It's been over three years since the Oculus Rift was funded Kickstarter, and ever since then people have been wondering: What the hell is this thing going to cost? With pre-orders starting today, we finally have an answer: $599. (Or £500/€700 for our friends in Europe. Or... over $849 for Canadians. Ouch.) If you made an order the second the site went live, your Rift will ship in March, but additional customers will have to wait a little longer. At the time of this posting, the ship date has updated to May.
That $599 will get you either more or less than you expect, depending on how closely you've been following news of the Rift. On top of the headset, cables, and sensor, buyers will also receive the Oculus Remote, an Xbox One Controller, space combat game EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky's Tale, a colorful platformer. Not included in the package (and unavailable for purchase until sometime later this year) are the Oculus Touch "half moon" controllers that made such a splash at press demos last year.
That $599 price tag is definitely going to be a sticking point for some would-be early adopters, especially when you consider the Rift's system requirements ask a lot, too:
|Oculus Rift System Requirements
|Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
|CPU: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
|Memory: 8GB+ RAM
|Video Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
|USB Ports: 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
|OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
As someone running a GTX 760 right now, I'd need to make be a pretty big purchase just to be able to use the Rift. (I also don't think I have that many USB 3.0 ports, but that's solved a lot more easily). And I imagine that there are a lot of folks in a situation like me. If early response on social media and on gaming forums is any indicator, there are a lot of disappointed folks out there. It's a tough thing, because the fact of the matter is that that this stuff is just still very expensive. Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey sent out a tweet trying to make this point:
To reiterate, we are not making money on Rift hardware. High end VR is expensive, but Rift is obscenely cheap for what it is.— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) January 6, 2016
It's a point he'd made in the past, too. That may be cold comfort for disappointed fans, though. There were times when the official messaging made it seem like the Rift could be more affordable, but that always felt like a strategy used to keep consumer interest high. Speaking with Eurogamer back in September of 2014, Luckey said that the company wanted "to stay in that $200-$400 price range," though did warn that the price "could slide in either direction depending on scale, pre-orders, the components we end up using, [and] business negotiations." It's easy to imagine an excited reader seeing that $200-$400 range and getting their hopes up despite the warning. I always expected in my gut that at least some of this first batch of consumer-grade VR would be too expensive for me, so to be honest I'm not that surprised by the $599 price. (If you'd asked me yesterday, though, I would've bet that the Rift would come in just under $500).
There was another group of folks upset about the Rift a couple of years ago: Early Kickstarter backers angry with the Facebook $2B buyout. Some were upset that they weren't getting a cut of that buyout despite feeling like they helped to get the VR device off the ground. Others feared that Facebook's involvement would shift Oculus' focus away from gaming. Others just didn't like the narrative: They were there to root for the little guy, not one of the biggest companies in the world. Yesterday, Oculus finally announced a way to reward these early supporters (and maybe gain back some good will): The company is giving a free Rift to any Kickstarter backer who purchased a DevKit three years ago.
I'm curious to see how Oculus' competitors will respond to this. Between the two controllers and the wall-mounted room scanners, will Valve and HTC's Vive come in a lot higher than the Rift? What about Sony's Playstation VR, which since its announcement has seemed like a more affordable product. Will the Rift's high price allow Sony to consider higher prices of its own? Could the company repeat its "consumer-friendly" rhetoric that won them so much support back at the start of this console cycle? Or is VR such an unstable ground right now that everyone will play nice for fear of torpedoing the whole industry?
All of this, really, is secondary to the larger question: Why the hell should I buy a VR headset? I've had a great time with many of the demos I've played, and I think there's a ton of potential in VR, but what specifically will be the game (or application) that finally makes me say "okay, no, I need to spend like a thousand dollars on a headset and a new video card." I'm not doubting that this will happen--history is filled with hardware-selling games that encouraged huge groups of consumers to make the leap to (and drop a ton of cash on) new hardware. It could happen again, but until it does (or until the Rift or a competitor makes a more affordable offer), I'll be staying on this side of the VR line.
EDIT: After I posted this article, I made some additional tweets about the backlash that Oculus is facing over this. Because it's 2016, here's a Storify compiling those tweets.