This day has been a long time coming: the consumer model of the Oculus Rift is available to preorder. Since day one the questions on everyone’s mind has been when will we get it and what will it cost us?
The answer to the first question is “from March 28” for those who secured their headsets when orders went live at around 3am AEST last night (they’re now saying May 2016). As for the cost, it varies between regions, but the base price is $US599. For Australian orders that price jumps to $US649, and once you add on the $US132 for shipping the price totals to $US781.
At today’s exchange rate, the Oculus Rift will set you back $AUD1104.
That’s a lot of clams, especially for anyone also planning to upgrade their PC to get it VR ready.
The internet has already begun the backlash, as the Oculus subreddit is flush with posts bringing up times members of Oculus vaguely pitched price points and how they were much lower than what it has become. The reality that this is early-adopter, enthusiast technology is not lost on them, but it would seem a lot of consumers who considered themselves part of that crowd are now having second thoughts.
The primary reasoning for the backlash seems to be the expectations on pricing set by Oculus throughout the development phase, which was almost half the final value. In 2013, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey said in an interview they were aiming to keep the consumer model price in the “same ballpark” as the development kit’s $US300 price point.
“We have to be affordable,” Luckey said. “If you’re not affordable, you may as well not exist for a huge segment of the market.” What’s more, in that same interview, Luckey condemned the idea of a $US600 price point. “If something’s even $600, it doesn’t matter how good it is, how great of an experience it is — if they just can’t afford it, then it really might as well not exist,” he said.
Granted, times change and as Oculus improved the technology and upgraded the components their pricing priorities would most certainly shift. After all, this is cutting edge tech. But the “ballpark of $US300” message remained consistent for years after that first interview. In 2014, Luckey said to Eurogamer they were wanting to “stay in that $200-400 price range,” before admitting it “could slide in either direction.” And as recently as September 2015, Luckey maintained the same phrase when speaking to Road To VR, stating: “we’re roughly in [the $US350] ballpark, but it’s going to cost more than that.”
The Oculus Rift comes with more than just the headset, which boasts a combined 2160×1200 resolution across both eyes and its own speakers, but also a tracking sensor, remote control, Xbox One Wireless Controller and two games. Monitors and televisions that go beyond 1080p resolution like the Rift are often in a similar, or even higher, price point; and once you take the other components into account then perhaps $US599 shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Sure, it certainly isn’t cheap, but that’s just what this kind of top-of-the-line technology costs.
Many thought when Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014 that it would mean the company could afford a lower profit margin and reduce the costs of the Rift. While it may not seem like it given the disparity between the “ballpark” price and the final price, Palmer Luckey says they actually aren’t making any money on the hardware itself just yet:
To reiterate, we are not making money on Rift hardware. High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is.
— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) January 6, 2016
For my money (pardon the pun), the issue here is what price points like this will mean for VR becoming an average consumer product. In Australia, a Rift will set you back some $1100, but you also need a high-end gaming rig to run it. Earlier this year, LoadScreen editor Charlie built a new PC in anticipation of VR, one which set him back some $AUD3000. My personal PC passes the minimum specs Oculus recommend for a good Rift experience, and it cost me close to $AUD2000. Add the Rift’s $1100 on top of that and you’ve got one heck of an investment.
To reiterate what I said earlier, this won’t be a problem for the niche market of early-adopters of new technology, but when it comes to the average consumer market? If this kind of price point becomes standard, VR might go the way of the Playstation Vita: where game developers don’t make titles for a platform because the platform’s install base isn’t large enough to warrant the investment, but the install base would be larger if there were more games available for it.
Only time will tell as to whether such a high cost entry point will hinder the VR juggernaut, but the ball is now certainly in Playstation VR and HTC Vive’s court. Neither have announced a price point, but HTC Vive is set for release in April so we should be made aware of its cost soon. Being a PC geared VR kit, the Vive may face a similar situation to the Rift if its technology and cost are on par.
Personally, I can see Playstation VR being very successful if it keeps its price in the same ballpark (there’s that phrase again) as a console. That means it would be a single, approximately $US400 (going on the PS4’s original price) purchase to use on a platform that, as of this month, has an install base of 35.9 million. Granted, Playstation VR is a lower end headset with a 1080p screen and no inbuilt headphones, but if we’re talking in purely “making VR available to the average consumer” terms, the groundwork is already there.
Then again, I’m still not yet convinced VR will take over gaming as much as everyone thinks it will. We shall see.