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A Conversation with Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey
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A Conversation with Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey

September 3, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, is sure that he's got some tricks up his sleeve to perfect the Rift headset ahead of its official 2014 launch. At Gamescom, Luckey excitedly told Gamasutra that he has some ideas about improving his head mounted display -- though he didn't specifically divulge what they might be.

Luckey is well aware he might face competition soon, but he's also confident that his tech will keep his startup ahead of the curve. And following from his GDC Europe talk, he explains what it takes to make a game look and feel right in VR -- warning developers that they may have to unlearn genre conventions that have served them well for decades now. He also explains why he's excited by mobile as well as PC applications for the Rift. 

Things have really come along -- suddenly you've attracted an incredible CTO. What's the immediate future for Oculus? 

Palmer Luckey: The immediate future is to continue to working on the consumer version of the Oculus Rift and continue pushing toward that as fast as we can. The tracking, the optics, the display, as much as we can, before the consumer release.

As John Carmack is coming in as CTO, what is he concentrating on?

PL: He's really focusing on a lot of different things. He's working on improving our SDK, he's doing a lot of the work around mobile right now, and optimizing and seeing what we can build on mobile.

And part of it is when you optimize for mobile, if you can get it to run on low-spec mobile hardware, then it's easy to get it to run on low-spec PC hardware. So optimizing our SDK and demos around that helps on PC and on mobile.

But really, he is an incredibly smart guy. He is a wizard of hardware, software, graphical pipelines and everything in between. So he's really instrumental in a lot of the stuff that we're working on.

Have you said exactly when the consumer release is going to be, or is it more of a ballpark?

PL: We haven't. Sometime next year is a good ballpark. We've been telling people it'll be multiple months, not multiple years. The thing is, we don't want ship something that's not finished, or tie ourselves to a deadline and then either, (A) push things to make a deadline and then ship an inferior product, or (B) have everyone say, "Oh, they're late" when really we just want to make sure we do everything right.

I know you've been working pretty closely with some software developers. I've played EVE Valkyrie.

PL: It's awesome.

How do you feel about having software ready? I know you don't have direct control over it because you're not making games yourselves.

PL: I think we're going to have a lot of software ready, because there are a lot of game developers from indies to triple-As that we've been talking to -- some of them publicly, some of them are working behind the scenes -- we're not worried about content at all. There are so many people that are working on VR games. We've already seen a lot of really cool indie demos. But even a lot of triple-A developers are excited about the possibilities of VR and porting their games over.

One of the most interesting things about your GDC Europe talk is that you said that while in the beginning, we'll probably see a lot of FPS games because it maps well as an interaction paradigm --

PL: I hate the word "paradigm!"

It makes sense, though, in this context.

PL: Yeah, it does. The one time I've used it and it made sense.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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Peter Eisenmann
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I just hope they don't make too many compromises to keep this at a low cost.
Don't give it lower resolution or laggy sensors just so you can keep it under 300,-. This is for hardcore gamers anyway. Give it the best components possible, as long as it stays under 1000 dollars, you will find your audience. Don't underestimate the factor that people will use it to make their friends jealous. Make it blow people away, and demand what it's worth. VR is something extraordinary, don't sell it for less than an ordinary IPhone.

Merc Hoffner
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I hope you were being ironic or sarcastic, because that sounds an awful lot like the semi-elitist strategy of every failing HMD manufacturer in history.

Either way they don't need to adjust, because every user has already described a vastly superior experience even while they've been delivering it via virtually off-the-shelf and relatively inexpensive components. You don't need expensive components to deliver excellent or even revolutionary products if you've got innovative engineering on your side.

If you want to start a product revolution, you can't exclude the masses. Or am I missing something?

Peter Eisenmann
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No sarcasm here. Would you consider an Ipad 3 or a Samsung Galaxy 4 semi-elitist? They're mass products. Have you checked lately what you pay for them?
Sorry, but who cares about the masses in this case. Do you honestly believe a VR system, no matter how cheap, has any chance to become mainstream? That John and Jane Smith hook themselves up to a silly helmet in the evening to play some shooter, with a great chance they get a headache, motion sickness, or dry eyes? (All of those symptons will be worse with cheaper components, by the way)

Every user, even the ones describing a "vastly superior experience" you mentioned, will confirm you that the resolution probably should be higher than it is now. Also, how long did these people play? A few minutes max? If I get a VR system, I want to be amazed for months, and not for a single day, only to immediately abandon it for more convenient IO systems (e.g., a TV and controller). For this, even 300 bucks would be too much money.

