2020 has been a long and tough year full of tragedies for everyone in the country and across the globe. The ongoing pandemic has infected 28 million and taken the lives of 900 thousand. Protests have swept the nation for the BLM movement due to frightening acts of police brutality shown to everyone across the country on the news. Watching the news is very exhausting when all you hear is more and more bad news. Social distancing and the pandemic has made seeing friends and family risky and impractical for many. Many movie theaters and restaurants have been closed or have been operating in limited capacity most of the year. It has been difficult to find an escape and socialize and find entertainment these days outside of the home. This is where the Oculus Quest and Virtual Reality (VR) comes into play.
VR is nothing new, the major VR headset companies of today, one of them being Oculus, started around 2012-2014. The headset I am going to be focusing on is the first completely wireless VR headset, the Oculus Quest. All the modern VR headsets up to this point had required to be tethered to a powerful gaming computer that would cost well over $1000 and then people would have to pay another $300-400 on the actual VR headset itself. It was more of enthusiast-level hardware rather than for the general population due to its prohibitive cost.
When the Oculus Quest was announced in late 2018, it was a game-changer. Virtual Reality had previously been priced overall for nearly $2000 before you could begin having an enjoyable experience, now you could experience VR in your own home, no hassle, for the price of $399. This was much more capable than VR using your phone in something like a Gear VR, Google Cardboard, or Oculus Go. This headset would be able to produce a similar experience comparable to actual tethered VR, with the portability of phone VR. Phone VR was only for limited experiences and watching some 360-degree YouTube videos, nowhere near the room-scale VR games and experiences you could get through tethered VR. The only problem with tethered VR, besides its price, is that it was hard to travel with since you needed a powerful PC to back up the hardware of the headset. The new Oculus Quest was truly the best of both worlds with some understandable downsides due to not having the full performance of a gaming PC.
Now that VR was affordable for the general population and was highly portable, the next step was how to market the new technology. A major downside of phone VR headsets is that it negatively affected the marketing of the new Quest. Phone VR simply could not compare to in any way to true VR via tethered headset on PC. Many people found phone VR to be disorienting and uncomfortable at times and overall, just not impressive. Now a new VR headset was coming out, but the general population saw VR to be a fad and not worth the cost because of their previous experience with the technology. Oculus’s greatest marketing asset at this point was word of mouth. Due to the portability of the headset and the ability to get full experiences like PC VR, Oculus hoped that the few early adopters of the Quest would be able to share their experience and get their friends and family to try it out for themselves and reverse the negative view of VR that the general population held.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year and the start of lockdowns and quarantines in March. The Oculus Quest and VR were much more popular at this point. By March of this year, 9 months after the release of the Quest, roughly 600,000 Oculus Quest headsets had been sold. You can see YouTube videos of people playing VR games have millions and millions of views. Once people had begun to be told to stay inside, work from home, and restaurants and movie theaters had started to close, VR began to look like an attractive method of at-home entertainment. There is more to VR than simply play video games, there were ways of interacting with people around the world and simply having conversations in a virtual world around a virtual campfire, everyone having their avatars representing their characteristics. You can watch movies from streaming services and watch YouTube videos in virtual movie theaters with friends. VR and the affordability of it brought a new way to maintain our close connections and make new ones in a way that feels more personal than simple video calling, and texting could ever compare with. Virtual Reality is the new medium of entertainment and socializing in an age of social distancing.