Archive for March, 2014

Oculus and the Rift are (probably) dead.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

A few thoughts:

  1. A lot of investors and enthusiasts saw Sony’s Morpheus as a potential Rift killer. This sale to Facebook is leadership’s admission that they couldn’t compete against Sony alone. This doesn’t bode well, especially with MS and Valve possibly getting into the VR game. This tells me that the Rift product simply wasn’t competitive, or could not be made competitive with a fast enough schedule. I’m not sure how else you could interpret a sale like this. Why should I buy a $399 Rift that needs a $1200 gaming PC, when I can just pick up a $250  Morpheus for the cheap PS4 I already own?
  2. Loyalty lost is rarely regained. Now they’ll have to work twice as hard to remain credible in the industry, even if absolutely nothing changes. Remember how OLPC went from our technical darling to a completely dismissed near-crackpot idea? Or look at how Miguel de Icaza was treated for working with MS on Mono.
  3. Carmack and the rest couldn’t nail the real technical hurdles. Motion sickness is still an issue and adding cameras pointing to the rift was clearly a half-assed measure for motion tracking. Everything about the 2nd Developer Kit was a rush job. Sure its better, but just not good enough. Limiting its exposure to a limited number of reviewers was a careful PR ploy to make sure it only got positive press.
  4. Oculus has done nothing in the realm of controls. What use is VR if I can’t naturally use my hands? At least MS potentially solves this with the Kinect. WASD or game controllers isn’t a solution. What is the typical use case here that gamers expected? Its not revolutionary if I have to lug around a keyboard and a mouse. I don’t drive my car with a bridle. This isn’t VR. Its a screen strapped to my face.
  5. Price. Zuckerberg can make it affordable by filling it with ads, but who wants an ad laden VR headset? Sony can subsidize Morpheus with PS4 game licensing and other tricks. So can MS. Valve has the credibility, store, and audience to sell a $399 device. Did Oculus? Maybe once, but certainly not now.
  6. Games. What’s the Rift’s killer app? No one knows, because it doesn’t exist. We didn’t have enough time to figure it out. Now forcing it into an early 2000’s web-based social model guarantees we won’t find its killer app. Who is going to invest millions in software development to have Zuck say “no” and close you out of his walled garden?
  7. Notch’s pull-out of Minecraft for the Rift hurts. Carmack’s unusually quiet twitter today hurts as well. Its clear this was a sale of shame. A quick cash out for a product that probably wasn’t going anywhere and simply couldn’t fulfill fan and investor expectations.
  8. Facebook’s hardware  and mobile attempts thus far have been failures. Why should this succeed? Especially when they just lost all their hard earned community goodwill. Remember the Facebook phone and Facebook home?  Or how their Android app keeps getting rewritten because apparently writing a decent social app is beyond the power of this $100b company.

Let’s face facts. We all went crazy for VR and projected a lot of unrealistic scenarios here.  I got caught up in the hysteria as well.  Suddenly the metaverse was a 2014 xmas release away. The reality is that we needed at least another generation before we could sell it to consumers and we needed some kind of workable and standardized finger, head, and hand tracking before we could write that killer app.

The Oculus guys saw the writing on the wall, put up a great sales pitch, and sold out. Facebook will do something with it, but, no we won’t play AAA games or visit the metaverse with it. So, what now? Wait for Sony or MS or Valve? Probably. A hacker friendly open-ish VR headset just isn’t going to happen, at least not on this level. Maybe this is all for the best. I’d rather wait 12-24 months for a polished Valve or Sony VR headset under the aegis of a gaming company than the half-cooked product Carmack and Palmer were selling. I hope they enjoy their millions and that they share some of it with their loyal kickstarter investors.  We unrealistic dreamers will simply learn to be patient and try not to get fooled again.