What follows is an admittedly long winded (and a bit emo) description of my journey from Rift pre-order shock to acceptance. It looks remarkably like the five stages of grief actually now that I’ve written it all out. TL:DR: Oculus has delivered both low cost and premium VR and, at least as far as I am concerned, this is a good thing.
On January 6, I, along with the whole VR community, was following the countdown toward the opening of Rift pre-orders full of enthusiasm and hope. I knew going in that it was going to be more than $350. Oculus had said as much. I was disappointed about that, but I believed that Oculus was aiming for the mainstream and that they would be relatively close to that target. And I had good reason to believe that, most importantly because Palmer Luckey (co-founder of Oculus and inventor of the Rift) had said that it would be in that ball park. Add to that the fact that they announced they were giving away more than 5000 of them to those who backed the original Kickstarter, which I assumed they would not do if they were really expensive, and I felt pretty certain that the naysayers were wrong when they predicted a price in the high four hundreds.
Shortly before the pre-orders opened I saw a Reddit post with a picture of the pre-order screen and it showed a price of $599. I laughed. It looked just like the DK2 pre-order screen so I assumed it was a quick edit in photoshop to troll everyone. When the timer reached zero and the page changed for me I clicked the pre-order button and, like almost everyone else, I got a white screen. This happened several times and then I gave up. I wasn’t pre-ordering anyway, I just wanted to know the price so I knew how much I had to save before I could buy it.
Then I saw other posts. People on twitter. Upload VR. All of them confirming what that troll had posted. But there was no way. Upload had just taken that troll’s post at face value and ran with it, right? It couldn’t be true because there was a ballpark. We were given a ballpark and that ball was not in the ballpark. It was clearly outside the ballpark. It could see the ballpark from where it landed, but if the word ballpark means anything, it was not inside that ballpark.
I went back to Oculus.com and managed to get through to the pre-order page where I saw, in black and white, the price. That had been no troll. The Rift really was $599. I felt the bottom fall out of my stomach. My limbs went cold. I felt knives embed themselves deeply into my back. And, if you haven’t yet figured it out, I was pissed.
The day before when the announcement went out that Kickstarter backers were getting a Rift for free I kept a pleasant demeanor. It stung for sure, for several reasons. First of all there was the obvious jealousy that I wasn’t getting one for free. Entirely unwarranted, I know, but it was there. I didn’t believe I deserved one, as I said more than once, but there was definiately some angry animal awoken in me at that point. The anger was not directed at Oculus. I thought it was awesome that they were doing that. It was directed partially at me, and partially at life, because had I known about the Kickstarter before it ended, I would have moved heaven and earth to be a part of it.
I feel like I say this all the time and I’m sure there are at least one or two people who see me on Reddit that are getting sick of hearing it, but I tried my first VR, Dactyl Nightmare, in around 1992. It redirected my life. I had loved video games since the first time I played Frogger on my cousins Atari 2600 when I was five, but this VR came out of nowhere. I had never heard of it, but as soon as I heard what it did, I had to play it. It was at a mall in Toronto and it was a defining four minutes in my life. It was the only time I got to play real VR (I had two “VR” experiences later that were an insult to the term) and from that moment on my life’s ambition was to own my own VR set up. The only reason I wanted to get rich as a kid, was to have my own VR set up.
I could go on, but that’s enough background to say that after 20 years, I would have done just about anything, sold everything I own, to back the Kickstarter if I had known that it existed. I would have been part of the initial group. I would have been with my fellow VR lovers where I belonged. In fact, I did sell almost everything of value I had to pay for a DK2 and the computer to run it, and then I took on some side work and saved every penny in a jar until, on June 4th 2014, I finally had enough to place my order.
My DK2 was coming, but I was not a part of that initial group and I never would be. It was too late. And, this is the thing that bothered me when they were getting free Rifts. At first, yes, I was jealous that I wasn’t getting one for myself, but before long I was just sour that I had missed the Kickstarter. I watched people post their backer numbers and I felt like the outcast at school, watching all the cool kids who I want to be friends with and knowing that nothing I ever do will make me a part of that group. The terrible feeling of regret overshadowed every other announcement that day for me. I read the post of thank you to the backers. Oculus thanking them for believing in them and I thought, I believed in you. From the second I knew who you were I believed in you. I am the most rabid Oculus fanboy I know.
