Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual-reality dreams are going up in a puff of pixels.
Three years after Facebook bought startup Oculus VR for a jaw-dropping $2 billion, CEO Zuckerberg’s big bet on virtual reality has hit a slew of stumbling blocks, including product delays, executive turnover and ho-hum sales.
The latest blow came Thursday, when Oculus’ 24-year-old founder Palmer Luckey — who bagged $730 million at age 21 when he sold his startup to Facebook — abruptly left the company.
Last fall, Luckey had taken heat — and apologized — for giving $10,000 to Nimble America, a pro-Donald Trump internet campaign that cranked out anti-Hillary Clinton “magic memes” and “s–tposting” during the presidential election.
A bigger problem, however, was likely the fact that Facebook in February got slapped with a $500 million judgment from a federal jury in Texas, which found that Luckey and Oculus exec John Carmack had violated nondisclosure rules at Zenimax, a virtual-reality firm where Carmack had previously worked.
Facebook declined to say this week why Luckey left the company. “Palmer will be dearly missed,” Alafair Hall, a spokeswoman for Oculus, said in a statement. “We’re thankful for everything he did for Oculus and VR, and we wish him all the best.”
Luckey’s departure comes as demand for Oculus gear has disappointed. The headset and controllers cost $599 on the company’s website — far more than Samsung’s popular Gear VR headsets, which, priced at $99, work in tandem with an Android phone.
While the Oculus offers superior performance, it also requires the help of a dedicated Windows desktop computer that has a beefed-up memory configuration, typically running north of $1,000.
“I’m not sure consumers are ready for what’s here,” skeptical tech consultant Shelly Palmer told The Post. “They’re voting with their wallets, and their vote is no.”
Last month, the pricey Oculus Rift headset released last September was pulled from the shelves at hundreds of Best Buy stores. Facebook insisted sluggish demand was a “seasonal” issue.
Hall, the Oculus spokeswoman, didn’t elaborate as to why seasonal spending would affect sales of the Rift, a product that’s used indoors.
Oculus’ tech lags that of cheaper competitors, and the company doesn’t license its gear for commercial use, notes Kishore Doddi, owner of VR Bar, a Brooklyn arcade that instead uses the rival HTC Vive headsets.
While the Oculus has better name recognition, other sets like the HTC Vive can do things the Oculus can’t, like adjusting users’ fields of vision as they take a step forward, for example, Doddi said.
The HTC’s superior functionality is “largely where VR is headed and what blows people’s minds,” said Doddi. Still, “you don’t see the gamers jumping on it the way you’d expect them to,” says Palmer.
The reason for that, he said, may have something to do with the practical reality of virtual reality. “You put this sucker on, and assuming you’re not nauseated by it immediately, 20 minutes in and you’ve got to take this thing off,” he added.