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Could the Oculus Touch controller revitalize the Rift?

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The long-awaited peripherals could kickstart the Rift’s second act

Oculus launched its Rift virtual reality headset earlier this year without its most endearing piece of tech: the Touch controller, a pair of gripped handles that approximate human hands to elevate gameplay from traditional to something truly unique. For the company’s vice president of product, Nate Mitchell, the Touch’s upcoming retail release represents "a huge next step" for the Rift.

"We took a little bit of extra time to get Touch just right," Mitchell said of the controller’s delayed debut this fall, more than six months after the Rift began shipping out. "We think it will fundamentally, additively change the experience."

A game-changing experience takes time to perfect, he explained. Developers had more years to create content for the Rift itself, but that first wave of games all utilized the Xbox One gamepad as the Touch stayed a bit longer development back at Oculus.

Although many of those titles have been highly regarded — like platformer Lucky’s Tale and space shooter Eve: Valkyrie — the conversation around the Oculus Rift has perhaps cooled since its high-profile launch. Perhaps that’s attributable to the price; the headset retails for a hefty $599.99 and requires a high-end PC to run.

There was also controversy surrounding the platform’s exclusive games, which Mitchell called a symptom of PC gamers not being used to hardware exclusives like console gamers are. Lately, though, talk about Sony's upcoming, cheaper Playstation VR, what with its 40-million-plus install base, has made the Rift seem like an expensive, tough choice.

The Touch stands to change that conversation, Mitchell said.

"The stuff that comes out with Touch, you can see it’s even more creative, more like this next evolution of VR content," he explained. "That’s when developers are really going to have a much firmer sense of the hardware, the software. We know how to do natural, intuitive interactions. All of that stuff is really gonna come together.

"If you look at the games that came out at the beginning of Xbox 360 versus the end of Xbox 360, you saw an evolution in terms of game design and better understanding the hardware device," he said as a point of comparison.

"Has the Rift reached mainstream adoption? Not yet."

We tried one Touch-based game at Gamescom 2016, just prior to our meeting with Mitchell. Insomniac Games’ The Unspoken definitely feels like a more refined, substantive VR experience than, say, VR Sports Challenge. The fantasy action game uses the controller to cast spells, defend against attacks and collect items around a playing field. Our short time with it felt like a traditional game demo — with the added benefit of immersion and highly intuitive controls.

Projects like this and more are what we can expect from the Rift’s second wind, Mitchell told us, and they stand to reenergize a consumer base that might have softened on the Rift. Of course, Oculus doesn’t quite see it that way — sales numbers are where they’re expected to be thus far, he said. Still, there’s always room to grow, and that’s exactly what the company expects is going to happen with Touch.

"We’re getting to the point where it’s becoming part of mainstream culture," Mitchell said of VR tech. "Has the Rift reached mainstream adoption? Not yet. We’ve only had the product out for five months. We think there’s a ton of excitement today, but that’s gonna amp up as touch does out and the price of PCs come down.

"We’re working with all of those partners to push innovation forward."