Oculus’ Rubin on the Rift’s first year and its High Street launch

2016 has witnessed VR become a reality.

Already this year, the consumer versions of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR have been priced, with the former pair made available to consumers directly via their websites.

Now the Oculus Rift is finally coming to UK retail on September 20th following its High Street debut in US earlier in the year

Retailers love it,” Oculus’ head of content Jason Rubin says.

It’s drawing people to stores who otherwise wouldn’t go there.In the US, people are signing up online, visiting two weeks later and playing demos. It’s like going to the movies.

Retailers love the fact that, whether they buy a drink, a cable or a $2,000 PC/Rift bundle, it’s more people that are in the store.”

He continues: It does take a lot of room to do a VR demo. There is an investment. Retailers are excited to make that trade from retail space to demo space because it’s attracting customers.”

"Some people have been saying that VR is going to change your life
and solve your problems. We have never said that."

Jason Rubin, Oculus

Up until next week, Oculus has been selling Rift to UK consumers via its website – and it’s been the US version of the hardware. Now, the company promises a better experience to users in non-English speaking countries, with an investment in localisation.

If you bought an Oculus Rift from our website in France, you weren’t getting a localised version,” Rubin explains. That’s a problem for the French audience. Localising it for Europe was a big deal for us.”

Rubin adds that High Street retail, generally, is going to play a crucial role for VR. You want people to actually try it,” he says. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about presence and virtual words. It’s hard for someone to read about it, or watch a video about it, or a 2D demo of a game, and understand what that means. People watch that and think it looks like a 2D game. Once you put the headset on, it’s a different world. Putting demos out there leads people to be interested in VR and want to adopt it.

Plus, not everyone has a credit card. Not everyone trusts online stores. People do trust their local retailer because they can walk in, perhaps pay by cash or whatever, and have a way of returning it easily. You do find that some people don’t buy things online.”

Oculus Rift’s September 20th release date is just weeks before PlayStation VR’s October 13th launch. The latter is priced at 349 – a full 200 less than Oculus’ hardware, and requires a more affordable PS4, not a pricey gaming PC.

Though Rubin says Sony’s tech might be very popular, Oculus’ focus on VR sets it apart.

A lot of people will have their introduction to VR through PlayStation VR and that’s great,” he says. But I believe that in the long term, a company that’s fully dedicated to VR alone is going to end up making the best VR products. The ability to experiment on the PC and the advantages of that platform will create a market place that’s extremely positive for Oculus. Having said that, we’re really happy when someone like PlayStation comes in and puts money into game development to drive VR forward.

I have always said, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, that every time I see them invest in a new game, I don’t go: ‘Damn, I wish we had that game’. I say: ‘Thank God someone is putting money into development for the benefit of the consumer’. I also want to see it because, if it’s good, I will do what every developer has done since the beginning of time: I’m going to take that good idea, mix it with other good ideas and make another product. That’s how you drive a software market forward. PlayStation VR might be a little less expensive, but I feel very good about the ergonomics of our product, and about our hand tracking being the best in the business.”

Over the last few years, when we have asked console publishers about their interest in VR, the answer was, with the exception of Ubisoft, ‘we will wait and see’.

Now big firms like EA and Take-Two are gradually coming on-board. The former is developing VR content for Star Wars Battlefront, while the latter has resurrected casual IP, Carnival Games.

It’s fantastic,” Rubin says.

It’s good for VR and it’s good for consumers. I understand the challenge publishers are facing. They had the same thing with mobile. They looked at it and saw that it had no install base and they didn’t think it was worth it. They’re more than happy to let smaller developers break open the market and they come later with their brands and their huge development teams. That’s totally fine.

What they have learned is if they wait too long like they did on mobile, then the young and small teams – and this is great for indies – get so much knowledge about this new market that publishers have to catch-up and end up acquiring developers. This time, they can’t get in too early for the financial reasons, but at the same time they are aware of the fact that this is imminent. VR is coming and they can’t get too far behind where they end up in a situation like they were with mobile, where they have to struggle and spend to catch up.”

"A lot of people will have their introduction to VR
through PlayStation VR and that’s great."

Jason Rubin, Oculus

When Oculus launched Rift earlier this year, it was lacking the accompanying Touch controllers. These track the user’s hands and allows them to interact with objects in the game. Rift’s main PC rival – HTC Vive – did launch with its own version of these controllers. However, Rubin insists that the lack of Touch hasn’t been an issue for the hardware specialist.

In the long run we will look at this six months where we didn’t have Touch controllers as irrelevant,” he says.

Nobody goes back to the ‘70s or ‘80s and looks at the Apple II or the Commodore 64 and points out what they were lacking.

More importantly, we don’t launch hardware without software. That is our mantra. You need software so that people feel like they have got value-for-money from their hardware, because they have a decent number of things to do. We felt that when we launched the Rift, that we had a great line-up for gamepad because developers were experienced with that. We did not feel that we had the software ready for Touch, because developers hadn’t had enough time with the handtracking controllers so we needed to give them a bit longer.

The benefit of giving them more time was not only that we’d have an amazing line-up of titles, but additionally, it gave the hardware people longer to develop the initial, useable thing, before turning it into the final in-the-box consumer model. Just at E3, we put out a totally new revision of Touch that had subtle differences, including much better tracking, because they had the time to keep iterating. When we come out, I am convinced we will have a much better line-up and that we will have a better piece of kit because we had the extra time to refine it. As we look back, the question is should we have raced that extra six months or whatever to get it out unprepared, without the software and gi

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