Oculus Rift delays flatten virtual-reality fan fervour

Los Angeles, April 30

Virtual reality (VR), oddly enough, isn’t immune to the problems that arise in practical reality. Just ask would-be fans of the Oculus Rift headset, many — possibly most — of whom are still waiting for their $600 gadgets over four weeks after they started shipping.

The delay, naturally, has sparked online grousing and even some data-based activism, including creation of a crowd-sourced spreadsheet for tracking who received their prized VR gear and when. Some long-time supporters of Oculus have declared themselves alienated by the firm’s inability to deliver; others have defected to rival VR systems, or are at least considering it.

Christian Cantrell, a software engineer and science-fiction author in Virginia, put in his pre-order 15 minutes after Oculus started accepting them in January — and is still waiting. It’s been a ‘bummer’, he says, because he passed up buying a rival headset, HTC Vive, hoping to be part of a VR ‘renaissance’ with Rift.

“I’ve been kind of like an Oculus believer,” he says. “But I might just order a Vive.”

It’s too soon to say how the delays will affect Oculus, much less the overall acceptance of VR, a technology that submerges users in realistic artificial worlds. In other contexts, big companies like Apple have managed to weather shortages and shipping delays for products such as the Apple Watch and its new iPhone SE.

But some find the Rift delays intolerable, especially given that Oculus is no fledgling start-up, but part of Facebook. “There’s an element of inexcusable incompetence going on,” says JP Gownder, a Forrester Research analyst, who placed his pre-order in the first 10 minutes but doesn’t expect his Rift until mid-May.

Experienced hardware manufacturers would have set up suppliers months or years in advance to avoid these types of problems, Gownder says. The fact that Oculus managed to bungle its launch with more than three years to prepare, plus the backing of Facebook, is ‘scandalous’, he says.

Oculus, which has blamed the delays on an ‘unexpected component shortage’, declined to comment on specifics. It said it has moved to address the shortage and expects deliveries to accelerate soon. By way of apology, Oculus said it will offer free shipping for orders made before April 1.

Few have been as disappointed as some of the firm’s earliest supporters. Back in January, Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey announced that 5,600 of firm’s first Kickstarter backers would be eligible for a free headset. He tweeted on eve of first deliveries that gifts would ‘start arriving’ two days before others, giving impression Kickstarter backers would get theirs first.

It didn’t happen. Unhappy customers gathered on Reddit to figure out where they stood in line; one poster catalogued the frustration on a crowd-sourced spreadsheet. While not necessarily representative of entire Oculus customer base, data shows that of 131 early Kickstarter backers who submitted responses, only 28 report receiving a unit. Of 1,399 pre-order customers, just 165 say they got a Rift.