A few decades ago, the Nintendos and Segas of the world used to bundle a flagship title with their gaming consoles: be it Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog. That doesn't happen with today's systems, apart from special edition bundles – which often cost around US$50 more than buying the system by itself. With VR, though, Oculus is going one-up on those old-school game consoles, bundling not just one but two highly-anticipated games with the Oculus Rift. When we add this together with some other recent clues, we think this could mean roughly a $500-600 price tag for the Rift.
Oculus VR already announced earlier this month that online space shooter Eve: Valkyrie would be bundled with the Rift, but the company added today that it's also throwing in family-friendly 3D platformer Lucky's Tale with the virtual reality headset. Considering these are two of our top game recommendations for VR early adopters, that's two fewer purchases for Rift owners to worry about.
Speaking of purchases, though, we still have no official word on what the Oculus Rift will cost. Founder Palmer Luckey recently took to Twitter to manage expectations for those that think pricing will be dirt-cheap, saying "VR will become something everyone wants before it becomes something everyone can afford." He did, however, also say "1st gen VR users are being heavily subsidized by major players who want VR business to grow, though few seem to understand that" and expressed gratitude that Oculus "can optimize decisions for the long term with Facebook resources instead of immediate profit to keep the lights on."
Translation: all things considered, it's going to be a great deal – but if you think we can sell these things for $200-300, you're out of your mind.
The most telling hint came when Luckey tweeted a reference to a Re/Code interview where CEO Brendan Iribe said that total cost of Rift and PC would come out to around $1,500. Based on the Rift's minimum specs, you're probably eyeing at least a $900-$1,000 baseline for a Rift-ready PC (though you may be able to get that down to $800 or less if you build it yourself and shop around for good deals on parts). Based on that estimate, that would put Rift pricing in that $500-600 range.
Customers looking at the $99 price tag for the Samsung Gear VR (or next-to-nothing pricing on cheap Google Cardboard tech demo housings) may see this as a hard pill to swallow, but there are a few things to remember here. First, the Gear VR is basically a lens-based housing for your Samsung phone, which provides the display and sensors (not to mention processing power). Unlike the Gear, the Rift's high-res, low-persistence OLED display and head rotation tracking are all built into the headset that you're buying.
The Rift also includes a separate optical positional sensor (above): it's like a smaller Kinect sensor that sits next to your monitor, tracking your head and upper body positions while you move around and lean in (something no current mobile VR headset provides). There's also a wireless Xbox One controller bundled with the Rift, which would cost around $80 if you bought it on its own, along with built-in headphones with positional audio (so sound effects appear to be coming from the proper directions inside virtual worlds).
When you add up all of that (along with the two AAA-quality games) and erase the deceiving budget expectations set by mobile VR, a $500-600 price tag for the Rift itself would sound, if less than ideal for immediate widespread consumer adoption, still pretty damn reasonable. As Luckey tweeted last week, "[the Oculus] Rift will be sold insanely cheap considering complexity – multiple high end OLED monitors [with] motion tracking [and] fancy mechanicals in one device."
Another thing to keep in mind is that the first-gen Rift's pricing isn't just about the first-gen Rift; it's also setting the tone for an entire industry, present and future. Not only will Sony and HTC/Valve be watching closely and (likely) pricing their rival products similarly, but if Oculus were to over-subsidize this first Rift and sell it for unsustainable prices, then customers would get angry later on, when future versions cost more. You can drop the prices in future versions, but raise them and you have problems.
So, though parent company Facebook could afford to let Oculus sell the Rift for peanuts in the short-term, that could lead to long-term problems that would cancel all of that out.
Pre-orders were originally supposed to start in 2015, but Oculus is now saying we can expect them to start soon after the new year (next week at CES would be a great time to tell us about that), along with pricing info.
We wouldn't be surprised to hear about HTC Vive (above) pre-order and pricing info soon after that. We haven't heard about nearly as much exclusive gaming content for the HTC/Valve headset, but it should be helped by the fact that many developers will be making content simultaneously for the two systems (they're both powered by Windows PCs, so it should be relatively simple to develop for both). There's also the fact that Valve is one of the biggest names in PC gaming, and has longstanding relationships with PC developers big and small through its Steam storefront.
The Vive has another advantage in being ready out of the box for room-wide, free-roaming VR. We found this more mobile type of virtual reality to be "next level" stuff, as walking around a larger area makes it feel less like a video game and more like a virtual role-playing experience. On the other hand, it's asking a lot from early consumers to devote entire spaces in their homes to a brand new product type. It's also possible that buying an extra positional sensor for the Rift and placing it on the opposite end of your playing space (something Oculus says you'll indeed be able to do) will achieve a similar, if not virtually identical, result.
We should know much more on these fronts a week or so from now, so stay tuned to Gizmag for our on-the-ground CES coverage of the big VR headsets. In the meantime, you can hit up our latest hands-ons with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, along with our full review of the Gear VR.