The Oculus Rift may have started the virtual reality revolution, but recent weeks haven’t been overly kind to the start-up turned multi-million dollar VR headset. Competitors have begun to eclipse it, and a scandal involving its creator hasn’t done the company any favors.
Worse, the headset was slow in coming to market, and when it finally arrived for consumers to buy, units were scarce and even those who pre-ordered waited months to get one. Meanwhile the competing HTC Vive is looking better and better to VR developers.
Reports are Rift sales (and Vive sales, to be fair) may be tanking, whatever Luckey has to say about it. And the recent alleged leak of the Oculus Touch controller price is the cherry on top.
That being said, if the long-awaited Rift controllers really cost £190 (about $250) at checkout Oculus will have even more convincing to do at Connect 2016, its annual virtual reality conference, to win a waning audience back on its side.
Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive: Which VR headset is better?
In Oculus’s defense, it’s been an uphill battle all along to convince the world that VR is ready for the mainstream, and it’s arguably persevered and triumphed through tougher times than these.
With all that in mind, here are five announcements Oculus can make at Connect 2016 to win back fans and VR enthusiasts.
The Oculus Rift already has the HTC Vive beat in terms of price, but not the PlayStation VR, its other main competitor. That’s especially disheartening for the company considering that the main requirement for a PSVR – owning a PlayStation 4 – is easier to achieve than scrounging up the moolah for the kind of major gaming rig that can run Oculus Rift games.
Many gamers who want the most affordable option are waiting for the PSVR, particularly those who already have a PS4. Meanwhile those who want the best experience and don’t mind paying for it have the HTC Vive.
That leaves Oculus in an unfortunate middle ground. If the company really wants to move headsets, the best thing Oculus could do at Connect is announce an Oculus Rift price cut.
If Oculus drops the Rift price by $100 (£80, AU$130), it would still be more expensive than PSVR – but it would at least be in the same ballpark. And that would make it even more attractive compared with the HTC Vive, maybe tempting some of the VR elite away from Valve and HTC’s option.
Plus everyone loves a price cut, and it would get the Rift back in headlines where Oculus likes it – and for something positive this time.
Another massive advantage HTC has over Oculus is that the Vive comes bundled with two wireless controllers in addition to everything else. Meanwhile the Rift gets just an Xbox One controller in the box currently.
But that’s something that will hopefully change at the third Connect conference. To better compete with the Vive the Rift needs to come packed not with the same game controller players have been holding for years, but something fresh and motion-enabled.
The Oculus Touch controllers are by many accounts a great option for virtual reality games, yet they still aren’t available, despite the Rift launching earlier this year. The official Oculus site even notes that the Touch controllers haven’t been approved yet by the Federal Communications Commission, and that “Touch is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.”
Hopefully that process is well underway at this point because many Oculus fans are hoping for a new Rift bundle at Connect 3 – one that puts two Touch controllers in the box, where they belong.
For a point of comparison, the HTC Vive has its own motion controllers, and the PSVR launch bundle even includes the camera and two PlayStation Move controllers in the box. Said simply: Oculus needs to offer the same if it wants to compete.
An Oculus Rift Touch bundle would be undeniably great, but it wouldn’t help early adopters who already bought the Rift – many of whom may currently be wondering why they didn’t go with a competitor.
The Oculus app store had a slow start, but the selection of games, apps and entertainment experiences available for the Rift grew steadily over the summer. One great way for Oculus to make Touch buyers feel like they’re getting more for their money would be to include a handful of choice games with the controllers.
Oculus could partner with developers whose games are ideal for Touch control. The company already announced that over 30 full games will launch with Touch; Connect is the time to throw some of those in with Touch to take the edge off that rumored high price.
Some games, like The Climb, are already out on Rift, but currently require normal controls with the Xbox One controller. For games like that, Touch should hopefully enhance gameplay.
Others – like the stylized mystery Wilson’s Heart – are expected out next year. Oculus could even throw in a pre-order or voucher for one or two upcoming games so Touch adopters will know they have something to look forward to.
Games for Touch aren’t the only thing Oculus will need for the Rift going forward. Connect 2016 should also be Oculus’s opportunity to debut some new killer apps for the VR headset.
Hardcore Rift fans may have plenty of games they’re excited about showing to family and friends right now, but so far for the casual observer there hasn’t really been a killer app that makes even the most skeptical want to try VR out.
We all love Eve Valkyrie and Superhot – and there are plenty of great VR games – but where’s the experience you can show to your non-gaming family? Are your parents really going to fly around in space or shoot people in slow motion? I don’t think so.
Rift, whether you want to admit it or not, needs a game like Call of Duty or Pokemon in order to really secure its spot in the top three.
Further, where’s the game that the hardcore won’t be able to put down? VR experiences have generally been built with short play sessions in mind for practical reasons. But that also means that so far there hasn’t been a Rift game that gets you addicted and coming back repeatedly like the best traditional video games.
That’s what playing Destiny or Pokemon or Call of Duty is really all about – you think about it while you’re at work or school and jump back in as soon as you get home. Rift, whether you want to admit it or not, needs a game like that in order to really secure its spot in the top three.
Of course designing an addictive killer app for virtual reality is no easy feat, and there’s no guarantee it will happen this year, or even next. But if Oculus has an ace like that up its sleeve, Connect 3 would be a great time to trot it out into the spotlight.
Right now a lot of tech enthusiasts and gamers – even those who thought by now they’d be living most of their lives in virtual reality, forgetting the real world – are on the fence right now about which VR headset to buy.
Many are probably even on the fence about whether to buy in to VR at this point at all.
Above anything else Oculus needs to tip the balance in its favor and push those people off the fence and into Oculus’s domain.
That said, providing a little reassurance and maybe some freebies for those who already own a Rift and who might be considering adding Touch controllers to their kit wouldn’t hurt either.
Oculus Connect 3 kicks off Oct. 5 in San Jose. We’ll be watching closely when it does.