Two years, it’s been two whole years since Oculus released its first consumer product, the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) onto the market and what a 24 months it has been. Naturally there’s been many highs and lows in that time, not only for the headset itself but also the company that can can be attributed with sparking this new revolution in immersive entertainment. So to mark the occasion VRFocus is not only looking back over these past few years but also to the future, as Oculus looks to continue its virtual reality (VR) story.
You should all know the story by now – especially if you’ve been following VRFocus all this time. Founded by Palmer Luckey after the young inventor showed an early VR headset prototype to videogame industry veterans like Brendan Iribe and John Carmack, the newly founded Oculus launched a very successful Kickstarter in 2012 for the Oculus Rift DK1.
Having secured funding the team would go on to develop the Oculus Rift DK2, with a better screen, more ergonomic design, and increased industry interest in the possibility of the potential of VR. So much so in fact that social networking giant Facebook bought the company in 2015 for $2 billion USD, securing Oculus’ future and providing it with funds to greatly accelerate hardware and software development.
VR has been around for decades, with American computer philosophy writer and computer scientist Jaron Lanier accredited by many as the man who popularised the term ‘virtual reality’ back in the 80’s. It was in the 90’s that VR took its first steps into the consumer fold with companies like Sega, Atari and Nintendo – remember the Virtual Boy – having a go at creating systems for home use. As is well known this never panned out, firstly due to consumer interest but mainly that the technology of the time wasn’t up to the task of providing an experience capable of emulating the mainstream media’s idea of what VR should be; popularised by films like Lawnmower Man.
So VR companies at the time focused on more enterprise and military applications, offering training simulations via massive, expensive rigs. Move forward almost 20 years and screen technology had greatly improved thanks to the advent of devices like smartphones and HD TV’s, with the global tech industry pushing ever high pixel counts, better colours and improved refresh times. This helped spark a new VR revolution, one where the average consumer now had the possibility of entering a virtual world, all in the comfort of their own home.
The Oculus Rift CV1 (as it was called), launched on 28th March 2016 to much fanfare, you could now buy the actual product rather than a development kit. Or you could if Oculus hadn’t slightly ballsed up its manufacturing and distribution, meaning that those who had pre-ordered for launch day delivery didn’t necessarily receive their purchase straight away. Some did, yet others had to wait two to three months for theirs. This created a three-fold problem in that it damaged Oculus’ reputation early on; the user base grew slowly as the company tried to fulfill pre-orders as well as getting stock to retailers; and developers who had invested in VR, creating launch day titles saw poor sales due to the lack of devices on the market.
By the summer of 2016 this was all but sorted. However, first to the market it may have been yet after only a week the HTC Vive arrived offering stiff competition with its motion controllers, providing a more interactive and immersive mechanic than the Xbox One controller supplied with the Oculus Rift. Then in October of 2016 PlayStation VR arrived, offering consumers even more choice and easy connectivity to a PlayStation 4 console which was already in the hands of millions.
Oculus began its fight back in December 2016 with the launch of the Oculus Touch controllers, perfectly crafted for immersive gameplay, they were smaller and lighter than HTC Vive’s controllers and far more accurate and ergonomic than PlayStation Move. Yet Oculus being Oculus fudged things again. Having launched Oculus Touch for $199 in early 2017, only a couple of months after release Oculus halved the price, pissing a lot of early adopters off in the process. So this was the first time Oculus issued store credit to customers ($50) to apologise. The reason for the discount was due to a new offer, packaging the headset and motion controllers together for the low price of $598.
As the year went on this strategy got even more aggressive, with Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) publishing sales figures for PlayStation VR that seemed to indicate it had already overtaken Oculus Rift (and HTC Vive) in a few short months (although official unit figures have never been released by Oculus). So in the summer of 2017 the big price drop came, Oculus Rift with Touch could be bought for a limited time for $399, making high-end PC VR a more affordable possibility. After a couple of months the price went up to $499 but within weeks Oculus brought it back down to $399 and that’s where it has stayed – apart from the $349 Black Friday deal of course.
Obviously far more has happened in these two years, court cases, dismissals, events, eSports etc that could be mentioned, but this is only a brief history. So now it’s on to the fun stuff VIDEOGAMES, looking at the best, the worst, and the just plain weird, all the content that’s been keeping you entertained and fanning the flame of love for VR.