We had the chance to speak with Oculus head of content Jason Rubin at the company’s annual Connect event last week. In our in-depth interview, Rubin addresses several topics, such as Touch pricing concerns, potential controller fragmentation issues, and PlayStation VR. He also defends exclusives and explains how they’ll push the VR industry forward.
GameSpot: You guys announced the price of the Touch controllers. It's going to be $199. Coupled with the Rift, to get room scale (which allows you to walk around in VR), you’ll need a third sensor, which will price the entire package just shy of $880. How do you respond to those that think the Rift is much more expensive than the company initially let on during its Kickstarter stage?
Jason Rubin: Well, I'm going to put aside the Kickstarter phase, because at that point, you had a [small team] that, before they'd even started making hardware product, were making speculations about where they'd end up. What I would say is this: The competitive products that are out there are at about the same price point for the same quality. If you look at the [total room scale] price and then you compared us to our nearest competitor ... they're $80 nominally less, but they don't give you a [gamepad] controller, they don't give you a remote, and they bundle in a lot less software, so if you look at the price point to get to the highest quality of VR, we're at about the same price point.
Do you regret not shipping the Rift with Touch?
Not at all. Oculus’ strategy is to lead with the highest-quality hardware when the software is ready. We could have potentially had high-quality hand tracking earlier, but we wouldn't have had the software that we're going to have in December earlier, and I think if you look at the competitive landscape, the titles we're launching with--and the titles we'll have in the next year--we're launching hand tracking when hand tracking is useful, when hand tracking is ready. Racing to market with hardware before the software is ready for it is not our strategy. [It’s] not a dev kit. We're not shipping to hobbyists. We're shipping to consumers, and we want consumers to be happy. Consumers need a wide variety of things to do.
Above picture: Oculus' motion-tracked Touch controllers will release on December 6.
The other thing I would mention is ...While the software was maturing, our [Touch] hardware team and design team were iterating over and over again to get the highest-quality package to actually launch with. I think if you race to market, you fail to do that, and you find out that things didn’t go as well as we wished they would have, so having that extra time to go make the perfect product, I think, was an incredibly good decision.
Nine months from now, no one’s going to look back and care. They're going to look back and they're going to say, “You made the right product, the best software is here, and we're happy.”
The long-term concern might be a fragmented market in terms of who developers should gear games toward. Should they make Touch-focused games or gamepad-centric ones?
Yeah, there are multiple reasons why I find that to have been a red herring since it was announced. The existence of PlayStation VR makes that a red herring, because you already have a different hardware setup that has a controller and has front-facing camera capabilities, doesn't have room scale, and all these other things. It's probably going to be quite successful, so you have a world in which developers are already developing for that platform, and they're going to bring their titles to PC if they can be played.
There’s a world in which everyone could’ve decided that [room scale] was the mode we were building for, but it's unclear to us how many people are actually going to have large rooms that they're going to dedicate to VR. Are they going to clean out their garage? Are they going to clean out their living room? [In a] world in which you're launching a product that has never existed before and experimenting in a marketplace that you don't know how it's going to turn out, the right thing to do is to leave optionality [on the table]. Driving games play best with a steering wheel. Character-action games play best with joypads ... There are also fantastic opportunities opened up by hand presence. I just came from a panel we gave with four developers on stage who chose four different games to make, and they had four different control specs. We don't know where control is going. We're not paternalistic, and we don't think one control is necessarily the right way of going. We see a marketplace that, even if Oculus disappeared tomorrow, would’ve been fragmented anyway. I just don't see that argument.
Do you think most games on the Rift moving forward, at least in the foreseeable future, will be Touch-focused or controller-based?
I would say that's going to be determined by our development community. They're really going to decide what we're going to do. As we sit here in January after Touch has launched, mark my words, some developers will be developing games for gamepad. Some developers will be trying to develop games with different input devices because it's a PC; any input device can be attached to it. There will still be steering-wheel games. There will be mech games that have giant mech controllers. All of these things will exist. I don't know that I can answer the question of what most will target, but we'll find out. Developers will tell us, and consumers will tell us what they want to play.
This might be a hard question for you to tackle, but what are your favorite upcoming Rift games?
I can't pick one. What I will say is this: [Oculus’] big bang happened January of '15, because that was the first time we could ship a fully operational Rift. Then there was another big bang when we finally shipped Touch development kits. Those two big bangs represent the beginning of [our] universe, if you will. The farther from those big bangs we get, the more time life has had to generate, and the better the games get. If you look at something like Ready at Dawn's gameLone Echo, they've been working on that for 15 months. Anything that happened at Rift’s launch was less than a year in development, because that's the time we had. As we get farther and farther away from those big bangs, life gets more and more complex. Things get more interesting. Details emerge. We're getting better and better content, and we're also learning from our mistakes as developers and iterating.
Above picture: Ready at Dawn's Lone Echo game has you playing a robot that floats through space.
You’re funding a lot of platform exclusives. Will most of them be timed exclusives or permanent to your platform?
As Mark [Zuckerberg] said [at the Oculus Connect keynote], we've invested $250 million to date, and we plan to do at least that much more. That's a humongous amount of investment, and if you look at what our co-conspirators in the VR world are doing, we’re driving innovation. We’re driving the innovation with that dollar amount. What we’d love to see is everybody match us and everybody push things forward. I’d love to see exclusive content come out on other platforms, as it is on PSVR, as it will on [Google’s] Daydream--more and more of it. We have absolutely no problem when they announce exclusives. We think that's a good thing, because as I said in my part of the keynote, I think that helps not only the titles we fund, but what we learn spills out into the community.
Generally speaking, when Oculus invests a large amount of money, we tend to keep the titles exclusive. Some are timed; some are not timed. When we just [provide a little funding to developers], I don't know. I don't think you're going to see a lot of timed exclusives in the future. I think now that Touch is out, you'll see developers getting to the title they want, and then it’ll get released to everybody.
You mentioned PlayStation VR more than once. Have you had a chance to try it, and what do you think about it?
I have had a chance to try it. I've tried a bunch of their software. We're very close with Sony. In fact, [the president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios], Shuhei [Yoshida], was in here yesterday testing out some of our products in the press area because, well, I actually reported to him for a while at Sony. He was the producer of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Dexter, so Shu and I are very close.
I think PSVR is awesome, and I think the fact that a lot of console players are going to play in VR is going to be awesome. I think what they're doing with their content, investing in the ecosystem, is fantastic. I know they have some exclusives and some timed exclusives. I think that's fantastic. I’m so happy that Sony is out there pushing this forward. I see no negatives. Over the long run, perhaps at some point, people will be like, “Which system do I buy? Do I buy another Playstation? Do I buy another Oculus?” Who knows? Right now, we're all driving forward.
I don't know if you noticed, but Mark [Zuckerberg], when he started his speech up on stage [at the Oculus Connect keynote], said how happy he was to see HTC and Valve in VR, Sony in VR. I think he said Sony. If he didn't, he meant to. We love this, because the more money, the more attention spent on VR, the further VR will go, and the faster it’ll go.