The virtual reality revolution began in the summer of 2012 when Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey successfully crowdfunded the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset on KickStarter with a goal of $250,000 being eclipsed by a total funded amount of $2.4 million. Since then, Sony, Valve and other industry players have invested in the virtual reality market.
The Oculus Rift is a multi-purpose head-mounted VR display that is connected to a PC and comes packed with an OLED screen for each eye, integrated headphones, and the ability to track a user's head movement in VR applications. While primarily built for gaming, the Rift can be used to screen movie experiences via Oculus Cinema, as well as engage in social applications like Oculus’ own Social Alpha that debuted on Samsung’s Gear VR in October. On the gaming side, Luckey promised a plethora of titles would be available for the headset after being asked in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session about how many games would be available before the year's end saying, "At least 100 - Over 20 Oculus Studios titles, many more 3rd party titles."After a popular acquisition from Facebook and years of prototypes and development kits, Luckey has finally been able to put his product up for consumer pre-order.
The Oculus Rift was made available for $599, significantly higher than the $349 price Luckey mentioned back in September, and still surpassed sales expectations as the CEO noted to Polygon, “I can’t talk about numbers, but we sold through in 10 minutes what I thought we were going to sell through in a few hours.” The Oculus founder spoke about the fluctuating price and the changes made over the year, as the company tinkered with their Crescent Bay prototype (an upgraded model of the original Rift headset) and made improvements to it to ship as the consumer version. Luckey explained:
"It was hard to look at what we had made before and say, 'Yeah, this is consumer-ready, this is what everyone is going to want'... Building the best VR headset costs a lot more than just making a good headset."
The Rift will start shipping on March 28 and comes bundled with space flight simulator EVE: Valkyrie and 3D platformer Lucky Tale’s. Meanwhile, Sony's gaming headset, PlayStation VR, is epexcted to launch in the first half of the year, and Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House said their headset would be priced as a 'new gaming platform' at last year’s Tokyo Game Show. This indicates its price may end up being on par with the PlayStation 4's launch price of $400 - a considerable purchase, but still less than the Oculus Rift.
Although the Japanese electronics maker might have to sacrifice short-term financial loss - as PlayStation VR might not break even with a console-like price tag - with long-term success, as early adoption from PlayStation 4’s 35 million and growing user base would only encourage more developers to make games for the platform. Sony is confident that the new hardware will impress gamers; President of SCE Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida explained, during the headset's unveiling at 2014’s Game Developers Conference, that the company sees PlayStation VR as “the next innovation from PlayStation that will [shape] the future of games.”
With Oculus’ entry fee including the purchase of a PC that is capable of running the hardware, it might push gamers to side with Sony as PlayStation VR is in prime position to become the lead gaming VR headset. Xbox One players who would like such an experience only have the ability to stream Xbox One titles to the Oculus Rift via Windows 10 instead of being able to play games with the headset natively on their Xbox One consoles. It will be interesting to see how quickly the VR gaming scene gains steam, and whether or not Microsoft and Nintendo finding VR solutions for their consoles in the years to come.
The Oculus Rift is available for pre-order now.