Luckey summarized, “especially when compared with forced marketing to segments of the world that are not yet ready to embrace VR.”