Jarod Smiley
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How many people are even paying up front what these smartphones cost though? And, there isn't exactly a dozen hot items every year. Even if you get people to fork over $500-$800 for a devices, it's likely to be only a few brands that will sell a huge number of units.

They certainly need to think about cost with way around it. I just hope Sony's tweets meant something and they announce a partnership or support soon.

Peter Eisenmann
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The Ipad is usually sold at full price, in great numbers.

How many VR devices do you think there will be each year? :)
I'd hope there is no need to update my VR helmet every two years like people do with their tablets. So, use the best components there are. If they are available for 300 dollars, fine! But it sounds like the end price is one of their most important goals, which I doubt is the right strategy for a device like this.

Merc Hoffner
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Agree to disagree then? But I will say this: I want one at $300 (or less!). At $400 and up, I don't.

Lance Thornblad
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I'm with Mr. Hoffner. As an enthusiast, I might be willing to pay an iPad price, but only if there's iPad quality content. As a developer, I realize that I can't justify making software for something that has only sold to a few dozen of my "enthusiast" friends because the price was too high.

It takes a low-cost product to give the entire concept wings.

Anthony Torres
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Alright, I just signed up to attempt an explanation as to why your way of thinking has some serious flaws.

First off, let's do away with analogies, because they're not going to do any good. Making a comparison between Smartphones/tablets and VR headsets makes absolutely no sense. People are willing to spend as much as they do, because they're products that are used in every day life. They've become universal tools, and for that, people are willing to pay. There's a justification there. The companies behind them are also tried and true, which cannot be said for Oculus VR.

Second, this is not, and should not, be made for an exclusive group of tech enthusiasts. That method has been tried and tested to fail numerous times. It will not work here. You need to understand that the future of VR tech is unknown. You need to get it in the hands of the many, not the few. You need that, because you need developers to take interest in your product. No one is going to put in real development money for a product that caters to a relatively small fan base.

One hand washes the other here. Oculus needs content in order to attract consumers. Developers need consumers in order to justify creating content. You are entirely over-estimating the power of "making people jealous". I don't think that you fully understand the amount of companies that have gone under, because the people in charge have your exact same mentality.

When virtual reality begins to become reality, then we will begin to see higher-end units. Until then, we need to keep in mind that this is in its infancy. I'm sorry if this offends you at all, but it boggles my mind how people can carry this mentality. I mean, I'm just... very glad that the people in charge don't agree with you, because the future of VR would then be very bleak. Also, it does come off a bit elitist. Keeping up with the Joneses, and all.

Sjors Jansen
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Great interview!

Mobiles connected to Rifts.
Fantastic :) But I'm not sure if I would feel the need to go outside with a Rift though..

I wish console manufacturers would see it as a tv, not as a competing piece of hardware. Customers would want their consoles to support displaying on their Rift and may even expect it to right?

The integrated cpu idea seems great, but also ups the cost of the hardware. It would be competing on a whole different level. As a consumer I'd just want this as a display device I can hook up to anything.

Maybe, if Oculus were to include a cpu, you could be presented with a 3d interface world by hooking the Rift up to a local laundromat, info desk or coffee machine or anything with a usb port you may find in a local supermarket. This could bring a bunch of opportunities for b2b deals by making software for those sorts of clients. But that sounds really boring.

Maybe Oculus can make money by charging for advanced developer support in the long run? Consulting stuff? Would be a shame imho...
Or something like wii play?
Rift pack-in deal with overpriced cereal?

How about a recording device as well? Or a chat program that allows for (potentially) 2 5$ webcams to create a 3d feed for a Rift on the other end? Would probably prove popular but might run into bandwidth issues.

Also, for any developers around Berlin wanting to do something with a Rift, there's one at the monthly berlin minijam.