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Oculus offers free VR headset to early Kickstarter supporters

Some in the wildly successful crowdfunding effort felt jilted after the headset maker sold itself to Facebook.

Early backers of Oculus Rift on Kickstarter are looking at a free VR headset.

Josh Miller/CNET

Oculus has a present for its early Kickstarter supporters who may still be steamed over its Facebook buyout: a free virtual-reality headset.

Oculus said Tuesday that those who backed it early in its massively successful crowdfunding effort would receive a free Oculus Rift. The announcement comes a day after Oculus said it would begin taking preorders for the highly anticipated VR headsets on Wednesday.

"As one of the early supporters of Oculus, you helped make this revolution happen," Oculus' co-founders said in a letter to supporters published Tuesday. "As a small token of our appreciation for your support, all Kickstarter backers who pledged for a Rift development kit will get a free Kickstarter Edition Oculus Rift."

The headsets that those backers will receive will be labeled as the special Kickstarter Edition and be among the first shipped, a spokeswoman said.

This year has been widely expected to be virtual reality's big coming-out party, with several companies planning software and hardware releases that will transport goggle-wearing users to digitally created 3D worlds. In addition to Oculus VR headsets, the Sony PlayStation VR and HTC Vive are expected to be released this year, when industry watcher Juniper Research expects sales of about 3 million headsets. By 2020, Juniper expects that number to hit 30 million.

The free headsets are a boon to the nearly 10,000 early supporters of the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Recognizing the potential for VR, especially in gaming, enthusiastic backers pledged more than $2.4 million for a Rift development kit, shattering the project's original $250,000 goal in just a few hours.

Much of that enthusiasm faded after Facebook announced in March 2014 it was snapping up the then-18-month-old startup for $2 billion. Shortly after the news of the deal broke, dozens of backers started leaving angry comments on the Oculus Kickstarter campaign page.

"I would have NEVER given a single cent of my money to Oculus if I had known you were going to sell out to Facebook," one backer wrote.

While some felt short-changed by Oculus' founders cashing in, backers did receive the kits they were promised in exchange for their pledges. But part of the point of Kickstarter is that creators and inventors have total creative freedom over their projects and thus aren't weighed down with acquisition restrictions or future profit requirements.

Kickstarter said it's not unusual for project creators to give early backers a bonus for their support.

"Kickstarter backers are often the earliest adopters, first-believers, and most ardent supporters," the organization said in a statement to CNET. "It's not uncommon for creators to reciprocate that spirit of enthusiasm and generosity by aiming above and beyond expectations."

To claim the headsets, early backers must complete by February 1 a survey that they will receive from Kickstarter.

Oculus has not yet revealed a price for the Rift, which is expected to ship by March. Executives hinted last May that consumers could spend around a total of $1,500 for the headset bundled with a PC that costs $1,000 or less.

Oculus declined to provide further details on the price and ship date of the Rift.