Both Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and Samsung have made encouraging first steps into the virtual reality (VR) industry this year with the Project Morpheus and Gear VR head-mounted displays (HMD) respectively. But while these two companies have helped the industry grow, no one can deny that it’s still Oculus VR and its Oculus Rift that is leading the charge and waving the flag for the arrival of this once-fantasy technology. Even without the release of a consumer HMD, it’s been a banner year for Oculus VR in many ways.
As the year started out Oculus VR was in an encouraging position, happily shipping out units of its first development kit (DK1). Some fans dared hope that this would finally be the year that a consumer version of the kit would arrive, and the reveal of the new Crystal Cove prototype at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in January fuelled those hopes. Then in February word spread that the company was halting sales of DK1, which it blamed on supply constraints. It didn’t take long for fans to deduce that the introduction of a second development kit (DK2) was right around the corner.
The 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC) brought the goods and proved to be a standout moment for both Oculus VR and VR in general. DK2 was revealed the day after Project Morpheus on PlayStation 4, making for one of the first times in gaming that VR lead the news. The GDC floor was packed with VR experiences thanks to Oculus VR making development relatively affordable. Just what impact the technology was set to have on the industry became a huge talking point for the week that has continued on throughout 2014.
But however big GDC was for VR, it was to be dwarfed in the next week with an announcement that shocked the entire videogame industry. Oculus VR was to be purchased not by a technology giant such as Google, Apple or Microsoft, but by social network leaders Facebook.
The minutes, hours and days following the announcement can best be described as chaotic. While journalists and analysts poured over the implications of the $2 billion USD deal many fans and even some developers had immediate negative reactions. Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, creator and then-owner of the ever-popular Minecraft IP, revealed that he was cancelling plans for a free VR edition of the videogame, while other developers questioned if VR development was still the right move.
Of course, it was indeed still the right move. Once the initial controversy had cleared up it became abundantly clear that Oculus VR joining Facebook was one of best things to happen to the industry yet. The company has more than doubled in size in less than a year, bringing on board leading talent such as Michael Abrash and Jason Rubin. There was a period in which, literally every week, a new name was added to the Oculus VR roster. High profile acquisitions have been announced throughout the year, including the recent deal with hand-tracking company Nimble VR that points to the future of input with the Oculus Rift.
Not only that, but Facebook’s support undoubtedly led to Oculus Connect, a developer conference hosted in September that proved to be yet another defining moment for the company in 2014. Here Oculus VR started to show signs of evolving into a consumer-facing organisation, announcing new services, deals and even another new prototype, Crescent Bay. It wasn’t the reveal of the final consumer device that some had hoped for, but it was the next best thing.
It’s been nothing short of a whirlwind of a year for Oculus VR. No, the consumer kit isn’t yet available, but in its absence the company has only strengthened the belief that VR is here to stay this time and that this will be the company to bring it into the mainstream. 2015 will no doubt be another eventful year, even if that fabled consumer release still isn’t confirmed. As VR grows in popularity, Oculus VR isn’t going anywhere.
‘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.