A Brief History of Oculus, from Day Zero to Day One

Jan 5, 2016 · 4 min read

The excitement was immediate — the work ahead, overwhelming: could a precocious teenager from Long Beach, California, actually succeed where so many before him failed?

In 2011 that teen, Palmer Luckey, caught the attention of one of the most illustrious game developers in the world, John Carmack, creator of Doom and Quake and founder of id Software. Having made several VR prototypes by tinkering and modifying existing parts from a personal collection of head-mounted displays, Luckey quickly seized an opportunity to send Carmack his latest: PR6, or Prototype 6 — what he then called “the Rift.”

Carmack would later demo this model at E3 — an event that stirred public interest and introduced the Rift to many industry leaders, including three soon-to-be members of the Oculus executive team: Brendan Iribe, Michael Antonov, and Nate Mitchell.

Together, they would take on an elusive challenge: creating a truly immersive virtual reality gaming experience.

The earliest Oculus demo offered more than a proof of concept — it captivated crucial support from programmers and game-studio heads, turned eyes away from other less-exciting VR headsets that were then on the market, and revived hope in virtual reality itself.

The team channelled this momentum into an ambitious Kickstarter campaign, which offered game developers a chance to get their hands on this new technology first, and invited the earliest adopters to help shape the platform’s future by building their own applications for it. As excitement around the Rift grew in the gaming community, the project took off — eventually surpassing $2 million in pledges from 9,522 backers.

At the end of the Kickstarter campaign, Luckey hosted a Reddit AMA to connect with supporters and skeptics, manage daydreams, and clear up any rumors from the mill.

“One of the biggest issues is getting people to believe it actually works as well as we say it does. There are a lot of VR skeptics, but once they actually try it, they are almost always blown away.”

— Palmer Luckey

Oculus was at “day zero”—years of software development and hardware iterations were still necessary. As they got closer to “day one” — a consumer release—they chronicled each development with 82 backer updates along the way.

The Rift entered 2013 with a head of steam: The Verge deemed it “the most revolutionary gaming experience seen in years,” Jimmy Fallon gave it a Late Night close-up, and it put a beaming smile on the face of the first grandmother to try it.

As backers received developer kits, the team looked to solve the nauseating sickness that occurs when the brain believes it’s moving but the body senses everything is still.

When Brendan Iribe announced at the Gaming Insiders Summit that their next prototype would be a “no-motion-sickness” experience, the promise helped usher in outside investment to support a growing team, and future research and development. Momentum continued when Carmack announced he would become the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Then came another indication that this device was going to be ubiquitous: joining Facebook.

The hallmark of truly innovative technology is that it sparks more ideas, inventions, and works of art—and it didn’t take long for the world to begin imagining applications for Oculus beyond gaming. Aviation enthusiasts practiced hang gliding, sky diving, and flying. Forensic researchers reconstructed crime scenes. Reporters created immersive journalism experiences to give audiences first-person interactions with events in the headlines. Clinicians developed therapeutic approaches to help psychiatric patients confront challenging emotions and treat symptoms through virtual reality. And a new class of filmmaker sprung up on Kickstarter itself, pioneering new forms of storytelling such as CLOUDS, Blackout, and The Ark.

Even in its earliest stage, the Rift represented more than just an exciting new technology or a revolution in gaming. It was an entirely new approach to experiencing the world and connecting with one another. It also represented what’s possible when thousands of early adopters step up to say they believe in a small team with big ambitions. Following their journey to “day one” over the last three years has been an education and an inspiration. Here at Kickstarter, we look forward to stepping into the Rift.

For more, visit Oculus.com.

Kickstarter Magazine


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