Following the announcement last week that the first Oculus Rift consumer model will cost $600, 23-year-old creator Palmer Luckey has again defended and explained that premium price point. In a new Reddit AMA, Luckey says the goal for Rift to be "cheap, functional and disruptive" has never changed--though the timeline for when it might be possible to achieve that goal indeed has.
"I still want to make VR cheap, functional and disruptive, but it takes a certain amount of quality to do that," Luckey said. "Three years ago, I thought a good enough headset could be built for $300 and run on a decent gaming PC. Since then, we have learned a lot about what it takes to induce presence, and the landscape of the industry has changed a lot too -- we are no longer the only players, and the burden of bringing good VR to everyone is no longer solely on us."
"The best way to make a technology mainstream is not always as simple as making a cheap product as quickly as possible, that is what lead to the last VR crash!" Luckey said. "Tesla is a good example -- Elon Musk had to convince the public that electric cars could be awesome before he could build the technology that would actually make electric cars mainstream. If Tesla had tried to make a $35K mass-market electric car back in 2008, they would have accomplished little. Instead, they made the Roadster and Model S, proved that electric cars could be awesome, invested heavily in R&D and now have a clear path toward their ever-present long-term goal: making electric cars mainstream."
Luckey went on to point that there already exists a viable, lower-cost VR option in the form of GearVR, which Oculus is working on with Samsung. Eventually, VR will become ubiquitous, Luckey predicted, with a multitude of options to meet your desired quality and prices, not unlike other technology devices.
"GearVR is already an awesome headset for $99 if you already have a flagship Samsung phone (like tens of millions of other people), and there are other companies entering the VR scene in the near future," he said. "Eventually, VR is going to run on every computer sold, and there will be a wide range of hardware at various price and quality points, a lot like televisions or monitors."
Luckey added that he can "totally understand" that $600 (a price that includes the headset and not a capable PC) may be above what people are willing to pay right now for a virtual-reality experience. But he stressed that, as with phones and TVs, prices will fall over time if everything goes to plan.
"The Rift is the first headset capable of delivering presence, the sensation of feeling like you are inside a virtual scene on a subconscious level," he said. "VR needs to become something everyone wants before it can become something everyone can afford. I totally understand people who don't want to spend that much on VR, but this is the current cost of making a really good headset. Much like smartphones, the cost of that quality is going to come down over time -- you can buy unsubsidized phones for less than $100 that blow away the best $600 phones from just five years ago; that is what time does to the cost of technology."
Luckey also recently apologized for misleading fans by talking about a $350 ballpark price for the Rift. For more on the Rift's $600 price, you can check out GameSpot's editor roundup on the subject.