One of the major challenges facing VR is that you have to put on a headset before you can really get a sense of the technology’s potential. But what if you can’t even get people to try it?
Business Insider has a story about Best Buy’s decision to shut down hundreds of its in-store Oculus Rift demo stations. According to Best Buy employees speaking to Business Insider, days would go by without anyone wanting to try the headset, and even during the holiday season only “a few Oculus headsets per week” were being sold.
An Oculus Rift spokesperson, talking to Business Insider, said it was due to “seasonal changes,” but an internal Best Buy memo obtained by Business Insider claims it was due to “store performance.” Another employee told Business Insider that the demo units were plagued with bugs, making the units unplayable. (This roughly tracks with my own experience trying out various Rift games and experiences, where I’ve sat through a couple of hard restarts to get everything working again.)
This is not a great story for the Oculus Rift, but it also speaks to larger problems facing the VR industry as a whole. It was easy to say that VR would have trouble breaking through simply because you had to get people into headsets before you could make a sale. But after a year where sales of VR headsets across the board were “weaker than expected,” it’s worth taking a step back. Neither Oculus nor the HTC Vive has released a game that can be said to be a true hit. Currently, the best-selling PSVR game is Resident Evil 7, in which VR is optional. Sales forecasts for every VR headset were downgraded for 2016, as demand weakened once early adopters got a headset in their hands.
A year into a technology’s life cycle is too early to judge it a complete success or a complete failure. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that high-end VR is having trouble expanding its user base outside of a niche of core gamers. When potential customers are passing up the chance to even try your product out for free, your problems may be larger than increasing screen resolution or removing bulky wires. It may be that many people are just uncomfortable using, or unwilling to use, your product, period.
Update: Oculus issued the following statement to Select All.
We’re making some seasonal changes and prioritizing demos at hundreds of Best Buy locations in larger markets. You can still request Rift demos at hundreds of Best Buy stores in the US and Canada.
Live.Oculus.com is the best place to find a demo near you, including Microsoft Stores in the US and our partners across Canada, UK, France and Germany.
We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo. We’re going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year.
It sounds like Oculus has chosen, after the holiday season, to refocus demo efforts in bigger markets; there’s still dozens of places you can (and should!) try a demo here in the NYC metro area. It also seems like Oculus is going to have a bigger presence at trade and consumer shows to get more people to try out VR.