Oculus Rift S

Jason Rubin: ‘When Oculus was young, it was a startup… now we have a plan’

Three years on from the launch of the original Oculus Rift, Facebook’s VR division recently announced its next PC-based VR headset: Oculus Rift S, coming this spring. The new, much-improved headset will cost just $399 (or £399 in the UK). That’s the same as the outgoing model costs today, but $200 less than the original at launch.

With a competitive price, inside-out tracking with no external sensors to setup, and controllers included as standard, the Rift S should be key in helping grow the VR audience. But just as important is that the Rift S sits alongside the recently announced Oculus Quest, the company’s all-in-one, mobile-chipset driven device, with both sharing the same controllers and Oculus boasting of the ease with which titles can be ported across, creating a single, mature platform for VR for the first time.

We sit down with Jason Rubin, VP of AR/VR partnerships and content at Facebook, and Naughty Dog veteran, about how Oculus has matured as a platform and the opportunities it brings to developers and publishers.

Jason Rubin, Facebook

How did you hit upon that $399 price point for both headsets?

$399 is a price point that gamers accept – that’s often what consoles come out at, whereas the $699 price point we came out with, when we didn’t know how to optimise for price point, was not acceptable. 3DO figured that out!

Consumers are used to paying a certain amount for hardware and then they expect a certain amount of software value to offset the price they paid to get the opportunity to play in that ecosystem. $399 is that point at which they say: ‘Oh, yeah, okay!’ It’s like an Xbox or PlayStation. I think over time

we will constantly be trying to bring prices down. But right now this is the right price point for the two headsets.

With that price point do you think your predictions about how many units you’re going to sell are going to be more accurate?

Rift was our first hardware product at Facebook, period. So our predictions as a company were not as accurate back then as they will be now. We’ve had three years since the Rift came out to really see what drives people and understand the things that consumers want us to deliver. We know that there are things we need to do, we’re on a path to get VR adopted by the mass market.

So you’ll be able to give developers a much clearer idea of the size of the market?

Yes. It gives us a much easier story about what the future looks like and we’re also a bigger organisation. We have the right people in place to understand two, four, six years from now, what the hardware will look like, what the impact of that hardware will be on the ecosystem, and we can have those conversations.

When Oculus was young, when I started, it was a startup. We were doing everything we could to get the thing in the box and not paying attention to where we would be in three or four years. Now we have a plan.

VR has never lacked diverse titles, but a more standardised platform should allow for even more experimentation?

It does. I think a lot of that experimentation will happen on Rift. Then we’ll take the best of the experimentation and bring it to Quest because we believe the Quest user wants to go to the store and say: ‘Everything here is good’.

Whereas on Rift, the users are just in love with VR and they want to try everything. And we find that people are more than willing to go into half-finished software. Early Access is not really a console mentality. It’s a PC mentality: ‘I know this thing’s busted but I’m buying it anyway.’

Do you have any examples of converting older Rift titles to Quest?

It really depends on the title. So in a lot of cases my team in Menlo Park gets access to code from developers. In some cases we do the first pass because a lot of developers say: ‘I don’t know, it’s a mobile chipset, can it work?’ And we’re like: ‘Send us the code’ and then we send back something and they’re like: ‘Wow! You actually got that working’. And then they take it and they go from there.

Presumably if they’re working on Unity or Unreal the process is more straightforward than with a proprietary engine?

So if you look at the two PC games that are here today: Stormland is built on Insomniac’s proprietary engine that is used for Spider-Man. It’s a very different task to take that and bring it to Quest, as it would be with Asgard’s Wrath. Both of them are graphic tours de force but Asgard’s Wrath is in Unreal and so has a path to port to a mobile chipset. So for them it’s just a question of: what do we lose? Or what do we need to change?

But it can happen. If you look at Crytek and The Climb, Cryengine is not something that’s known for being low chipset intensive. It is cutting-edge, state of the art, pushing the limits. The Climb is coming – will it look exactly like it does? No, of course it won’t, but it’s coming to Quest.

So if I’ve got a Rift title, what do I need to do to update the title for Rift S?

There is no update for Rift S, it just works. It’s extremely low amounts of work. If any at all that needs to be done between Rift and Rift S. If there is something, it would be that there are differences in where you can and can’t see your hands for inside-out tracking. For example this is a very tough pose, right? [he puts both hands behind his back]

Rift ecosystem to Quest ecosystem is often a much larger move, although if you’re using Unity and you went for a cartoony art style sometimes that isn’t that hard a transition either.

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