On the ground at the Oculus Rift launch event
Oculus VR just wrapped up its first consumer product launch a few hours ago, and we were there for the fun. Now that the dust is settling, we have a few initial thoughts.
For a deeper dive straight from the horse's mouth, you can hit up our extended interview transcript with top Oculus execs. Right now, though, we're going to step back and take a longer view at what we learned today.
After spending about an hour listening to Iribe and Mitchell answering questions from myself and other reporters gathered around the campfire, the question I heard asked the most was "what non-gaming uses do you have planned for VR?" And the answer was the same every time: right now it's about gaming. That's where this starts.
Of course, behind closed doors, the company is likely investigating and researching a million and a half non-gaming uses for VR, but it also knows that the gaming world is by far the most ready and willing to accept VR today. That's VR's "in."
You can't open a bunch of virtual reality movie theaters tomorrow, and expect anyone but VR geeks to show up. You can't run a VR livestream of the 2015 NBA finals and expect half the world to shut off their TV sets and strap on goggles to watch LeBron and Steph. They simply aren't ready.
Getting non-gamers into this – not to mention getting content creators to dream of and create different kinds of non-gaming VR experiences – is going to take time. You'd be foolish to think Oculus isn't thinking about this, but it's long term. Right now it's gaming, gaming, gaming.
And Oculus made three big moves today to enhance the Rift as a gaming platform: bundling it with an Xbox One controller, allowing you to use it (indirectly) with Xbox One games and, perhaps most of all, the Oculus Touch controllers.
Why both an Xbox One controller and Oculus Touch? It's partially about moving at a realistic pace (honoring the past with a foot in the future) but it's also about offering different control schemes for different types of games.
Oculus Touch, which can make you feel like you have real hands in virtual worlds, is tailor-made for first-person titles. The Xbox One controller is going to excel with third-person games.
There's also the fact that developers have already spent years making Oculus games based on traditional control schemes. It's to the platform's advantage to give every buyer that same familiar controller, the one with the most momentum up to this point, right in the box. Oculus Touch – and its evolutions – are the future, but there may always be a place for that classic console controller experience in VR. For at least some types of games.
Being able to use Windows 10's built-in Xbox One streaming capabilities with the Rift is an interesting turn. If it can be done with imperceptible latency, then this could potentially mean Xbox One owners could even skip the step of buying an Oculus-ready gaming PC and using whatever Windows device they have lying around to play Xbox games in the Rift. That would never be the most ideal way to use the headset; but it could be a cheaper way to get more people in on the fun.
It also makes it clearer what options hardcore gamers will be looking at. PS4 owners will have Morpheus. PC gamers will have the Oculus Rift. And now Xbox One owners will also have Oculus Rift. If you thought that Sony would have a huge advantage based on the sheer fact that it was console-based, well, Oculus now has a foot in that door as well.
... and its partnership with Microsoft could be pointing to a more direct relationship with the Xbox down the road. That's speculation at this point, but it makes sense.
Maybe the most encouraging thing about today's event is that Oculus VR is taking PC gaming – something that's usually complex – and making it simpler than you might expect. There's a clear set of PC specs that are recommended for the Rift. Everyone gets the same controller. Headphones are built right into the goggles. The UI, Oculus Home, is self-contained, letting you do everything you need to do from within VR. And Xbox One owners can just use the console they already have.
Oculus' biggest challenge may be finding some degree of uniformity in the PC gaming world – one that's typically scattered and fragmented. But these moves show us that the company a) knows exactly what its challenges are, and b) is answering that call in some very clever – possibly innovative – ways.
This new frontier is very fascinating, and we'll have much more on the Oculus Rift at E3. And you can hit up that lengthy Oculus interview for the lowdown in the company's own words.