Wrapping up 2014 this time last year, VRFocus had this to say on the Oculus Rift: “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.”
It’s with some slight frustration albeit complete understanding that almost the exact same statement could be made for this year. Oculus VR continued to grow in 2015, increasing its foothold in the VR industry despite some stiff competition and bringing some incredibly exciting new products to the table. But, somewhat astonishingly, it did all that without the launch of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift, a sting that’s significantly lessened by the promise that it will be out in just a few months’ time.
2015 started off with another showing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), though the company didn’t have any truly significant news to share this time around. The Crescent Bay prototype for the Oculus Rift was still a relatively new piece of kit having debuted in September 2014, and we weren’t expecting to see any new hardware until the reveal of the consumer version of the device.
Speculation about that much anticipated update ran rampant for much of the first half of the year. Following a disappointing showing at the Games Developer Conference (GDC) in March – made all the more surprising by the reveal of perhaps its biggest rival, the HTC Vive – fans were beginning to suspect that E3 2015 would be the time for the consumer reveal. Oculus VR wasn’t planning anything so predictable, however, instead innocently dropping the first glimpse of the true Oculus Rift one seemingly unimportant afternoon on 6th May 2015.
This quickly turned into an information overload. Not only did Oculus VR offer a faded image of the device for everyone to stare longingly at, it also confirmed that, sadly, it wouldn’t be arriving this year, instead launching in Q1 2016. This was the beginning of a sweep of teases and announcements leading up to E3, with the minimum PC specs required to run the device revealed shortly after. The culmination of all of this was a pre-E3 press conference on 11th June in which the company proved that it was building an impressive software portfolio to support the kit along with some huge surprises.
This was only the second show that Oculus VR had put on, following on from the debut of Oculus Connect last year, and already the company was proving that it could make announcements that rivalled what leading videogame groups were planning to reveal within the next week. In fact, it made some of those announcements with those groups; one highlight saw Microsoft’s Head of Xbox Phil Spencer walk out to announce Xbox One game streaming for the Oculus Rift and, significantly, that an Xbox One controller would be bundled with every HMD when it went on sale next year.
But that was far from the only major announcement on the controller front; Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey also took to the stage to make arguably the biggest reveal for VR at E3; Oculus Touch. These are essentially Oculus VR’s answer to the HTC Vive’s position-tracked controllers, though obviously having been in development long before the kit was announced. It confirmed that position tracked controllers were to be the standard for contemporary first-person immersive VR, however, demonstrating truly impressive tracking accuracy and intuitive control with a Toybox demo. They’re the second major part of Oculus VR’s 2016 story, and the VR community is no doubt eager to hear much more about them.
Before E3 could even take place, however, Oculus VR had already announced the return of its successful developer conference, Oculus Connect 2. The show took place from 23rd – 25th September, with the all-important keynote speech being hosted on 24th. Naturally, fans were hoping for final release details for the Oculus Rift at the show, including a launch of pre-orders. Expectations grew so high that Luckey even had to temper them before the event, confirming that pre-orders would not be announced.
But, while another chance to learn about the release slipped away, Oculus VR more than made up for it with a bunch of other announcements. Yet more titles were announced for the Oculus Rift, while Epic Games made its biggest contribution to the hardware yet with the reveal of its Bullet Train tech demo, an incredibly impressive experience in which the player used Oculus Touch to realistically wield guns. There was also the introduction of the Oculus Platform, an Xbox Live/PlayStation Network-like service that would give players accounts, achievements and more once the kit arrives. The company was also overjoyed to celebrate something of a personal victory in securing Minecraft for the Oculus Rift (and Gear VR).
Since that time Oculus VR has become considerably more consumer facing, recently making high-profile videogame announcements like Rock Band VR and Crytek’s The Climb. The cherry on the top of another great year? Palmer Luckey’s recent confirmation that pre-orders would launch in early 2016 and that Q1 launch is still going ahead.
It hasn’t been a perfect year, though, as the VR specialist came under fire for its approach to software development kit releases. Later versions of the kit, beginning with 0.7, were to phase out titles that were developed on older releases and hadn’t updated. While this made sense when considering the quality standards that VR has to meet, it put stress upon teams such as Frontier Developments, which halted its development of VR support for Elite: Dangerous due to the constant changes.
But that hasn’t stopped VR’s biggest flag waver from leading the charge this year. 2015 has again demanded huge patience fro VR fans, but this time they know that patience will soon be rewarded. 2016 is when it finally all happens; the moment that people have been waiting for since they pledged $300 USD to that historical Kickstarter campaign all the way back in 2012. 2016 is the year the consumer Oculus Rift releases.
So, then. 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. 2016 will be another eventful year, especially with that fabled consumer release now confirmed. As VR grows in popularity, Oculus VR is just getting started.