Oculus Rift boss apologises for “ballpark” $350 price messaging

Thursday, 7 January 2016 04:59 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Oculus Rift’s hefty price tag has disappointed many a would-be VR fan, and founder Palmer Luckey has taken full responsibility for that.

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Oculus Rift costs $600, which is in no way small money, and outside the US it’s even more expensive.

Many of us who’d been expecting to drop a pre-order down today have balked at the ticket price. It’s not just that the headset is so expensive, and requires a pretty high-end PC; it’s that we had the impression it was going to cost “in the ballpark” of $350.

“As an explanation, not an excuse: during that time, many outlets were repeating the ‘Rift is $1500!’ line, and I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself. My answer was ill-prepared.”

Writing in a lengthy and detailed Reddit AMA (in which Luckey ignored moderator’s attempts to shut down a megathread and answered all the questions anyway) Palmer apologised and took responsibility for incorrect messaging.

“I handled the messaging poorly,” he said.

Luckey said his comment about $350 was made somewhat thoughtlessly, in comparison to the $1,500 figure which was being quoted elsewhere in the press – the expected cost of a decent PC and headset, and therefore the buy-in for non-gaming consumers.

“As an explanation, not an excuse: during that time, many outlets were repeating the ‘Rift is $1500!’ line, and I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself. My answer was ill-prepared, and mentally, I was contrasting $349 with $1500, not our internal estimate that hovered close to $599 – that is why I said it was in roughly the same ballpark.”

Luckey said he tried to hint that the price would be higher than $350 but admitted Oculus didn’t do a good job in that regard.

“To be perfectly honest, our biggest failing was assuming we had been clear enough about setting expectations,” he said.

“Another problem is that people looked at the much less advanced technology in DK2 for $350 and assumed the consumer Rift would cost a similar amount, an assumption that myself (and Oculus) did not do a good job of fixing. I apologize.”

The VR leader reiterated that Rift is sold at cost, not to make a profit, and that it’s the core hardware, not bundled extras, that keep the price high.

“The core technology in the Rift is the main driver – two built-for-VR OLED displays with very high refresh rate and pixel density, a very precise tracking system, mechanical adjustment systems that must be lightweight, durable, and precise, and cutting-edge optics that are more complex to manufacture than many high end DSLR lenses,” he elaborated.

“It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices – phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make, same with mid-range TVs that cost $599. There are a lot of mainstream devices in that price-range, so as you have said, our failing was in communication, not just price.”

“It is expensive, but for the $599 you spend, you get a lot more than spending $599 on pretty much any other consumer electronics devices – phones that cost $599 cost a fraction of that to make.”

In a later answer, Luckey said it was “not really feasible” to deliver a “VR product good enough to deliver presence and eliminate discomfort” for the low price of the dev kits produced so far – and that the savings weren’t worth it when compared to the total buy-in cost with a good PC.

“DK1 and DK2 cost a lot less – they used mostly off the shelf components,” he added. “They also had significantly fewer features (back of head tracking, headphones, mic, removal facial interfaces, etc.) For Rift, we’re using largely custom VR technology (eg. custom displays designed for VR) to push the experience well beyond DK2 to the Crescent Bay level.”

“We could have shipped something along the lines of DK2, but I really don’t think it would have been good enough to kickstart the consumer VR industry, especially in the long run,” he added.

“It would also cost more than people think – shipping a real consumer product is more complex than janking out a dev kit, even something nearly identical to DK2 would have ended up costing $400+, and the all-in investment including a PC would still be around $1300, not enough to make the jump from enthusiast to mainstream.”

As for how on earth VR can go mainstream at that price point, Luckey pointed out that Oculus is the high-end, “wow” VR option, but it’s actively working with partners, such as Samsung and its GearVR, to make VR accessible to everyone.

Additionally, the price will go down over time as Oculus works with GPU and CPU manufacturers to reduce costs – although maybe not as fast as my budget would personally require.

“For the average person, the PC is by far the biggest cost, not the headset – the end goal is to make sure people can use the PC they already have in most cases,” Luckey concluded.

Well, it’s still a lot cheaper than a fancy-pants HD TV, isn’t it? Check the full AMA for many more interesting answers on the forthcoming tech.

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