The price tag of one of 2016's hottest new products is proving to be a hot-button topic.
After months of suspense, Oculus VR revealed at CES this week that the Rift, one of the first virtual-reality headsets to hit the market, will set consumers back $599. That didn't go over so well. Some who'd been hankering for the device took to social media to express their confusion and annoyance. Last year Oculus had indicated the Rift's price would be about $350, with the caveat that the final price would be slightly higher.
So it was time for damage control. On Wednesday, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey ventured onto the popular and often raucous Reddit community site to apologize for the bewilderment about the final pricing of the soon-to-be-released Rift headset. When questioned by a Reddit user about how Oculus had mismanaged consumer expectations, Luckey admitted that he "handled the messaging poorly."
Virtual reality promises to transport people into computer-generated worlds just by donning a headset, and it's garnered excitement among everyone from film directors to game designers to marketers. Whether mainstream consumers are ready is the big question, and an answer could come this year as electronics makers send their VR gadgets out into the world. Along with the Oculus Rift, the first wave of headsets include Sony's PlayStation VR, HTC's Vive and those that have already hit the market like the cheaper Samsung Gear VR and Google's budget, flat-pack Cardboard device.
Preorders for the Rift are now open, with shipping dates ranging from March to June.
Oculus launched on Kickstarter in 2012, then was scooped up by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. That takeover by the social-media giant caused frustration among early backers who were worried the startup was turning its back on them. Now that the headset is going on sale, the Menlo Park, California-based Oculus is making amends by providing its early backers with free headsets. The process of bringing the Rift to market, however, has been long, drawn-out and beset with confusing messaging to all consumers.
What VR fans especially wanted to know along the way was how much the final product would cost. Early developer headsets were priced in the region of $300 to $350, but rumors had circulated that the finished version would be sold to consumers for $1,500. In what seems now to have been a spontaneous attempt to set the record straight, Luckey came up with the ballpark $350 figure in September.
"As an explanation, not an excuse: during that time, many outlets were repeating the 'Rift is $1500!' line, and I was frustrated by how many people thought that was the price of the headset itself," Luckey, on Reddit, said of the confusion. "My answer was ill-prepared, and mentally, I was contrasting $349 with $1,500, not our internal estimate that hovered close to $599 -- that is why I said it was in roughly the same ballpark."
Facebook, Oculus' parent company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even more confusing is that, for many, the final Oculus Rift setup will in fact end up costing closer to $1,500 than $350, given that they'll need a high-end PC with a graphics processor capable of running the Rift. The messaging over the PC element of the setup has been another bone of contention, confusing both to gamers who already own a suitable PC and to those who will need to buy one.
"Many people were confused enough to think the Rift was a standalone device," said Luckey in the Reddit session, where he acknowledged that most consumers, and even gamers, don't have a PC anywhere close to the required specifications. "For that vast majority of people, $1,500 is the all-in cost of owning Rift. The biggest portion of their cost is the PC, not the Rift itself."
He added that Oculus won't actually be making any money on the Rift hardware, which includes a wired headset, a head-tracking camera and a Microsoft Xbox One gamepad. Separate, and curiously shaped, Oculus Touch controllers will be an additional cost when they become available in the second half of 2016.
Asked on Reddit to offer an estimate of how much the Touch controller would cost, Luckey demurred.
"No more ballparks for now," he said. "I have learned my lesson."