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VR Headset Price Reductions Could Mean New Opportunities for Developers

Following price cuts to the Oculus Rift earlier this summer, HTC recently announced it was lowering the price of its own Vive headset by $200, to $599.

The price drop could be viewed as a hit to the market, but instead, the opposite’s likely true. More affordable VR hardware means wider accessibility as Viveport president Rikard Steiber said himself:

“… the plan was always that high-end VR be available to everyone. So of course there are a couple of components that need to fall into place… in order to reach the mass market, you need to have a lower price point. That’s been the plan all along. I think it’s good that other players in the market are making similar moves.”

That’s thrilling to anyone in the industry. And though the price cuts won’t mean room scale VR leaves its niche market in the short term, this does signal a willingness on the part of headset makers to attract a wider audience. It also means that developers that create content for these devices will finally have a shot at some sort of mainstream success.

One of the biggest problems in VR up to now has been the industry’s desire to make amazing content as inaccessible as possible. A few months ago someone described an amazing automobile experience that left me salivating — only to tell me that there was one copy of it, locked up inside an office somewhere in Sweden. Other companies have created great experiences simply, it seems, for the purpose of winning awards, not caring about whether any actual humans interact with them. Even experiences and games created with all the goal of getting in front of as many eyes as possible have been limited by the fact that so few people own the devices to view them.

Most technology starts out with higher price points at first, then gradually gets cheaper as it enters the mainstream. Virtual reality isn’t in the “mainstream” just yet, but we could be coming up quickly on a time when people are going to start investing in the headsets and setting up VR rooms in their houses; a throwback to the computer rooms of the nineties.

Some more tech-savvy folks I know already have VR setups in extra rooms or basements. And even I’ve cleared out my tiny second bedroom in my NYC apartment to set up my Rift.

But while price will play a major role in driving adoption, the cheapest headset around is worthless without great content. For developers, that’s a huge opportunity to make more experiences knowing that more people will be able to interact with them. It also provides a chance for developers to create more types of content, for more diverse audiences. Scroll through the Oculus store or Steam, and you’ll see a lot of things that look and feel the same — and that needs to change.

Some of that is a result of the same individuals bankrolling content, too. The price reduction should encourage more investors, brands and publishers to jump into the VR pool. Advertising’s already easy to integrate with something like Vertebrae’s native SDK. Now it’s more cost-effective for brands to explore what that could mean for their own plans in VR and AR integrations.

Developers need to start thinking about what content will draw nontraditional audiences to use the headsets. Let’s assume the person who actually buys the headset is a 30- or 40-something male that likes games — but he’s rarely the only person in the household. Meaning, others outside of that buyer group are going to interact with that VR experience, too.

We need to start thinking about experiences for kids, non-gamers, and people of all ages. The absolute worst thing to do would be to fall into boring traditional norms and create sparkly pink experiences “for women,” or nostalgia-driven experiences for older people. Instead, developers need to focus on creating content that will connect with broader audiences, without dumbing down the final product.