With billions of active monthly users, Facebook is poised to launch the mass-adoption of VR.
May 21st, 2019 will go down in history as an incredible day for VR. Though I would love to let my birthday piggyback on that accomplishment, credit actually goes to Facebook-owned Oculus, which launched its Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S headsets on that day. The Oculus Rift S, an upgraded version of the original Oculus Rift headset, is a fantastic addition to the computer-based VR ecosystem, touting superior graphics and impressive inside-out tracking.
Having participated in a VR tournament using this cutting-edge headset, I can honestly say that Oculus’ hard work is apparent. But what made the 21st revolutionary for VR is the Oculus Quest.
Ditching the PC in favor of a standalone experience, the Quest doesn’t pack the same graphics punch as the Rift S, so you may be wondering why the Quest deserves this honor. One reason the Quest is special is that it is the first cost-effective, mass-consumer-focused, standalone 6DoF headset, effectively making it the most accessible form of immersive VR on the market. That in itself makes it a monumental success, but a well-built headset isn’t going to make historical waves. That’s where Facebook comes in.
When Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014, many were curious as to why a social media company, whose track record with hardware included a phone that failed just a year prior to the Oculus purchase, would be interested in buying the plucky VR startup for over $2 billion dollars.
Oculus’ whirlwind Kickstarter success led many to believe that established entertainment companies such as Sony, Microsoft, or even tech giant Google might look to buy the company, but Facebook’s decisive choice wasn’t something anyone could have predicted. From the moment the news broke about the cost of the acquisition, it sent a clear message to both the tech industry and consumers alike: VR is here to stay.
Facebook, now the owner of the most buzzed-about VR technology in the last 20 years (RIP Virtual Boy), was strategic in their rollout of Oculus headsets. They understood that, with VR being a relative unknown to the average consumer and the original Oculus Rift requiring a high-end computer to run, the target market would be relatively small. They launched the Rift with a game-heavy library, and didn’t waste their marketing money targeting a larger audience. But in the time since the Rift’s launch, productions like Ready Player One and Black Mirror have increased the public’s awareness of VR immensely.
VR has even made appearances in Hot Pockets and prescription drug commercials alike, reflecting the understanding that the average viewer knows what VR is. Sensing this shift, Facebook chummed the waters further with the Oculus Go in 2018, featuring celebrities like Leslie Jones and Wiz Khalifa in their commercials. Around the same time, they announced the Facebook Portal, a smart display marketed as a way to incorporate video chat into your daily home life, a (not so) gentle reminder that Facebook is becoming more than a social media company. Then, when the iron was hot, they announced the Oculus Quest.
Leveraging the power of its 2.38 billion active user customer base (roughly 30% of the world’s population), Facebook chose May of 2019 to launch VR for the masses. Considering that the platform’s average user is between 25 and 34 years old, and just under 40% of its users being older than 34, its immediately accessible market is composed of working professionals with more expendable income.
This kind of massive international reach is something that no other 6DoF VR headset developer has ever had access to – a good product will only be profitable if it reaches the right consumers…and Facebook has billions.
VR as we understand it has existed in one form or another since the 1960’s. Though being used in obscure research and military simulations since then, it has inhabited the realm of science fiction in the minds of most people. But with the Oculus Quest, we are entering an era of VR the likes of which we’ve never seen before; one that it’s going to transform society as powerfully as the computer did. VR has truly arrived, and the world is ready.
So far sales of the standalone headset have been strong, with early adopters wiping out the inventory of several major online retailers since its launch. Yesterday, Newegg, Amazon, and Walmart were all sold out of both the 64GB and 128GB models; Amazon reports their next batch of 128GB headsets won’t be shipping for another one to two months.