6/366 – The Six Hundred Dollar Question Of The Oculus Rift

oculusriftpicThe beginning of the year brings with it the Consumer Electronics Show, and with it all the new toys, gadgets, and tech that are set to be released during the coming year. Most years, the spotlight is shared by a couple or a few neat and interesting bits of new devices, but this time around, it was the Oculus Rift, long in development but now revealed to be a whopping $600 in price, that grabbed all eyes, ears, and tweets today.

I get the balking and the snark comments about this, especially as the price tag is set before much of the tech has even proven itself to be worth the cash, and competition such as the Google Cardboard and the Gear VR have shown themselves to be cheaper potential alternatives. Among the most savage of tweets I read about this today came from Sony CEO Kaz Hirai, who tweeted about the Oculus Rift’s price by saying:

An Oculus Rift VR headset can transport you to unbelievable fictional worlds, like a world were people will spend $599 on an Oculus Rift

Ouch. I felt that from behind my computer screen.

As people processed the news today, many of them, including me, were less questioning of the fact that the Oculus Rift was priced at $600 and asking the real question behind the price, which I think will dictate how people perceive it.

What is the Oculus Rift’s intended audience and intent at pricing this high for a device that is, regardless of all the demos and hype, one that has a chance to fail?

riftgames

On the one hand, Oculus Rift’s primary function would dictate that gamers are its core audience. They’ve promised about 100+ Oculus compatible games by the end of 2016 and they have a ton of developers behind getting this done, including heavyweights like Square and Harmonix. But $600, priced higher than the current generation of consoles and only slightly lower than build-it-yourself PCs (which are obviously used for more than just games), doesn’t seem to signal that it wants to have most gamers have it in their hands at first pass. ¬†Then you couple this with the fact that gamers, in general, have learned to be more discerning with where their money goes (lest they buy into the hype of something that ultimately goes nowhere or has no sustainability), and it gets even less likely that most of their primary audience forks over the cash.

Don’t get me wrong – gamers totally spend money on some crazy things. If they want to, they’ll build a new computer just for a game they want to buy, and if there’s a console bundle out there that’s priced up for its exclusivity or games, they’ll sweep it up in a second. But generally, these investments go against items that have a history of proven success and sustained content, neither of which Oculus Rift currently possesses.

It gets even more risky when you start thinking back to horror stories of peripherals touting new and interesting ways to play games that didn’t make it. Dare I bring up:

U-force…the U-Force, with its claim to utilize hand motion and an awkward stick with buttons to revolutionize gaming (and instead end up frustrating people playing anything but Punch-Out),

15.-AlphaGrip-AG-5

…the horrendous AlphaGrip with its 42 buttons attempting to cram itself into one awful controller interface,

16.-The-Sega-Activator…the terribly inaccurate, constantly having to be calibrated Sega Activator, whose infrared tech didn’t work half the time,

17.-Wiimote-Accessories

..or the overkill of Wiimote addons?

I’ll stop here (though if you want to be tortured more you can see the 100 Worst Game Accessories at Gaming Bolt), but my point is that the Oculus Rift, for all its features and years of development, has a chance of ending up in a very infamous list of peripherals or devices that didn’t make it.

But maybe that’s the point of pricing so high. Oculus Rift’s developers, who’ve no doubt worked hard on this tech for years, probably know that the first iteration of its development may not be the most refined. Perhaps people who do make the purchase are the ones that Oculus Rift sees as gamers who are ok with investing in new technology and breaking it in, even if it doesn’t turn out to initially meet expectations. At $600, perhaps people who’ve made this purchase will be more likely to stick with the product instead of eBaying it the first chance they get. It’s possible that early adoption is what Oculus plans on rewarding for putting forth the cash, something that is supported by the news that people who backed the original Kickstarter campaign in 2012 with at least $275 will be getting a free retail unit.

Given this, if you want to buy an Oculus unit and plunk down your cash, I’m not gonna judge you, and neither should anyone else. If Oculus Rift succeeds, after all, it’ll spawn enough interest in the technology that it’ll be refined by more than just Oculus and distributed (and therefore priced) more widely. If they want only their most dedicated or most financially well-off of their audience to purchase and use one to work out the inevitable kinks, so be it. I just hope that $600 doesn’t end up with¬†600 reasons why the Oculus Rift can’t meet expectations.

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