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VR going mainstream? Yeah, next year, says Facebook, for the third year in a row
The wireless Oculus Quest and a Star Wars tie-in will do it
Virtual reality is going to be huge. That's the official word – again – from the annual Oculus conference in California, USA, this week.
One year on from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking to the stage to tell fellow nerds that he wants one billion people to try virtual reality, the Behoodied One returned this year, and admitted that it has not even hit one per cent of that figure.
Nevertheless, he told Oculus Connect attendees this week "I'm confident we'll get there," and this year the reason to be cheerful is the new Oculus Quest: an updated version of its high-end Rift. Crucially, however, it comes without the big clunky cable sticking out the back of it that needs to be attached to a high-powered computer.
The Quest will cost the same as the Rift - $399 – and come out next spring. Oculus execs have admitted that they have no plans to provide a wireless attachment for the Rift, which all but throws the first-generation VR headset in the trash. At the low-end the Oculus Go, costing $199, remains.
"It's not a question of when we're going to get there, it's how," Zuck promised, referring back to his one billion user goal.
This time, Oculus thinks the magic juice will be mainstream content: it announced NBA games and YouTube VR for its Go headset and a Star Wars tie-in for the launch of its new Quest headset.
Facebook appears to be putting a huge amount of energy and money in the three-part series that will be called "Vader Immortal" and invited an exec from Lucasfilm to talk about it on stage. "You'll be able to step inside the world of Star Wars inside your living room," she promised.
The move is part of Disney's massive explosion of Star Wars products and Oculus is clearly hoping that it will be enough to push people over into spending $400 on a new gaming system.
If that doesn't work, the hope is that updates to the cheaper Go headset – including the ability to link it to mobile devices so it becomes a little more social – will get people to test out VR and, hopefully, get hooked on the technology.
But as even Oculus's CTO John Carmack admitted on stage, the reality is that when using the cheaper Go, lots of people get motion sickness. That's because it can be very disorientating to move your head and have a screen you are staring at avidly move a millisecond later. Carmack was sort-of sure that people who get motion sick with the Go "should be able to wear a Quest" without the same ill-feeling."
Will anyone fork over $400 in the hope they don't get sick? Sure, some will. But the big question is: Will a large chunk of occasional gamers - rather than serious gamers - do the same, especially when they already have a perfectly good games console?
What Oculus needs is the VR equivalent of Fortnite or Halo – games that become a social phenomenon and make people want to buy the hardware they run on.
But aside from that being a once-in-a-decade success story, the bigger question is: do any games developers believe there will be a big enough installed base of Oculus Quest users for them to invest the huge additional development costs to create a virtual reality game?
And that is the chicken-and-egg game that Facebook is caught up in: it can't get users without games, and it can’t get games without users. Zuckerberg identified "building an eco-system that is self-sustaining" – nerd talk for creating a popular console - as Oculus' number one challenge.
Will a wireless high-end VR headset combined with a Star Wars tie-in be enough to push the Oculus into mainstream adoption? Possibly, but based on the odd "Whoa!" ad that the company launched with, we're willing to bet that in October 2019, we'll be listening to Zuckerberg explain why next year - next year - will be the big one. ®