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Is the Oculus Rift Doomed to Fail?

oculus rift

The Facebook buyout of Oculus, creators of that particularly ugly piece of virtual reality headgear, has received some pretty mixed reactions.

Some people are baffled, some people are upset, and some people have torn the clothes from their body and thrown aside all earthly possessions. People from all those groups are wondering what this means for the Oculus Rift.

What I’m wondering, however, is if Mark Zuckerberg is in for an astonishingly brutal case of buyer’s remorse – about 2 billion dollars’ worth.

Do we actually want it?

Here’s the thing – I’m not sure Oculus Rift is all that good.

Don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve seen of it (and full disclosure, I’ve never actually used the thing), it looks really cool. It looks like a great piece of hardware. It looks like innovation, something sorely needed in the gaming industry. It also looks like a gimmick.

And I’m just not sure I want one. Or, for that matter, if anyone else will.

I’ve seen the videos of people freaking out and loving it, and I think I’d giggle like a schoolgirl if I could use one for just five minutes. But that’s the thing about new technology, especially tech like the Rift which messes with the way you perceive things – it’s exciting, it’s different and it feels amazing.

It’s like being on a rollercoaster or going on one of those virtual reality amusement park rides – they’re really really fun, and really exhilarating – but I sure as hell don’t want to do it for two hours. Hell, I don’t want to do it for twenty minutes. The reason it’s fun is because we don’t have constant access to it. Would you want to take a rollercoaster to work every day?

Everybody had a helluva lot more faith in 3D televisions, and those, to my mind, have failed spectacularly. How often do you go to a friend’s house and slap on a pair of 3D glasses to watch that My Little Pony Blu-Ray?

It's so much better when the rainbows jump right out of the screen.

It’s so much better when the rainbows jump right out of the screen.

Chances are, you don’t. Not many people do, because people just want to relax and watch television, they don’t want to don some kind of awkward headgear and have everything else in the room look fuzzy.

And from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t get much more awkward than the Rift. I’m not sure what the design plan is for future models, but I think after an hour of having those enormous goggles strapped to your head you’ll be reaching for the Deep Heat.

It’s just so… exclusive. I can’t sit and chat to my friends (without feeling like an absolute knob) while I’m playing games. I can’t sneak in a quick round of Call of Duty and chat to my wife while she’s making dinner.

I can’t just collapse on my couch in whatever position I like and gun down the elderly in GTA V. I have to sit, put on my giant Facebook goggles, shut out the rest of the world and game.

I’ve mentioned this before, but historically gamers just don’t like people messing with the way they play games. The basic, golden standard of a screen and a controller has been tried, trusted and true since forever, and most deviations from that have not ended well.

With the short-lived exception of the Wii, people just have not bought into motion controls. We all thought it was going to be ridiculously badass to have lightsaber fights in front of our televisions when stuff like the Kinect was first marketed – remember that? Remember all those amazing things we were going to be able to do? How about those big electronic gloves you could put on? Hey, remember the Virtua Boy? Or even the Wii U’s tablet controller?

All of these things have failed. Even the Xbox One Kinect is used as a voice-controlled remote control for your console and television more than anything else.

And, of course, there's that. The things the Kinect must have seen...

And, of course, there’s that. The things the Kinect must have seen…

We’ve been here before. We’ve seen some new, exciting, completely different thing that’s going to revolutionise the way we play games – and then we don’t buy it. We don’t want it. We’re lazy, we’re stuck in our ways and all we really want is a badass new game for our controller and screen setup.

People REALLY don’t like Facebook

I find this kind of hilarious. Everyone seems to hate the social network giant, and yet everyone uses it.

Do you know how it got this big? Because of you (okay, and me). The people going on a rant about Facebook in their strongly-worded forum post probably have the site open in another tab. It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to say is that Facebook isn’t exactly the darling of hardcore game developers, or hardcore gamers. Minecraft-man Notch has already publicly pulled out, and you have to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before others follow suit.

People just don’t really trust Facebook, it has the stink of greedy corporate about it and you can’t help but feel like the second you put those goggles on it’s going to stare deep into your soul and figure out how best to tailor advertising for your particularly pervy needs.

The biggest problem here for Oculus specifically is that there are competitors without that marketing money stench. We’ve already seen Sony’s Project Morpheus emerge, amongst others – it’s pretty easy to imagine developers simply jumping ship at this point.

Of course, my own personal doubt doesn’t lie with Oculus or Facebook, but with the concept itself.

Bottom line

The Oculus Rift is a cool and innovative product, and I have nothing but respect for all the people behind it.

However, it’s not the first time we’ve seen something cool and innovative, and history points to gamers not liking change – not at all.

There’s a good chance the Rift (and the VR headset in general) becomes just another gimmick piece of hardware that gets pulled out at parties, and not the new standard of gaming.

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  • Georgie

    The writer of this article doesn’t need to attach the Rift to his face to look like a total knob. He just needs to write an article.

