Since its successful Kickstarter campaign way back in 2012, the Oculus Rift has become the frontrunner and face of the modern VR resurgence. Positive feedback has dripped to our screens over the last few years as the developmental kit was distributed to all the right places. And now, the general positivity surrounding the technology is backed up by word of critics overall praising the first modern VR headset to hit the market this year.
While the new platform presents a slew of new development challenges (like how to simply control movement without making people feel sick), the potential lack of good games right now is perhaps offset by Virtual Desktop, a potential killer app. The application is available on Steam, works for the Rift and the HTC Vive, and essentially simulates a massive cinema screen for non-VR games. It’s a really smart piece of software that I think really has the potential to justify the headsets for a lot more people.
Over the past 4 years, Oculus’ messaging has largely been very on-point. Founder Palmer Luckey has been an enthusiastic and likeable speaker, convincing many that Oculus has heart and vision behind the business.
Since the development of the Rift has stretched out, the Oculus’ messaging shifted to prioritise the philosophy of “getting the launch right”. It was a savvy and important move, made to placate sceptics, backers, and potential customers that might have worried about Oculus’ ability to stick the landing as the product approached real materialisation.
So why has the Oculus Rift launch gone like this?
The launch date of the Oculus Rift was set for 28th of March, with in-shop retail presence planned for April. Reports are revealing that many people that pre-ordered the set still don’t have their Rift, and have no indication as to the state of their order.
Most worryingly, Oculus Support don’t seem to know where the order are, either. Forbes’ Paul Tassi, a pre-orderer himself, wrote on the 31st that emails sent to Oculus Support yielded a reply that revealed they “don’t have shipping information available”. The reply goes on to recommend that pre-orderers “keep an eye on (their) inbox”, since “As your order is being prepared for shipment, you will begin receiving status updates on your order”. The launch date was supposed to be on the 28th of March, so why weren’t the orders being processed by then?
Some customers have tweeted today that they received update emails from Oculus, stating that pre-ordered units were delayed due to a “component shortage”, promising an order update on April 12. That’s in 10 days’ time. In response to this information, Paul Tassi tweeted “Surprise, I have not gotten this Oculus “sorry about your order” email everyone else is getting.”
For people staring at the TBA on their order tracker, not only are they awaiting their Rift unit, they’re also wondering about the roughly $600, or $500, that might or might not leave their bank account at any moment. It’s not helped by the frustration that Oculus have managed to supply the press and Kickstarter backers with their Rift headsets.
This whole launch ordeal must be very troubling for Oculus and its supporters. As the first release in an opening market, Oculus needed to impress the early adopters and tastemakers throwing hundreds of pounds at their kit. This can’t be helped by the state of the competition, either. The HTC Vive, backed by Valve, is by all accounts a more technically impressive piece of kit with a noticeably larger FOV. While it’s more expensive than the Rift, people willing to shell out the premium experience that VR companies are selling might be willing to throw a couple hundred extra dollars or pounds to get what’s purportedly the very best. Furthermore, the Playstation VR is considerably cheaper and has the backing of Sony, which might be reflected in its games support. The Rift’s middle-of-the-pack pricing and performance has the potential to prove its undoing in the market.
With such a sceptical market, Oculus needed to pull off the Rift right on the first time. I think they were right to market the first kit at the early adopting, tech-savvy crowd to drum up confidence in their product’s viability. It’s just so strange that they’ve fumbled the launch in such a spectacular fashion.
Image credits- Oculus