Today, the future became the present with the launch of Oculus Rift. The reviews are in, but uncertainty hangs overhead with HTC and PlayStation’s VR headsets still on the way.
Here are the tough questions that will determine what you should buy, the distribution of power between the platforms and VR’s effect on our lives.
Should people buy Oculus Rift consumer v1, or wait another hardware and content cycle?
VR is going to happen. It’s mainly a question of when is right for most people. I wish I’d waited to buy v2 of the Apple Watch. I hardly wear it as the hardware doesn’t do enough and developers don’t know what to do with it yet. What’s the right move with Oculus? Can reviewers see past current novelty and future promises to make that call for us? Some critics are already saying Oculus isn’t worth it without the Touch motion controllers coming later this year.
Will Oculus Rift dominate the tethered VR market and we should commit to the benefits of network effect, or will it fragment amongst HTC Vive and PlayStation VR and we should wait to see what we prefer?
Between its early community, Facebook’s firepower and its first-to-market status, Oculus Rift could rule the mindshare. But it could be dragged down by flimsy launch titles or a killer exclusive on a competing platform. The HTC Vive full-body, walk-around-the-holodeck headset will ship soon with bulky motion controllers that unlock the true potential of VR. Oculus may have been smart to get Rift out the door first. But without the Touch controllers, Vive could command more early ooohs and ahhhs and the PlayStation VR’s low price could attract gamers on a budget. A fragmented market could spur more competition and innovation, but also restrict with what and with whom we play.
Can Oculus secure and maintain a stranglehold on the best VR developers?
We might only buy one, but developers will build wherever there’s the best market. Who sells the most headsets? But also, how much are those audiences willing to spend on content (think iOS versus Android)? What percent will each platform charge developers? How much promotion will third-party devs or indies get versus the platform’s own content and key partners? And how much flexibility around utilizing hardware, graphic content, adult content and approvals will each platform offer? There’s a delicate balance to be struck between profit for the platforms, attraction for developers, opportunity for the VR industry and reliability for the customer.
Rift will change much more than gaming, but is the social and cinematic content up to snuff for non-gamers to buy in yet?
Communication, film, education, travel and business are poised to be revolutionized by VR much the way they were by smartphones. But that didn’t mean you needed to own an early BlackBerry or even the first iPhone. Rift is deeply gaming-focused right now. If you’re looking to explore a new paradigm for reality more than to shoot down spaceships, it might still be too early.
When do we start talking seriously about VR addiction?
Hopefully now, because it’s coming. This thing is immersive. You’re not sitting alone in a darkened basement or bedroom staring at a glowing rectangle, acutely aware you’re shrugging off the real world. There are no edges. No way to look away. No reminders to stop. Oculus should be researching this now instead of after the first kid dies of dehydration with a Rift still strapped to their face.
These questions just stopped being vague hypotheticals. Finally, we can advance our thoughts about VR beyond the technology and toward the art, business and impact.