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VR vs. Oculus’ Widening Rift

Heavens be, it’s Sony’s lucky day. For once, I am not going to talk about how sub-par I think the communication about PlayStation VR (advertisements or otherwise) has been. I did though, in conversation with one unnamed games industry member, discuss the booking of PlayStation VR sessions and the lack of flexibility if people didn’t turn up on time at the official booth at EGX. They told me, “I don’t see how that is really going to help sell it.” So, there you go.

But I’m getting distracted by my simple desire for Sony to get their act together. Because whilst I take issue with how the PSVR has been handled, it’s nothing near the mess Oculus keep finding themselves in.

oculus rift hmd

Oh Oculus, you really can’t do right for doing wrong can you? Actually, that statement isn’t particularly fair, is it? What it should be is ‘can’t do right for seeming to do wrong’. It wouldn’t be out of line to say that, out of all the platform holders, Oculus has the worst reputation with its own customer base and those outside of it.

For those not keeping track, I’m sure there’s more than this, but in terms of community rumblings there have been:

“They’re owned by Facebook? BOO!”
Er, yeah. They’re owned by a big tech corporation, one of the biggest and most influential. One that certainly has trust issues with people. However, if your issue is that they are owned by a tech corporation, then please tell me exactly what Sony, Samsung, HTC and Valve are, as these guys are apparently okay. And, if it’s a trust issue, when are we all burning our Google Cardboards? Has Sony stopped getting hacked every five minutes?

The Rift was too expensive in comparison to others.
An effective no-win scenario that they were cleverly put in by Sony, which I’ve covered on a previous VR vs.

Then there was the DRM related argument.
Let’s not get into that one, as it gives me a headache.

There was the ‘Rift doesn’t do room scale so it is terrible’ phase.
I mean, it doesn’t make cocktails either; but if HTC announced a HTC Vive Martini Edition, I wouldn’t write off the Rift for its inability to whirl gin and vermouth around its head if it wasn’t initially designed for that purpose. (Slightly off-topic, but a Martini-branded HTC Vive, i.e. white with the classic coloured stripes would be an incredibly sexy-looking thing…)

They had the temerity to pay money to have games that would not otherwise have been created, and have them made for their hardware alone.
I still find the comments of VR ‘enthusiasts’ – that they would rather studios didn’t make anything at all, than anything VR be an exclusive – ludicrous. How the heck does that help? (We’ll probably head back to this topic yet again in another column.)

That, in turn, became the ‘anything announced as on Oculus Rift means the creators were bribed’ phase.
A more focused version of ‘[game title] should come out on everything otherwise its not fair/is biased/is rigged/is corrupt’ etc, etc.

At the beginning of last week, of course, there was that the Oculus Touch was going to cost… a lot.
Which went down about as well as you could expect.

And, of course, then we had all the joy from the end of the week where it was revealed Palmer Luckey paid money to a pro-Donald Trump ‘shitposting’ internet group who don’t have the best track record. Plus, he may or may not have said some things via a Reddit account that has resulted in quite a few developers rethinking their stance on supporting Oculus at all.

Now, I’m gonna touch on both sides of this Luckey business – and yes, I know Zeena kinda did too in her piece yesterday. But damn it, I started writing mine first so it’s a bit late to change tack now; and besides do you want to hear about this next week as well? I sure as hell-fire don’t.

Firstly, if Palmer Luckey is telling the whole truth here, then he didn’t really do anything wrong . He is allowed to spend his money howsoever he wishes and his beliefs religious, political or otherwise are his. If you’re one of those saying he should not ‘be allowed’ to spend his money or support who he likes because ‘something something freedom’, hey, I’m not American, but I’m pretty sure that tramples over the personal freedoms you are rushing to defend.  Unless you’re being discriminatory – which, as far as I can see, he was not – that’s him and he’s allowed to be himself. Regardless of what you personally think of him for such decision making.

Palmer Luckey, Founder at Oculus

From the other side – why does it matter what Palmer Luckey is doing? Why did websites even report on it? Get back to talking about VR! Erm, you may have missed this one, guys, but Luckey is the figurehead for the entire industry. He is Mister Virtual Reality, the tech wizard, the creator. He’s the man in the interviews and at the events, he’s the man on Reddit (and let’s not go into how that has sometimes been a bit of a disaster either), he’s the face that launched a thousand head-mounted displays (HMDs). Whilst the image of Zuckerberg walking past whole rows of unsuspecting people in VR has quickly become an iconic image, Luckey is the person associated with the entire technology, its resurgence and, ultimately, its success or failure.

Remember when TIME made him, frankly, look a bit of a tit? At the time it really mattered. As doing so was a subtle poo-pooing of VR as a whole through Luckey. It was a slight against the whole industry by extension. ‘Look at the silly little man in his shirt. Isn’t he and his product silly? Isn’t it all really silly? Silly little technology man.’  That’s why, when the man who, to most, represents this generation of VR, makes a public mess, that’s newsworthy and you can understand why it reflects badly on Oculus. If Oculus and Luckey are considered synonymous with each other, then the actions of one reflect on the other. Which is why devs started pulling support or reconsidering their opinions of both the man and the machine. Even if you say that it shouldn’t affect Oculus, you should be able to understand why it is.

Trump is divisive. A figure the rest of the world looks on at in horror in a manner reticent to that of viewing a very slow and very big car accident. What comes out of Trump’s mouth does not match the ideology that Oculus has been trying to create. Ergo, ‘wait, if you think this then what exactly else are you thinking?’ It also doesn’t help when the support given is done in a secretive way and the admission of it appears to not entirely be wanted. It’s not a good mix. Whilst people are keen to point out that memes and things are only a bit of fun, I’m not sure that “it’s just fun and no one’s getting hurt” is a path you probably want to go down on the Internet.

So, rightly or wrongly, depending on your point of view, Oculus gets another shot of bad publicity at a time when it has the Oculus Rift coming out at retail, pre-orders are being taken for Oculus Touch, there’s the Oculus-backed updated Gear VR on the way, PlayStation VR is close to launch and Oculus Connect 3 is right around the corner. Hardly the best of timings. Some days I look at what’s going on and want to buy the poor person in charge of Oculus’ PR a very large drink. They must feel as though the fates continually conspire to make their lives miserable.

But, in the same way that those on Luckey’s side should understand why people might rethink their stance on him, those who are rethinking should equally remember the most important thing: Oculus isn’t Palmer Luckey. If Luckey left tomorrow, would he leave a massive hole in the organisation in the same way that the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did in both Microsoft and Apple? Nope. His position isn’t all encompassing. Oculus can quite happily carry on without him just fine if the need arises. There’s a distinct possibility if these PR issues continue, of course, that they might think the best way of dealing with the situation is for them to go their separate ways anyway. Or for Luckey to find himself in another part of the business. Remind me, who ‘handled the messaging poorly’ on the Oculus’ price again?

So let’s just remember that one thing going on from this point. Let’s remember that Oculus is actually a hard working group of individuals and not just one. How about we talk about something good they’ve been doing instead? Oculus Story Studio won a freaking Emmy the other day for goodness sake. Let’s get all in a fuss about that and make them the trailblazing figureheads of the industry.

It might prevent a lot of bad feeling in the future. It might even do some good.

Henry Emmy Award