As a child of the generation that sat in awe watching the Lawn Mower Man I have to say that VR has not lived up to expectations. In the 80’s I spent countless hours reading Shadow Run books imagining what it would be like to “jack in”. As an adult I have the real world experience of strapping goggles to my head and wondering why I thought this was going to be cool. Intellectually you think VR should be cool. Intellectually you think VR will be mind bending. Intellectually you think VR will change the very fabric of civilization. Yet being strapped in my overriding thought is wondering when can I take the goggles off without seeming rude to the vendor.
The visual and auditory experience is curious, but not amazing. The applications sound better on paper than in use. And finally in an age when people are ever more disconnected the idea of becoming even more isolated just feels depressing. Of course none of these things are what the vendors want to focus on because they are hard issue to solve that may not be solvable. So what the vendors focus on is price. PRICE is the problem they think, and so now we are seeing massive price cuts to try to solve that problem.
Oculus Rift with Touch Controllers is now down to $399. HTC Vive is down to $599. Even Sony has dropped the Playstation VR bundle by $50. This is all to compete with the lower cost Windows based Merged Reality goggles from the likes of Dell that come in at around $350. Sadly all of these vendors have missed the lessons learned from Apple. Build a high quality product that people love, and they will spend stupid amounts of money on it.
The price argument for VR on the face of it is a strange one. The fact is that the first mover demographic for VR should be gamers. These people are already willing to pay a stupid amount for their hobby. High end graphics cards easily cost $700-$800. Gaming CPU’s range from $300-$1000. This is before you get to motherboards, power supplies, monitors and the other hardware. Add in the cost of the games themselves, plus DLC’s and such and gaming is not a cheap hobby. Even at a $1000 price point there should be enough interest to be able to move the industry forward.
Think about it for a second. I’m typing this post on a $2000 13″ MacBook Pro because I trust and like the system. The new iPhones are stated to be coming out at a $1000 price point BEFORE upgrades. And Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world. They learned to build a high quality product and people will buy it.
The VR trends are moving in the opposite direction. They’re putting out a subpar product, but then trying to make it cheaper. Let me ask you something. How cheap would a Yugo have to be for you to buy one? If someone was trying to give me a Yugo I still wouldn’t take it!
I don’t want a 3D TV regardless of the price. I don’t want a smartwatch (I’ve owned a few and simply stop using them after a bit). AR makes me feel like I’m in a perpetual state of ADD. VR feels like yet another product line that vendors have decided will be the future and so they’re trying to push it down people’s throats.
When you look at technology that has succeeded it has been based on previous products that did well. I went from a Casio electronic address book, to a Palm IIIe, to a Motorola Q, to an iPhone. Steve Jobs takes a lot of credit for building out an industry that others had laid the foundations for. I bought the first generation Kindle and have used Kindles for book and newspaper ever since. Sony had shown why eReaders were interesting, and then Amazon created a viable product. Most people I knew were interested in eReaders before the Kindle, but the actual products were poor. Netflix is simply the modern version of the VHS tape. We went from renting tapes, to renting DVD’s, to having disks shipped in the mail, to having the movies be available online. With all of these products the basic value proposition did not change. What changed was how well technology could be used to provide the value to the end user.
With VR the basic value proposition has never been proven. Why do 360 degree displays make sense? Why do people want to sequester themselves away more from a world that is already overly lonely? How is the end user experience actually better than my tiny 13″ screen I already use?
I think the price drops are a bad sign because it shows that the vendors don’t really have anything to sell. It shows that they don’t really know what people want, and beyond that appears that they are basically giving up. They want people to buy VR because they need a new product to sell, but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument.
It’s curious to see how little YouTube gamers seem to care about VR. You would think this would be a prime demographic with content creators that have enough money to basically buy whatever they want. Yet they rarely talk about VR. They talk about Steam, the Switch, various marketplaces, but not VR. When what should be your prime demographic doesn’t care about your product I think that there’s more of a problem than price…