Is VR going consumer too soon?
The date is set: March 28th, 2016. That’s when the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift will ship (I preordered, did you?). For a while now, the fire has been building. Oculus helped rekindle the flame from the burnout in the ’90s and Facebook added a $2 Billion-dollar log. Other companies like Samsung and Sony have added their own logs and word has spread beyond the game industry. But is it too soon?
“Not soon enough”, said Samsung, HTC, and other hardware companies who are struggling to remain profitable selling mobile phones. Margins have disappeared due to rabid competition and the commoditization of mobile phone technology. Apple is dominating the high end and Chinese upstarts like Xiaomi are expanding into the medium-to-low end. Hardware companies are making huge bets on VR because they’re desperate.
“Way too soon”, said Oculus/Facebook, Valve, and other software companies who are profitable and growing. They don’t have existential threats so they wouldn’t mind waiting for stable platforms and healthy markets before committing more resources. Why do you think they’re spending so much money funding independent developers?
The Game Industry
“I’m so ready”, said the game industry. It takes millions of dollars + hundreds of people + years of development to make games like Destiny and GTA 5. It takes insane luck + fat marketing budgets (Super Bowl commercials with Kate Upton??) to succeed in mobile, and it’s looking more and more like the movie industry where blockbuster hits are sequel-ized forever and indy gems pop up here and there but the middle has been gutted.
“Not again and not so soon”, said other industries. Software has been transforming most industries for years now and most are still in the process. For example, just as education and healthcare are getting used to classroom social networks and digital patient records, VR promises earth-shaking changes like virtual classrooms and even virtual doctors.
A Big Bandwagon
“The time is right”, said Microsoft, Magic Leap, and other companies who need VR to pave the road for AR. The $3000 price tag for a Hololens dev kit is double that of the original Google Glass but people are enamored because it’s marketed more like a VR headset than a Glass successor. Magic Leap has almost $600 Million in funding with no dev kit in sight and enjoys the warmth of VR’s fire. Even ads and AdTech are enjoying a boost from VR — you can’t miss all the car and movie “ad-periences” everywhere.
“Too soon is better than never”, said users who just want to make sure they’re not dreaming. There’s some merit to the “poisoning the well” argument but most people would agree that VR isn’t going away this time. So basically we’re arguing over how much we’d scrape our knees learning to walk. Users want more choice, better quality, and lower prices. The sooner we get the first hardware released, the sooner we’ll get the second iteration. The sooner the hardware platforms stabilize, the sooner the software matures. The sooner VR transforms the game industry, the sooner VR transforms other industries. The sooner VR matures, the sooner we can crack real problems like Mars colonization.