It might sound corny but it was an emotional day for me. I had been so looking forward to CES and instead of excitement I was just feeling depressed. This was not on Oculus. This was on me for not really thinking to try and find VR enthusiasts online, but in my defense, from what I did read on VR, I thought I was alone in wanting it back. Almost everything I read about it was how garbage it was and how people didn’t want things strapped to their heads and, well, you know what I mean. If you don’t, go read the comments on IGN about VR. You’ll see.
But I was able to pull myself out of the funk. Okay, I missed the boat. Nothing to be done about that. But pre-orders were coming the next day and at least I would be able to point at the price and shout down all the naysayers. Oculus would come through, especially with all that Facebook money. How could they not? I was, as Stan Lee might say, a true believer.
The funny thing about fanboyism is, and I’ve just now realized this, it’s kind of like being a stalker. You follow these people who have no idea you exist, you watch their lives unfold and you, in a sense, feel like you know them. And it was because of this I think that I was so shattered. I trusted them, and they didn’t live up to that trust. At first my heart broke. I had that terrible feeling that I haven’t had since breaking up with my highschool sweetheart, or when your friend gets accepted by the in crowd and suddenly forgets you exist. It’s a sort of hopeless betrayal. You keep trying to think of ways to make it right, but the harsh reality keeps hitting you. It’s not yours anymore.
Naturally, I was upset. Since I do like to have people come by my site and read my stuff and I want to make friends in the community I was trying to keep it as civil as possible. I wrote and deleted many angry posts. I vowed that I was going to HTC, even though the thought had never entered my mind before hand. I, as politely as I could muster, raged against the storm. But the storm didn’t care.
By the time Palmer took to Reddit to answer questions the fire had dwindled. I started to think about the amazing experiences that I have already had with my DK2 and my Gear VR. I realized that Oculus did bring cheap VR. Sure the DK’s were supposed to be for developers, but Oculus allowed anyone to buy one, and they were as cheap as you could ever hope for VR. They also, along with Samsung, gave us the Gear VR without which this site probably never would have come into existence. I also started to hope that maybe having a DK2 means I will get to try some of games coming to CV1 and that will hold me over until I find a way to buy the Rift. I still don’t know about that but we know that it will support the 1.0 runtime, so there is good reason to hope.
The thing that finally calmed me down completely was Palmer during the AMA. He explained what he had meant by ballpark. The comment was made at a time when media was saying that the Rift would cost $1500 based on comments Oculus had been making that said a total system, computer included, would cost around $1500. So, $599 is much more in the $350 ballpark than the $1500 ballpark, and that’s what Palmer meant. It wasn’t a planned comment, it was off the cuff. I’m sure it’s hard to make sure that everything you say is clear and gives the right idea when you are being asked so many questions all the time. And I know that tone is very often misconstrued in online interactions but I got the impression he felt bad for that and really wishes he’d handled it differently. And I may be wrong, but from the way Palmer interacts with people online, it doesn’t seem as though money has changed him too much. He is still the kid with the dream of VR for the masses.
So, now that I’ve calmed down and I think about what the Rift is, what it does, and I see build quality, it doesn’t seem all that expensive. Even here in Canada where we will have to shell out over $900 for the thing. It still sucks that I can’t afford it and probably won’t be able to for quite some time, but the sting of betrayal has been removed. I know that Oculus can’t actually betray me because that would imply a relationship between us that doesn’t exist, but that was my initial reaction and it fueled me for most of the day, warrented or not.
Yesterday was a pretty big let down. I had my hopes pinned on much more affordable VR. But I’ve got my big boy pants on now and my head is a little bit clearer and I’m actually glad that the Rift is a premium device. If it were the only option, it would be worse, but it isn’t. The Gear VR is very low cost if you already have the phone, if you don’t it’s a a bit more pricey, but you’re also getting a premium phone with it and you can probably get it subsidized by your carrier if you live in a country that does that. The point is, you will be getting VR and a device that you would have bought anyway, so it’s still an easier pill to swallow than spending all of that money on dedicated VR. We have choice now. We can take the still good, but lesser experience and save some money, or we can go whole hog and get the very best possible experience available with current technology. And having people drool over tech for a few years before they can buy it themselves probably won’t hurt adoption down the road either.