Price — one of the biggest hurdles to widespread adoption of high-end virtual reality devices — just got a temporary cheat code for anyone considering the Oculus Rift.
Starting Monday, the price of Oculus Rift and the Oculus Touch controllers will be reduced, for a limited time, to $399 at all stores (Best Buy, Amazon, and all others where it’s available).
This represents a huge price cut that suddenly puts the VR device on a par with popular gaming consoles like the PlayStation and the Xbox. And while the Rift isn’t solely a gaming device, that comparison may help some who have been teetering on the edge of diving into VR esports, but are put off by the price of the Rift.
The price drop also goes a long way toward dramatically reducing the overall price of VR set-ups when you factor in the additional price of buying a VR-ready PC, which is necessary when using the Rift.
Just last year, the Oculus was being sold for $600, which rose to $800 overall when you added the cost of its $200 Touch controllers (in my opinion, the Rift is only truly worth it when you use Touch).
Then, four months ago, Oculus decided to reduce the overall price of the Rift and Touch, allowing users to buy the entire set-up for $600.
That price drop not only eased some of the cost of entry into high-end VR, it also put more pressure on Oculus’ main competitor, the HTC Vive, which costs $800.
But now, with this temporary price drop making the Rift and Touch literally half the cost of the Vive, picking the bulkier, more developer friendly device will be that much harder to justify for regular users who are new to VR.
Your move, HTC.
“Now is a good time for us to drive that next tranche of users into the hardware.”
Of course, some VR skeptics will take this move as a signal that Oculus is desperately reaching for a quick solution to boost sales on a device that still hasn’t cracked the mainstream in terms of widespread popularity. Those views are only bolstered by the fact that Oculus has yet to reveal sales numbers for the device.
“We couldn’t stop the hype train, and we also can’t stop the flip side of that coin,” says Jason Rubin, the vice president of content at Oculus.
“We’ve said for a long time that we think VR is going to take a while to get to the mass market. It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re following exactly the game plan that we said we were going to follow from the start.
“I would also point out that Sony PlayStation also went on sale over the summer, and they’re not in desperation to sell hardware. Sales are not always negative. We have a lot of multiplayer games coming out, we need more users in to play those multiplayer games. Now is a good time for us to drive that next tranche of users into the hardware.”
Some of those multiplayer games include Echo Arena (think Ender’s Game in VR), Star Trek: Bridge Crew, and The Unspoken, which sparked its own esports league.
Alas, the Oculus price reduction will only last for six weeks, as it’s being promoted as part of the company’s “Summer of Rift” sale. When I asked Rubin about possible Rift bundles with a VR-ready PC during the upcoming Amazon Prime Day, he said he had nothing to announce, but advised that I “pay attention.” Whether this temporary price cut will boost the profile of the Oculus remains to be seen.
Aside from sales, it seems high-end VR hardware makers aren’t doing much marketing to pull non-techie users into the VR fold, instead relying on the small, but passionate early adopters in the space to pull in more users.
But as things like Apple’s ARKit ramp up augmented reality interest, relying on hardcore VR users alone to get the word out may not be enough.
In the short term, it seems like the more aggressive efforts of location-based ventures like IMAX VR will be where most people get their first taste of high-end VR. Nevertheless, bringing Oculus to price parity with popular gaming consoles, even briefly, is a good start toward truly cracking mainstream VR adoption.