Oculus is in trouble again. It seems like that’s a sentence that’s thrown around fairly often, right? How’s that Oculus Rift doing? Oh, it’s in trouble again. This time, it’s due to the Best Buy demo stations scattered throughout the country. Facebook and Oculus had 500 of them set up at stores, but now it’s pulling back to only 300 of them. 200 are being axed in the name of “targeting larger markets” and addressing “seasonal changes.” But, maybe those aren’t the real problems here. Maybe the issue comes down to improving the demo experience so it will be more effective.
VR is a thing you have to experience to understand its value and importance. You can’t just have an Oculus Rift headset on a store shelf and expect it to sell. Commercials and print ads aren’t going to do it either. It’s about seeing for yourself, firsthand, why it’s so special. These Best Buy Oculus Rift demo stations allowed people an opportunity to do that. Even if they weren’t executed well, they’re vital to both explaining what an Oculus Rift is, showing people what it’s capable of doing, and letting them see how it could improve their life. Secondhand reports and promotions can’t do that.
The thing is, you need a good demo to really understand how any niche product, especially a VR headset, works. When I attempted to take an Oculus Rift demo at my local Best Buy last month, everything seemed to go wrong. I scheduled my appointment for 6:30pm. They didn’t take me until closer to 7pm. The person assisting me seemed to know what they were doing, but the snippets of the four experiences didn’t do enough to immediately hook me. The Unspoken and VR Sports Challenge were fine, but The Climb and Medium left me wanting. There should have been four stellar apps, perhaps samples of amazing games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Adr1ft, No Limits 2, and Among the Sleep there to hook people in.
Perhaps that’s why Oculus Rift demo sessions have been declining in popularity at Best Buys, as people have reported. Needing to place a reservation ahead of time is a hassle. This should be something people can walk up to and begin testing without setting aside a certain amount of time. It should be no pressure, with someone nearby to assist, but not loom over you and make you feel like you need to be buying since you’re trying it. The games available to sample should be the best the peripheral has to offer, rather than mediocre and forgettable experiences.
It feels like our faith in the Oculus Rift is being tested. Especially since not much is being said after Zenimax won that $500 million lawsuit against Oculus. Of course, we also can’t forget the months long pre-order delays and DRM that restricted who could and couldn’t buy from the Oculus Rift storefront. The road to VR success has been filled with potholes. Taking away an opportunity to let people see firsthand what the headset can do seems like it will only make the situation worse.
Yes, there are many instances in which demos can hurt, rather than help the situation. There’s been a decline in interest, the trials aren’t doing a great job of showcasing the experience, and it probably is a waste of money on Facebook and Oculus’ part to supply these stations and experiences. But, maybe the faltering is due to people not believing in this particular headset anymore after everything that’s gone wrong. Perhaps it’s because the demo situation, as is, isn’t effective. Pulling back so greatly will only make the Oculus Rift’s situation seem more unsteady. Instead of getting rid of 200 trial stations, it should be refining them.