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Oculus dev: VR isn’t a good bet yet for new game devs

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“You have to separate the promise of VR and VR year-one sales”

Jason Rubin, head of Oculus VR Studios
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

It's going to be a couple of years before virtual reality achieves the sort of growth and adoption that some were expecting, Jason Rubin, Oculus’ head of content said during an on-stage discussion at this week’s DICE Summit in Las Vegas.

The comment came in response to a question asked by Insomniac Games founder Ted Price. The two were on stage to discuss the state of VR and its potential.

The talk kicked off with Price asking Rubin why there was such a large perceived gap between the early expectations of virtual reality and current reality of the technology and its adoption.

“You have to separate the promise of VR and VR year-one sales,” Rubin said. “Oculus believes this is the next big thing. We believe in it and we are unwavering in that belief. I don't remember anyone saying this is going to be massive year-one.”

Instead, he said, he thinks some of those high expectations were set by hype, not what those involved in the technology were predicting.

“We're now in that reality part of the curve and that's going to last for the next couple of years as we look to get everything right,” Rubin said, “and then we'll hit that [growth] curve.

“We still believe that this is a massive part of the future of humanity.”

Rubin said that he believes the path to that future success of virtual reality is best explained through a sort of 3D graph.

“Not everyone agrees with this,” he said, before detailing the concept.

Rubin's graph is made up of three elements: price, quality and content.

He said he believes that the current devices aren't where they need to be on all three points yet. The Samsung Gear VR headset, which is powered by a smartphone, for instance, has the price “spot on” at just under $100.

“It sold over 5 million units and continues to sell,” Rubin said. “It sells fantastically.”

While the reviews are mostly positive for the device, Rubin said that it doesn't drive the sort of long-term relationship and excitement Oculus wants to see. It’s also held back by a number of issues including battery life and the need to put your own phone in the device to power it.

The Rift, he said, knocked it out of the park quality-wise, but the number one reason for not purchasing it, according to Oculus’ own studies, is the price.

“That has quality down but doesn't have the price to drive people to buy it,” he said. “Both of the devices are at the wrong part on the graph.

“None of them have the content to drive people to get into the business. It's a fantastic experience today, but we need to do a lot better.”

Ultimately, he said, the mobile devices need to get better and offer more abilities without becoming more expensive. And on the Rift side, the device needs to maintain its quality but drop in price.

“Over time price comes down, both of these will converge to the right spot.”

Rubin reminded everyone that none of this existed a year ago.

“One or the other of those devices will converge in the right place,” he said. “This is natural and healthy.”

The conversation then moved on to whether Oculus is behind an eventual open standard for VR. Rubin said the company is.

“If there was an open platform we would be a big part of it,” he said. “But an open platform is not one that is created by one company and thrown upon the industry.”

Instead, he said, the company is a big believer in the Khronos initiative.

Finally, Rubin and Price talked about software and the sustainability of VR game development.

Rubin pointed to titles like Superhot and Tilt Brush as examples of apps or games that got it absolutely right. But, Price added, the platform isn't quite ready to support a studio making big games.

“We understand it's a nascent business, that the audience is still growing,” Price said. “It's now where we can make a giant title and recoup our costs. It's important for us to be in early because we believe it's here to stay.”

Insomniac has released three VR games — Edge of Nowhere, Feral Rites and The Unspoken — which have been published by Oculus Studios.

“We've kept one foot planted in VR to learn lessons the other foot in the more traditional space,” Price said. “If we were starting up as a new developer, I would temper my bets to make sure we're not betting the farm.”