If you look back over the past decade in the videogame industry, you quickly learn one golden rule: it’s all about the pricing. Companies can build the most amazing products but it all means nothing without an efficient price tag. Sony learned that lesson with the still cringe-inducing launch of the PlayStation 3 at $599 USD, while Nintendo reveled in it at $249 for the Wii. Even as recently as this year, Microsoft has had to trim the price of its Xbox One in the UK to £399 GBP and throw in a free game to make it more competitive with the PlayStation 4.
If technology giants with state of the art products and world renowned marketing teams can fall victim to this, then so can just about anyone. So, yes, while the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset has continued to wow us all with its technology, it’s going to need to address that very issue if it’s to stop itself from going the way of the Virtual Boy.
Fortunately, all signs point to pricing being a non-issue at the moment. Oculus VR set out to make an affordable VR headset in the Oculus Rift and so far it’s living up to that promise. The first Oculus Rift developer kit is available for $300, which nets you a headset and all the tools needed to implement it into a videogame. Clearly, that’s a reasonable price; the endless array of mods and Youtube videos suggest that most people that want to toy around with or develop for the Oculus Rift can afford one. Traditionally speaking, developer kits cost more than a consumer model, based on the fact that you’re buying not just the equipment but the ability to produce software for it too.
That said the price of the first developer kit isn’t necessarily indicative of the price of the eventual consumer version. As it stands, the kit doesn’t come with many of the refinements seen in the Crystal Cove Oculus Rift prototype revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. That includes an HD AMOLED screen, positional LED markers and a motion tracking camera. It’s likely that these features will bump up the manufacturing cost of the device, which could in turn increase the price of a new developer kit and the consumer model.
Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey has given us some idea of what the new price won’t look like, though. Luckey’s recent comments on Reddit revealed that the second developer kit won’t cost “3 or 4 more times” the price of the consumer version, revealing that he didn’t think it was a good idea to sell the kit at a premium. That’s encouraging news, although without a ball park figure on how much the consumer version will actually cost, it’s hard to put it into perspective at the moment. Still, there isn’t any sign that the company is looking to abandon is affordable mantra, especially with the good will it’s built up in these early stages.
In terms of the consumer version, it’s really just down to a simple question for all of us: how much would you pay for a Rift? Personally, the $300 developer kit seems refreshingly reasonable for access to technology that we’ve been dreaming of for years. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that, on first sight, the price of entry was far higher, perhaps even doubled. Still, pricing it too much higher would put the Rift in competition with both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which is probably a situation best avoided.
Pricing has the potential to be one of VR’s strong points. If the Oculus Rift can maintain its reasonable cost as it moves towards a consumer version then it shouldn’t be much of a factor for its target market. But the Oculus is just one headset and right now we don’t know much about its competitors. Hopefully they’ll take a page from the Rift’s book and do our wallets a favour.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.