A Platform To Believe In?
I have the worst timing. In April of 2020, with the pandemic raging and me desperately in need of something to distract myself, I decided to purchase an Oculus Quest. I’d enjoyed my PlayStation VR for over a year, and the idea of a headset not forcing me to connect to anything with a cable sounded awesome. Buying one at the time wasn’t easy; many people seem to have had the same idea I did, and they were sold out everywhere. After watching online for a few weeks, though, I was able to get an order in at Best Buy, and by the end of the month, I brought my new system home.
While not a perfect product, I’ve had a lot of fun with the Quest. There is a wide assortment of excellent titles, and while I might wish Oculus ran sales a bit more often, as I often have to choose between the freedom of the Quest or a lower price for the same game on PlayStation VR, I’ve had a great time.
There was no way for me to know that less than five months later, a follow-up headset would be announced, releasing the very next month. At the time I bought my Quest, it had been on the market for less than a year. It was incredibly in demand. This isn’t the sort of thing most electronic companies simply move on from. Nonetheless, the Oculus Quest II soon hit the market.
At the time, the team behind the Oculus worked to assure fans who had bought the original Quest that they wouldn’t be left behind. The day after the Quest 2’s reveal Chris Jurney, the head of development strategy at Facebook (now Meta), told Upload VR, “There’s a lot of folks in those devices, and we and developers are super motivated to support those customers.”
That seems to have lasted about a year. While for the longest time, the closest thing to an exclusive the Quest 2 had was the Rec Royale mode in Rec Room, that’s quickly changing. Resident Evil 4 became the first fully exclusive release on the platform only a month ago. Since then, though, it’s been joined by Blade & Sorcery: Nomad, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, and Lucky’s Tale. After the Fall will be joining them in just a couple of weeks. While for a long time this seemed to be frowned on, it seems the floodgates have opened. We can surely expect to see more of this soon.
New platforms are a part of gaming. They have been since the start. This sort of turnover, however, more resembles the mobile phone space than it does gaming devices. For many years a standard console generation was around five years. In recent decades that’s actually grown longer with the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, for example, each lasting seven years. Even a system like the Wii U, which was replaced sooner, lasted over four years. This pattern of consoles generally lasting 4-8 years gives buyers at least an idea of what to expect. If you buy a platform late in its life, you know it’s on the way out, and you’re doing so mainly for its library of titles that already exists. The Quest was replaced less than a year and a half after hitting the market. This would be the equivalent of Sony announcing the PlayStation 6 in just a few months and a year from now starting to phase out titles on the PlayStation 5.
There are reasons developers are eager to move on from the original Quest. While many fans think the build quality on the original Quest was higher, the newer system is undoubtedly more powerful. This means that to release games on both platforms, you essentially need to build two versions of the game. While most developers do that during the early days of a new platform, as we’re seeing with many PS5 and Xbox Series X|S games still coming to PS4 and Xbox One, they generally don’t do so forever. The larger user base of the PS4 and Xbox One also helps justify the cost of releasing games there. The original Quest doesn’t offer that incentive. Reports indicate the Quest 2 may have sold as many as 10 million units at this point. It’s unclear if the original version, which took time to build hype and which was impossible to get by the time demand really took off, ever managed to sell even 1 million. The user base for the newer system dwarfs that of the original.
That shouldn’t be a deterrent in this case, though, if Meta is looking to build a sustainable ecosystem for Oculus Quest. The most important thing in establishing a core user base is consumer trust. When you ask us to spend hundreds of dollars on a platform, we need to know we’re going to get our money’s worth. A $400.00 system is not a small purchase for a lot of consumers. When someone buys your new platform that isn’t even a year old, and then you release a more powerful version only five months later, for $100.00 less, that already deals a blow to consumer confidence. When only a year and a half later you’re starting to leave those consumers behind, how can they feel confident in buying one of your products again? These aren’t phones where players want to upgrade every year or two. That shouldn’t be the model here, the average consumer won’t abide it.
If rumors are right, Meta may be about to do the same thing all over again. Rumors of an Oculus Quest Pro or Oculus Quest 3 are already swirling. Every hardware manufacturer starts work on what is coming next as soon (or even sooner) as the current system releases. Yet to buy into a Quest 2 at this point requires confidence that you won’t be in the situation a year from now that original Quest owners find themselves in today. It’s possible that leaked videos are of prototypes, devices that aren’t close to release, or a mostly cosmetic update. How can consumers feel confident in that based on the platform’s recent history, though? Perhaps more importantly, if consumers can’t trust this platform, what else is left? PC VR is almost entirely based on games that can also release on the Quest at this point. The successor to PlayStation VR seems to be coming but also seems to still be a ways off.
While the user base of the original Quest may have been small enough that not too many consumers will be put off by being brushed aside, if Meta tries this again with another Oculus device in the near future, the much larger Quest 2 user base will have plenty to say about it. Ideally, the platform holders would reevaluate their current path and make continued support for a system that is still less than three years old a priority, but how they handle the next iteration of the Quest will tell us more about the long-term viability of the platform.