Quick Take: Facebook’s Renewed VR Push
Facebook is back in the VR game. With the $199 headset announced this week, Mark Zuckerberg has renewed his desire to bring one billion people into Virtual Reality. Such a statement is at odds with the industry mood, with the celebratory VR narrative of 2016 taking a dive at the beginning of 2017. The Christmas season had not been the tipping point many had hoped, with the Oculus Rift having yet to push past the million mark and PSVR having its sales projection slashed by Sony. By the summer, HTC was selling off the Vive division — it was not exactly a confidence boost.
The Facebook CEO has never shied from bold statements, and the general malaise of the VR industry, following underwhelming first year sales, will welcome this shot in the arm. However, this pivot in pricing strategy addresses just one of the technology’s many hurdles to wider adoption. For all of VR’s hype cycle and PR bombast, some truths have been forgotten. Apple is the only company in history that has successfully managed to convince people en masse to carry a tech product on their body. They recognised the product was a fashion accessory and approached the device in the same way the luxury sector (LVMH, Kering etc) would have done. This is the core reason why Google Glass failed – it was alienating to others, and VR at this point still holds those connotations. Most people simply do not want something on their face for an extended period of time.
Oculus, the VR company purchased by Facebook in 2014 for around $3 billion, underwent a crisis of identity this year after its public facing figure and co-founder Palmer Luckey was discovered to have been funding a pro-Trump online organisation. This was followed by a lawsuit from ZeniMax Media over allegedly stolen technology. This latest move by Facebook feels somewhat forced: it allows them to be perceived as moving forward into hardware, when its most valuable assets continue to be the Facebook platform itself and, increasingly, Instagram, which has boasted expedited growth rates in 2017 this year, en route to 500 million Daily Active Users. Expanding an ad business is not as exciting as bringing a new technology to the masses, but, ultimately, it is what Facebook knows how to do. Pending a mass consumer shift, they will likely continue to do so.