These are exciting times that we will look back on: the launch and start-up of a brand new industry. That is, if the stress and initial launch of head-mounted displays (HMD) doesn’t cause the developers to have a public melt-down. Being a pioneer of something as explosive and sought-after as virtual reality (VR) can certainly take its toll, and Oculus VR is perhaps being a little too transparent and open about the struggle.
Since the launch of the Oculus Rift there have been a couple trip-ups in getting the Rifts out on time to those who pre-ordered the HMDs due to what Oculus VR explains as a part shortage. This resulted in complaints. Is this a surprise? Not at all, this is something customers have been excited about for a few years, and just when they are about to receive it they’re told to wait a little longer.
What was a surprise was the way in which Kevin Crawford, the lead of Oculus VR’s support team, took to Reddit to confront those who complained. For anyone who has worked in retail or customer service they know that complaints are inevitable, and people can get nasty, but this isn’t something to rise to. Even though Crawford said “I’m a lifer in CS and have grown a pretty thick skin, so if you were looking to do damage, it didn’t work”, his efforts were too transparent, unprofessional, and caused a few winces.
Recently Oculus VR Founder, Palmer Luckey, also took to Reddit to defend himself concerning the same issues and with the same attitude of taking complaints to heart. To be fair he is the face and name of Oculus VR, and so people will target him specifically, but responding one-on-one to those making so much noise can’t be interpreted as tactful.
There seems to be a battle over whether companies should directly address issues, and Luckey did touch on this point on Reddit, saying, “The same people who complain about “lack of transparency” and “sterile, corporate communication” are so very often the same people who berate and hate companies and individuals for anything they ever say that changes at some point.” He also summarised how he felt about trying to please everyone simply: “I don’t care”.
Should Luckey care, though? Looking at how his competitors have been handling similar complaints Oculus VR is sticking out like a sore thumb, but they are also much different to the likes of HTC, Samsung, and Sony Interactive Entertainent (SIE). Oculus VR started off with a close connection to its audience, and it can be understandably hard to create that divide now that things have taken off in a massive way. Its competitors have also already formed a long-established system of handling complaints and product launches, which Lorne Lanning, Creator of Oddworld, touched on with regard to PlayStation VR potentially coming out top: “…they already got the mechanisms to the plastic, the trucks going to the stores; they’ve already got the shelf space at the stores, they’ve got PSN.”
This isn’t to say that a connection with your audience is negative – Ask Me Anything (AMA) threads on Reddit generate plenty of positive attention, and it is a great feeling to connect to the developers of something you’re invested in. What can’t be looked upon as fondly is to personally attack your audience and confront them, even if some people go overboard with their abuse. The reputation of Oculus VR is on tipping point between being down-to-earth and unprofessional, and one can only hope with such an effective product that the Rift will prevail amongst the politics.