Oculus Rift Has Already Literally Shot Itself in its Virtual Foot

So watching the Oculus Rift press conference today, the first question I had was how they would tackle the issue of selling a product that you have to try in order to understand. If the marketing departments cannot find a way to do this, the entire initiative will be adopted much more slowly by mass audiences.

The presentation started, and I thought they had an interesting approach. The analogy given was that of watching a dinosaur crash through a roof, get up and tower over you, look at the screen and then roar. “It’s on a flat screen. You know instinctively it isn’t real.”

But imagine if you were immersed *inside* that scene, and the dinosaur crashed into your room, actually towered over you, looked you in the eye, lowered its head and roared Jurassic Park style at you. You’d most likely exhibit signs of fear inherent to our species due to the immersion.

They built this up for ten minutes, then introduced the hardware. OLED, adjustable lenses. Lightweight, great, fine – tick those checkboxes. Then came input. This was going to be one of those make or break moments. We all expected a thin, handheld controller. What they revealed was the Xbox One controller. Now I know you’re going to read this and assume the title refers to the Xbox One controller. It doesn’t; although I DO prefer the Dualshock 4 controller from Sony, the Xbox One controller is fine, familiar and understandable. It turns out Microsoft and Rift has a partnership, and has had one for a while. Ok, no major surprises there as the Rift is going to be Windows based. Phil Spencer comes out and does his song and dance.

Integrations, synergies, Windows 10, seamless, latency free, rendering potentials, “Oh, and remember when we talked about the fact that the Xbox One will be able to stream to any Windows 10 device? That includes the Oculus Rift.”

This is where the neurons started firing. Has Oculus and Microsoft found a way to somehow decode streaming and convert it into a three-dimensional space? I got very excited. “And we will stream it through a Rift cinema,” he continued.

Wait, what? A cinema? And then they showed it – a girl sitting on a couch wearing the rift, Xbox One controller in hand, and then they cut to the in-game video – she was sitting on a virtual couch, playing an Xbox One game on a virtual television screen. The video faded, and someone laughed. “Did something happen that you were laughing?” Spencer asked in the direction of the crowd, smiling.

Yes, Phil, something happened – The Rift shot itself in its virtual foot. And you helped. See, that whole buildup of immersive experiences? The virtual cinema undermines that and puts us right back where we started this conversation, watching something on a flat screen (virtual or not).

It is utterly and inherently understandable that experiences designed from the ground up for virtual reality, like Eve Valkyrie, will deliver a much more expressive and rich experience. But the larger issue is explaining that experience to the general public, and Oculus’ partnership with Microsoft is off to a bad start – by already segmenting their user base and delivering multiple types of experiences – one far lessor and contradictory to the fragile marketing message trying to be established than the other.

The real challenge for Valve/HTC, Google, Sony and Oculus lies in crafting a marketing message that communicates the experience without trying it yourself, the potential for the future and ease of use for the consumer. And like a poor-latency VR unit, Oculus’ message wasn’t in sync today.