At the beginning of April both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive started shipping to customers. The Vive arrived to praise for its room-scale support and hand controllers. The Rift, however, had just shocked long-time fans with a $600 price tag and a major delay to the Oculus Touch hand controllers. By the time shipping began, a component shortage caused a major delay to the Rift hardware itself and then, to make matters worse, the perception is growing (whether deserved or not) that Facebook is operating against consumer interests by effectively locking Oculus-funded titles to the Rift hardware.
Unfortunately, gauging the tangible effect of these events on sales is extremely difficult as both Facebook and HTC are holding those cards close to the chest. We have Steamspy data with which to extrapolate information and Samsung said more than 1 million people used the Gear VR in April, but figuring out which ecosystem is gaining more traction — Steam-powered VR from Valve or Oculus-powered VR from Facebook — is difficult without more data.
There is one indicator, however, that suggests Vive is adding fans more quickly than Oculus. For several years now, r/Oculus has been one of the leading hubs on the Internet for VR discussion and news. On March 27, on the eve of the launch of the Rift, the forum passed a milestone with 70,000 people subscribed, according to analytics site Reddit Metrics. From then to now, the forum added nearly 5,000 more subscribers. On March 28, r/Vive (a far younger forum that was started last year with the announcement of the headset) also passed a milestone of its own: 20,000 subscribers. From then to now, though, the forum’s growth dwarfs that of r/Oculus. The group now stands at more than 40,000 subscribers, meaning 15,000 more people joined the Vive forum during the same span of time.
The data is not an indicator of sales, but it does point to just how rough a launch this has been for Oculus. According to the data, during just one day in late April 338 people left r/Oculus while 865 joined r/Vive.
For the earliest VR enthusiasts, the r/Oculus forum is no longer the place to discuss what’s happening in VR. The tone of the forum has generally shifted from an all-inclusive place to discuss developments in the VR industry to a place sharply focused on things relevant to Oculus, and, given the launch problems, many of those posts have been negative.
The shift is indicative of the overall problem facing Oculus, which is now competing with SteamVR to sign on not just more customers, but more partners. Starting in 2012, the relatively accessible Oculus founders functioned as a unifying force, getting both enthusiasts and developers excited about the potential of this new technology. But Oculus is now up against Steam, which established itself as the iTunes of PC video games. Gamers are heavily invested in their content libraries on Steam, spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on games. The way that library is both tightly integrated with the Vive while simultaneously supporting the Rift positions Valve, at least in the minds of some buyers, as the independent and unifying consumer-oriented force that Oculus was perceived to be prior to its acquisition by Facebook in 2014.
Of course, E3 2016 is coming soon and technology is progressing at an incredible rate. The momentum can change with a single announcement, but the Reddit data underscores the repair work Oculus has ahead in relating to VR enthusiasts and fans.