    • Robert Hart

      Haha true XD

    • Squirly

      God forbid, he’s got an opinion and put it on the internet.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Not that I don’t enjoy a good insult, but if you could expound on why you think I’m a knob I’d probably enjoy it more ;)

  • Robert Hart

    I’ve used the Rift and it is very appealing, especially now that they have upped the resolution in the V2.

    Instead of spending almost R10000 on a triple screen setup (3 screens and the mounts), you can spend R3500 on a Rift.

    It is going to be great for simulators.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Simulators seem like a good niche for it – I can imagine racing sims or even flight sims really making good use of the technology.

      The thing about a triple screen setup or other such extravagant customisations, is that developers don’t have to do anything to their games to accommodate that group.

    • XCal1bur

      I agree Rob. Imagine horror games….or rather I don’t want to O_o But I think this would appeal more to the bachelor type of gamer than the married type. Though playing RPG’s in VR would really be something…-drools-
      -
      Opinion on the overall thread- I think people like to escape far more often these days. So there is a bigger market for it than a fuzzy 3D screen. 3D never excited any of my friend circles, but VR is doing its rounds quite thoroughly, because we know the tech is far more plausible now than years ago. -But I understand your point.-
      Though seeing Sony and MS researching into the market is something to keep an eye on.

  • Dave

    I agree with the point you’re making. I’ve always thought similar things. The OR is awesome tech but it’s not going to replace everyones TV or monitors and will probably become a very small market/ niche product. Something rich people pull out to impress their friends but they don’t use all the time. Honestly, if someone gave me one, I’d look at it for a few days and then sell it to buy something more useful. Maybe if they can develop the technology to have more use in industry or as a learning tool it will have a longer shelf life.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Perhaps that’s Facebook’s interest – expanding the technology to use in other areas besides gaming. I think they may even have more success in alternative domains.

  • http://r4mzy.co.za/ R4mzy

    This is a concern I’ve had since I first squee’d at the reveal of the Rift. I definitely want one, to use for /gaming, man/, when I want to, but I most certainly would not want to use it all the time and end up excluding everything else. Terrible as it is, we still live in a meatspace and that space doesn’t just go away when you strap a Rift to your face.

    Personally, I anticipate the best way to use the Rift, for gaming at least, is as an all-encompassing experience lasting only a set amount of time for a certain set of games, and in search of a particular experience. I hope to get myself a Rift, a Virtuix Omni, and a Razer Hydra to use for my stints of totally exclusionary and probably-first-person-view-only gaming. And a HOTAS setup for Star Citizen and other flight/space sims. In fact space and flight sims could well end up being what the Rift is most used for, given their somewhat natural fit since you’d be sitting in game and in meatspace.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      I definitely agree in terms of sims as I mentioned to another reader above, or other similarly specific experiences.

      Although, is a niche market like that enough to support it?

      Personally, I just cannot see this being viable as an all-encompassing accessory for our type of current, mainstream gaming.

    • MrNexy

      VR is certainly not something you do in a public space, there are some other units out there that are doing through-put using stereo cameras. This is likely to be a good direction to head in , check out the early version of the sulon cortex http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VB3k-qjI9-A . It still looks like its a while off in terms of tracking and miniaturization of course :)

  • MrNexy

    I’ve demonstrated the Rift to nearly 1,000 people (many of them skeptical at first) and I am yet to come across anyone who’s opinion of the device hasn’t been radically altered by the experience.

    While I do respect that this is an opinion piece and indeed your opinion, it does feel dated in its approach to the subject matter.

    I would recommend that you try the Rift out for yourself Chris and possibly do some further research on the subject. Had this piece been posted in the earlier days of the Rift’s development it may have been more relevant.

    The Rift is not about replacing your desktop monitors with something that you stick on your face. Its about transporting yourself into an immersive virtual environment,experiencing interactive content on an unprecedented level and making Virtual Reality something accessible to more people than ever before.

    Regarding the Facebook deal.A lot of people have trouble differentiating between Facebook.com and Facebook the NASDAQ holding company.

    Facebook certainly screwed the pooch by missing out on the mobile market and mobile as a platform, they have shown that they’ve learned from that though with the recent purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram. Which they haven’t changed either, if anything this deal will help Oculus drive down the price point of the commercial version of the device.

    If Zuckerburg wants to make good on his investment in the future, he’ll let Oculus do what they do best. Its a good thing that Oculus has the resources now to build the Justice League of Hardware and Software Engineers needed to get CV1 out and get VR off the ground proper.

    VR has the potential to change how we interact,educate and experience entertainment. That said though I don’t think that gaming as it is now will completely disappear. There will always be something satisfying about slumping down into the couch with a controller in hand or getting comfy at the keyboard for a long gaming session.

    • http://r4mzy.co.za/ R4mzy

      “The Rift is not about replacing your desktop monitors with something that you stick on your face. Its about transporting yourself into an immersive virtual environment,experiencing interactive content on an unprecedented level and making Virtual Reality something accessible to more people than ever before.”

