It’s a bit of an understatement to say that a lot of people were looking forward to purchasing an Oculus Rift, arguably the most prominent virtual-reality headset.
Then Oculus, a Facebook subsidiary, announced the price: $599, not including the high-spec PC necessary to run the immersive software at optimal quality. (The “full Rift experience” will reportedly demand the equivalent of an Intel i5-4590 processor or greater, along with a powerful graphics card, 8GB+ of RAM, and Windows 7 or higher.)
Sure, the Oculus Rift incorporates cutting-edge technology, including built-in headphones and a collection of sensors designed to track the wearer’s head movements; it comes with an Xbox One controller and (if you pre-order) a space-combat game called “Eve: Valkyrie.” But $600 is nearly twice as much as many people expected the final production model of the Oculus Rift to cost, based on previous comments by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.
Just for comparison’s sake, the Oculus Rift is a few hundred dollars more expensive than the Xbox One (which retails for roughly $350, depending on the store) and PlayStation 4 (around the same). And the latter two devices are full-on consoles, whereas many people regard the VR headset as an accessory.
In a January 6 “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit, Luckey claimed that Oculus Rift will eventually act as far more than an immersive way to blast starships out of orbit. “The majority of time spent right in Gear VR is video and experiences, not games,” he wrote. “Over time, VR span beyond games, much like the evolution of computer and mobile platforms before it. Right now, gaming is going to be the primary driver of PC VR, but the content base will expand over time.”
Whether or not that prediction pans out, a too-high price could slow Oculus Rift’s adoption rate, or restrict its initial market to only the highest-end gamers. And if that happens, the third-party developers so essential to the growth of any new platform may hold off from building new games and apps, at least until they see how the market evolves. Virtual reality might be the new (and hottest) tech, but unless a healthy software ecosystem develops around it, it’ll end up restricted to a niche.