When Palmer Luckey invented the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in 2012, his intention was to create a head-mounted display that allowed users to immerse themselves into their video games. This new technology appealed immensely to gamers and Oculus VR was able to fundraise over $2.4 million via Kickstarter on the premise that the Oculus Rift would be “the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games.”
By the time Facebook purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion earlier this year, the company had won numerous awards for its prototype version and several popular game titles were compatible with the headset. But the Facebook acquisition caused gamers to question the future of the Oculus Rift and many of them voiced their concerns about Facebook’s motives – most notably Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft.
“Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build…I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.”
– Markus Persson
Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR prompted Persson to back out of developing a virtual reality version of Minecraft because he believed Facebook didn’t want to use the technology for games – and it turns out he may have been right.
Over the five-day Comic Con event in San Diego last month, thousands of people got to experience the Oculus Rift for the very first time. But instead of playing video games like Luckey envisioned, these people were watching movies. In a promotion dubbed “Drift with the Rift”, users strapped an Oculus Rift onto their head and immersed themselves completely in three movies: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Pacific Rim: Jaeger Pilot and Sleepy Hollow.
The Oculus Rift may have been created for gamers, but what happened at the Comic Con event hints that Facebook has much bigger plans for virtual reality. According to reports, Facebook representatives have been meeting with film executives in recent weeks to develop “Oculus experiences” that act as companions to feature films. But Facebook’s ultimate goal is to release full-length movies straight to the Oculus Rift, and the movie studios are thrilled at this opportunity.
“Every studio is going to be using this.”
–Meryl Johnson, Manger of Interactive Marketing at Warner Bros.
Ticket prices have been steadily rising in recent years.
The average price for a movie theater ticket in North America is currently $8. And even though it’s easier than ever to watch movies in the comfort of your own home, annual movie theater revenue in the United States has remained steady at around $14 billion for the last five years. People go to the movie theater because they’re able to receive an experience they can’t get at home, but the Oculus Rift can change all that by actually placing people inside the movie.
Facebook believes people won’t go to the movie theater if they can use the Oculus Rift to be a part of the movie. If they’re correct, then the entire business model for Hollywood will undoubtedly change and it could mean big bucks for everyone involved – except for maybe the movie theaters. Instead of packing 100 people into a theater four times a day, thousands of people could potentially immerse themselves into a virtual reality movie 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if movie theaters are able to make $14 billion with their traditional business model, how much more can Facebook make?
As the release date for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift rapidly approaches, Luckey has accepted the fact that his revolutionary gaming device is now a “video entertainment device.” Speaking recently at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Vancouver, Luckey explained that “mass adoption of virtual reality is inevitable” and that “it will not disappear again…it will happen; it’s a matter of when.”
One of the complaints from gamers regarding the Oculus Rift is the queasiness they felt from playing certain games because they simply moved too fast. This is because high-definition video from a television display doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate well to a virtual reality headset. The same problem exists for movie screens and in order for virtual reality to be universally accepted like Facebook wants it to be, distinctive virtual reality content will be the deciding factor for consumers.
Movie studios will have to develop new production techniques that create a comfortable virtual reality experience if they expect moviegoers to ditch the theaters – virtual reality headsets also need to be cheaper. One person who is adamantly trying to beat Oculus Rift to the punch is Richard Marks, the Senior Director at the Sony Magic Lab. He believes we’re currently in the “Wild West” for virtual reality and is trying to figure out a way to streamline headset technology to make it affordable to the masses.
When asked why Sony – a corporation largely focused on entertainment – was so interested in breaking into the virtual reality industry, Marks had the following to say:
“Presence is disruptive. It’s going to become the preferred medium for all sorts of applications. It’ll go beyond games … even non-entertainment applications.”
– Richard Marks, Senior Director at the Sony Magic Lab
Do you think the Oculus Rift can replace the movie theater experience? Will the Oculus Rift be used for more than just video games?