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Why Oculus Rift Will Struggle in its UK Launch

Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

Four years after its near-mythical Kickstarter campaign introduced the name Oculus Rift into the consciousness of virtual reality believers worldwide, the headset finally launches in the UK this week. Arguably the poster-child product for VR’s renaissance since its company’s acquisition by Facebook in 2014, its arrival feels more belated than triumphant – and is marked by serious questions over its ability to draw consumers beyond the die-hard gaming contingent.

Once the most recognisable name in Virtual Reality to the casual observer, the Rift has lost considerable ground to its present main competitor, the HTC Vive, over the past year; which is reflected in early sales statistics that suggested the Vive was outselling the Rift globally five to one . This has been additionally compounded by early adopter sales flatlining in recent months with data revealing a decline in growth for the Oculus Rift (0.03% in July to 0.01% in August) which indicates that the present major audience for gaming VR (those already in possession of computers with high-processing power) has already made their headset purchases. Arriving in the UK against this context, and at £549 before these additional technology considerations, is also likely to alienate consumers.

There is also the pressing issue of a far more seasoned consumer electronics rival. Sony will also be launching their Playstation VR headset next month, with the device holding the distinct advantage of being instantly adaptable to the 3 million PS4 consoles that have already been sold in the UK (as well as retailing at £200 pounds less than the Rift). With content also a pressing issue, with a multi-billion chasm between investment in VR Hardware and actual experiences, it helps that Playstation VR will be arriving alongside several well known game titles, with acclaimed series such as Star Trek and Resident Evil making their Virtual Reality debuts alongside the release. Coupled with brand recognition and Sony’s refined experience at distributing gaming products, this will likely give the Japanese conglomerate at the minimum a short-term lead in headset sales and disrupt momentum for the Rift.

By no means does this put Oculus out of the VR race. With Facebook’s support they are not only shielded by a financial advantage over HTC and Sony but are also invigorated by the ability to leverage their parent company’s mass influence over global consumers for the purpose of marketing. The recent announcement of a partnership with the gaming development platform Unity (similar to HTC’s partnership with Steam) is also a step in the right direction in terms of refining the content offering for the Rift. However, at the present price-points, and with the lack of recognisable IP in gaming content and computer processing requirements that most consumers don’t have, they face an up-hill battle not only in the UK but also globally if they are to convert early adopters away from the Vive and the more laissez-faire gaming audiences from Playstation VR. It is not over yet, but Oculus may have to face reality to bring more people into theirs.

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