So what was your first reaction upon hearing the $599 price point of the forthcoming Oculus Rift? Surprise? Frustration? Bloating? Nausea and vomiting?
Chances are if you experienced the preceding symptoms you either felt priced out of the latest and greatest in VR tech--or should see your doctor and ask about changing your diet. In any case, public reaction to the announced price of Oculus Rift has been decidedly lukewarm to say the least. Many potential consumers see it as unnecessarily high, an example of price gouging, and a game company getting too greedy. Why do they want so much? Did the Virtual Boy cost this much when it came out? I don't think so!
The Once and Future VR King
Well, I say poppycock to all of it! The guys making those Oculus Rift devices want as many people buying them as possible, ripping people off doesn't exactly get you repeat customers, now does it? So if they aren't trying to blindside us with overpricing, why do we feel that they are?
We are all a little more than shell-shocked because for a while now next gen consoles have played around the the outer margins of affordability, but few have actually "dared go there" so-to-speak. Let me give you a brief example: When the Playstation originally launched at $499 and $599 there was a bit of a backlash then too. "What was Sony thinking," everyone wondered. "How could they dare ask so much for this system?" Well, the price did eventually come down on the PS3, it came with the passage of time. Now, slightly less than 10 years later, for about $200 you can pick up a used PS3 and a decent library of games both old and new. Thankfully, there were enough people with disposable income who plunked down the money for those first consoles though, as it made it so Sony had a reason to invest in producing ever better, more efficient technology that would provide the same experience, or a better one, but at a lower cost so as to increase their consumer base. Now we are on to the PS4 and it usually retails in the neighborhood of $350 to $400. High priced, but not too high priced in our minds. Xbox One also retails around this much, and people don't seem to bat an eye at the price of those systems either. We couldn't have gotten to the point of a better system though if the prior generation wasn't a bit higher priced and a little harder to make. New gaming tech doesn't just magically happen overnight, or even in the course of a year or two.
That's how it is though and truthfully, part of me wouldn't trust it if Oculus Rift started out cheap, would you? Do I wish it were something I could more easily afford? Of course I do! But if someone promised a device that gets us that much closer to the fabled Star Trek holodecks and said it cost only a hundred bucks wouldn't you and I be a bit suspicious of them using cheap parts, the device having a high breakage factor, and the likelihood of polygon graphics masquerading as "futuristic VR?"
"Of course we guarantee you a great VR experience!
I remember several years ago when I worked at a movie theater/arcade/entertainment complex, we sold tickets to several attractions that involved strapped on helmets and boasted "full immersion graphics and sound." It sounded like a cool experience. Finally, VR gaming was here, and it was so cheap you couldn't afford not to try it out! Frankly though, the technology employed in those games was cheap, the machines constantly needed repair, and they had graphics barely on par with Donkey Kong Country or even the original Star Fox. Ticket prices for these "games" were cheap, and people generally latched on to that, excited at the prospect of a quick and inexpensive VR "experience." However, they were disappointed that the graphics weren't what they claimed to be. They got to discover first hand there are (usually) no cheap routes to awesome technology, at least not at first. Great technology, and consequently great gaming, takes time to get where it is commonplace. Personally, I don't think we should really care about the high price at this point in the Oculus Rift's life.
There's an excellent article by Wired magazine about how the real problem of Oculus Rift isn't the high price, but rather how good are the graphics? That's a discussion worth having in my book, but complaining about price? No one needs VR tech when you get down to it. Yes, I realize this seems like an easy fallback point to make, but really, when you have systems like the ones we have now, while quibble about how VR isn't readily affordable yet? The future doesn't happen overnight, unless you live in the Back to the Future universe. Sorry that those Hoverboards didn't work out either by the way.
It's funny that we still have the capacity for "sticker shock" when something new comes down the pike in electronics. It's like we have a loop we are stuck in with our shock that anyone could afford such luxury. (Two televisions? You must be rich!) It was only ten years ago when CRT televisions were commonplace and those newfangled LCD and Plasma TVs weren't up to snuff, and were obviously overpriced to boot.
We are at a point where ever increasingly fantastic things are possible thanks to computer graphics and ever advancing technology. Even without a VR helmet we can lose ourselves for hours in the world of Pandora, the war-torn wastes of Fallout, and the even the wacky adventures of a mushroom munching plumber. I'm not sure what's next for the video game industry, but I'm sure people will be just as surprised at the high price of whatever we get then as they are now over the Oculus Rift price. By the time that happens, which might be sooner than we think, the VR gaming experience may not only be more affordable, but more commonplace than we can possibly imagine.
It will take time to get there, but be patient. It will happen eventually.