I remember when the Oculus Rift first hit Kickstarter back in 2012. This virtual reality headset would have not been the first in the marketplace but it definitely managed to excite people. By the end, this campaign raised a tremendous sum of money: $2,437,429 from 9,522 backers. Although I was interested, it also seemed far too early to gauge whether Oculus would truly become a player in the burgeoning virtual reality scene – or if virtual reality would ever even come to pass in a non-fad way. Since the Kickstarter, a tremendous amount of people have tried the headset via its multiple development kit iterations (available as backer tiers) or have now received some of the earliest Rift consumer version shipments in their home. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those folks.
It seemed like Oculus were right on track with their consumer release. Pre-orders were handled in a decent manner (if you ignore the site’s immediate crashing when pre-orders first opened in January). Everyone was given an estimated release month upon successful completion of said order. For me, I was told to expect a shipment in “March” – meaning it would ship right around the launch date of March 28. Many others were greeted with the same release month, though you had to be darn quick. Just minutes after orders began, people began receiving estimated months of April and finally May. The biggest issue in my opinion was that there was no other way to really check in on your order’s expected date after the initial confirmation window. Accounts on Oculus simply showcased a “TBA” for date. As impatient as I was, this was okay. I did my best to stop thinking about the Rift again until close to March 28.
Around this time, I caught wind of gaming, technology, and lifestyle journalists receiving Oculus Rift CVs about a week ahead of time alongside computers to run them on. This gave people the time required to really fuss around with the device in order to provide a comprehensive launch day review. It was also known that a fair portion of the original Kickstarter backers would also receive their complimentary headsets alongside that of pre-order folks. The weekend before launch, Oculus co-creator Palmer Luckey hand-delivered the very first Rift to an incredibly lucky fellow named Ross in Alaska. It was an amusing PR move, even when you consider the fact that Ross didn’t even have the software required to run his new Rift ahead of launch.
All in all, I was super hyped, even after receiving an email on March 24 stating my order would be processed in 1-3 weeks. Yes, it’d push me out of “March” but it was exciting to know I was part of that initial wave of orders! Not everyone received this specific email, though all Oculus newsletter subscribers did receive a similar alert. As the first week passed, I was a little disappointed and began looking into places to chat with other Oculus Rift fans. This led me quickly to Reddit as well as a few Discord chat rooms. The second week passed and people began getting really antsy. This was only amplified when official word got out sharing that there was a component shortage – and this would impact shipping. No one really knew the scope of this (aside from Oculus themselves) and the news certainly did not go well with the community.
The only silver lining in my case was that this same official source was quoted as saying those who received the 1-3 week email would not be affected. I couldn’t help but breathe a self-centered sigh of relief. Word also appeared that Oculus would provide actual shipping estimates (i.e. dates rather than TBA) for everyone on April 12. This coincidentally landed two days before the end of my “three weeks” period. As I grew more curious, I found a spreadsheet compiled on Reddit to track orders based on user reporting. Obviously, not every Rift Kickstarter backer or pre-orderer was on there, but I have a feeling a great many of them chose to participate. Suffice it to say, based off this information, things were shipping out incredibly slowly. This slowness led Oculus to remove shipping fees for all orders prior to April 1. I’d rather have had it sooner than be $30 richer, but ah well.
On Monday of the third week, the first pre-orders (from people who placed orders within six minutes of the site opening) had gone out. My order time was somewhere in the seven minute range. It was so close! Unfortunately, shipping stopped for the day and then finally came news which I had hoped would not be the case. New estimated release dates went up and pegged me as receiving my unit sometime between 5/2 and 5/12. Whatever happened to that one to three weeks for my order to ship? More like one to three months. As you might expect, people were downright anywhere from angry to anguished over the news. After all, up to this point Oculus has been honestly horrible at explaining anything to us. We were all left in limbo while they apparently dealt with huge supply issues in private.
At this point, some Kickstarter backers have still not received their unit (which a special edition made exclusively for them). Some folks who placed orders prior to six minutes in also have yet to get their Rift. The headsets which are already in folks hands have begun to sell on eBay for over $1,000 – averaging around $1,300 – $1,700. For reference, the Rift itself officially sells for $599. Folks had already been backing out and jumping to HTC Vive, but this cemented the choice for some. Even I toyed with the idea before ultimately deciding against the $799 headset. Unfortunately, the HTC Vive has been encountering its own order processing and shipping woes. In worse news, many found their orders canceled outright due to an error on the part of billing/shipping processor Digital River. There was no time for anyone to become a “headset fanboy” when many gamers were moaning about having absolutely no headset anywhere near release date.
Oculus have severely mismanaged their public relations throughout this. No doubt it was scary to realize they wouldn’t have enough headsets to meet demand as expected. But if that was the case, they really should have shared this news earlier and with better messaging. Addressing issues is necessary as attempting to obfuscate them only makes people angrier upon the final reveal. For folks such as myself, we allowed ourselves to hope for the best only to have the actual news come as a shock to our much-too-optimistic hearts. At this point, I still care but have found my enthusiasm all but sapped away. Sure, it will be cool to have an Oculus Rift in the house once it finally arrives – but all that early goodwill toward Oculus has dried up. Maybe virtual reality is truly here to stay, but it sure has gotten off to a rocky start.