The personal computer has been experiencing a slow decline in sales for years now. First giving way to laptops, then to smartphones and tablets, desktop PC sales simply don’t come close to what they once were. New desktop PCs are mostly sold as a niche item to high-end PC gamers, who want to load up with multiple screens and killer graphics cards. The lower-end niche barely registers anymore, as casual PC users often don’t replace their desktop when it dies, instead opting to rely on their smartphone to stay connected. The PC is in desperate need of a killer app that only it can offer.
Enter the Oculus Rift, a full 3D virtual reality system that is attracting the attention of game designers all over the world. The Oculus Rift VR offers the best hope in a generation for the truly immersive gaming and video virtual reality experience that has been tantalizingly just out of reach. The Rift uses character viewport tracking technology to provide the highest quality first-person gaming experience around.
Adoption by developers is proceeding swiftly. Gamers can see an officially supported version of Half-Life 2 now on the Oculus Rift VR. Unreal Engine 4 is being rebuilt to provide simple support for developing for the Rift. Team Fortress, the free multiplayer game from Steam, is rebuilt to support VR mode, too. Since so much modern gaming already uses the first-person viewport as the default perspective for the player, deploying games for the Rift does not require a radical redesign of gaming engines.
Oculus is also working hard to push the Rift as more than just a gaming platform. A Rift-compatible version of Google Maps is already in production. The company is implementing 3D movie watching with the Oculus Rift. A strong fan base is forming even before the Rift goes into full production. The SDK has shipped to developers. The Rift is positioned to be one of the killer gifts for the holiday buying season in 2013.
The question is whether the Rift can save the PC industry tasked with powering it? Are there enough high-end gamers, whose rigs have the graphics cards necessary to power the Rift, to ignite a new round of PC buying to use the Rift? Oculus already has the interest of Valve, whose Steam system powers the most popular DRM and distribution system in all of PC gaming. Getting VR mode games out the masses will not be a problem. The question is whether the experience will be compelling enough to drive hardware sales.
Some technologies just need a second try to succeed. 3D movie technology was tried over multiple generations. It took a major technological advance to make 3D movies a regular feature at every theater in the world. The same may hold true for virtual reality. The Oculus Rift is a far cry from Nintendo’s old Virtual Boy, the first mass marketed VR headset. The Rift is a major advance, on par with modern 3D films. Time will tell whether it can fuel a similar revival in PC sales.