      You still need to stick the device on your face to experience that immersion though, and I think that is where the Rift will have it’s biggest challenge (especially now that money is no longer a problem) in not just becoming another unused peripheral, as opposed to an occasionally-used peripheral ’cause it’s not replacing screens anyway.

      Granted I haven’t used a Rift myself, but from what I’ve seen they make for an experience that *has* to exclude what’s going on around you in meatspace, else the immersion simply doesn’t exist. Strapping this thing to your face (regardless of how easy or quick said strapping might be) goes against natural instincts to be aware of what’s around you. Sure, I can see it being embraced in environments where people are alone and secure but I don’t see it going down well in public places like shops or museums or wherever else would conceivably have an awesome virtual environment to offer. You’re just too unaware of what’s around you, and that unawareness opens you up to dangers you then can’t become aware of (pickpockets, run-away trolleys, the guy who’s girlfriend you winked at earlier, the person you can’t see and inadvertently slap in the face, etc.). People almost certainly wouldn’t check it out more than once.

      I hope I’m wrong, but I expect a lot of buyers will end up saying something along the lines of, “I don’t know, it’s really awesome but… I just don’t use it. Feels weird, you know?”

      • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

        That’s one of my major concerns as well. I feel a tad uncomfortable with the lack of social interaction as well as the vulnerability of not being aware of your surroundings.

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Thanks for your long comment, nice to hear the opinion of someone with experience with it :)

      I’m not sure we actually disagree though – I do think it’s an amazing device, and I think the experience of using it for the first time would be quite something.

      W/hat I’m wondering is, if it’s not going to replace monitors or alter the way we play games, is it commercially viable? That is what I was trying to indicate when I spoke of it as a gimmick.

      It’s an amazing piece of hardware for tech demos and what-not, but if it’s not going to change the way we play a game, what use is it really to developers? Small portions of the game where we use the Rift perhaps?

      I’m not sure really, but it feels to me like it’s going to be difficult to find a way to make it mainstream, something we use all the time.

      • MrNexy

        I can’t speak for AAA developers but as an Indie it certainly has been an interesting experience developing for VR.

        You do have some good points. I don’t think it will be used ala old school 3D Cinema though (that would be crazy uncomfortable). What I meant is that it won’t replace monitors as a display technology altogether. Even though the DK1 is far lighter than anything out there (once on you forget its there)that would be impractical with current and even next gen technology.

        It will change the way you play games but in that we’ll have a new breed of games, in addition to the games that we already have now.

        I think ultimately though that VR and the Rift will do well less as a peripheral device and more as a standalone platform, which is where the guys at Oculus have indicated it would be going in the future.

        This is something that we will discover upon the launch of CV1 though, until then its all speculation :)

        • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

          That could be a good idea actually, have it be an exclusive thing where games can be designed specifically for it.

          I think the indie scene is also fantastic for it, because the expectations and limitations placed on indies are much less, those devs can really experiment with it.

          As I mentioned, I don’t really have negative feelings about the Rift – I’m so glad that there are people making hardware like this and exploring new boundaries.

          My real concern is it’s place in the mainstream gaming market. As technology, I’m very glad it exists and I hope that it can carve out a place for itself.

  • GammarayZa

    Would you want to take a rollercoaster to work every day?

    This needs to happen, like yesterday!

    • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

      Haha, I get the feeling after the first week you’d be begging for a nice, boring car ride ;)

      • GammarayZa

        Nah, you keep the silly car for grocery shopping etc.
        The trip to work will be fun again!

        • http://www.mygaming.co.za Chris Kemp

          Maybe it’s because my commute is an hour that I feel queasy just thinking about it :D

          • GammarayZa

            An hour long rollercoaster ride? You’re not helping your case. :P

            Also, with no traffic, your commute should be shorter.

  • rooislangwtf

    I want a Rift and considering the device will probably be cheaper after the Facebook acquisition. Historically Facebook has proved that they don’t meddle with products after buying them (Instagram and Whatsapp for example), I would have been much more worried if Google or any game publisher (except Valve, but then again the Rift would have been tied to Valve time) bought out Oculus.

  • Miklós Szecsei

    “Don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve seen of it (and full disclosure, I’ve never actually used the thing)”

    Ah, there it is! Every single naysaying article I read about the Rift eventually produces this caveat. :P

    My column for the May edition of NAG discusses the Facebook buyout as well. Our opinions are on opposite ends of the spectrum, although it did take me a while to settle on my feelings about Facebook’s spending spree. I do wonder how Facebook plans on marketing the thing, because it’s a VERY difficult product to sell to somebody who hasn’t used one, and those who have used one find it difficult to describe just how butt-clenchingly awesome the thing is.

    And I’d ride the SHIT out of a rollercoaster to work every day. Sign me up! :D

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