Oculus Rift team talks Steam support, hamster balls and '90s VR at IndieCade

Has anyone expressed interest outside of the games space?

Yes. Any industry you can possibly think of, they’re using the Rift. Automotive, medical, simulation and training, architecture, film—every industry. To get a dev kit, you don’t need to be a developer. You just go to our site and buy one, so there are literally the strangest projects out there.

They just buy ten Rifts and are like, “Oh yeah, we’re doing architecture pre-vis,” which is actually not a strange project, but to me, I’m a gamer, I’m a game developer. I’m like, “Okay, what’s architecture pre-vis?” And now they’re using it extensively to do walkthroughs of spaces.

Rift dev kits are already being used in other industries, including medicine, government, the military, and even real estate development.

People have come to us and said, “It’s really changed the way we show new homeowners what their home will be like,” because the spatial awareness you have in the Rift, you put it on and you’re like, “Oh this ceiling feels kind of low, can we bring that up a little bit,” or, “This doorway feels tight, let’s space it out.” Something you can’t capture on a model or a monitor, so you put the homeowner inside and you can do it.

Are you seeing any crossover between those development tools and people making games?

Absolutely, I think that’s true. You see more and more of those people using Unity, Unreal Engine. All in all, they’re building video games basically. Simple video games.

We tried to build the SDK so it was targeted at game developers because we’re game developers and we want game developers to be using it, but we tried to build it in such a way that anyone could use it. If you’re a software engineer, you could get started.

We also tried to build it to be completely frictionless, so with the Unity integration even if you don’t know a single line of code you can open up Unity, paint some trees, pull a mountain up out of the ground, paint a lake or something, press Play, put on the Rift, and be walking around your virtual world. At that level, it opens up all sorts of doors for people to get involved and innovate in new ways.

Is there any involvement or interest from the government or the military?

Definitely the military. The government…I guess yes because of the military, but I can’t pick a project in my head and say, “The government bought that kit!”

The military uses VR for all sorts of things, specifically training, because it’s much, much cheaper to put someone in a training simulator than to actually run an op or something—whether it’s a medical operation or a combat mission or flight training or driving training. Simulators constantly cost down these programs.

What about overseas?

Our Kickstarter was 60 percent sales outside the United States. So 40 percent was U.S. and the rest was Australia, Japan, Korea, Russia…

But no dominant trend?

No, no dominant trend.

How many dev kits have you sold at this point?

35,000. Roughly. Give or take.

That’s a pretty good install base for a dev kit.

That’s an awesome install base. My bet was somewhere between 10-15 and Jack McCauley, who was the lead engineer on Guitar Hero, was like, “We’re going to sell way, way more than that.” I was like, “No, no, you’re crazy Jack, you’re crazy!” and he was way closer to right than anyone else.

I noticed on the 1080p prototype, it seems like the field of view is smaller than the 720p version. What’s the reason for that?

It is smaller. The reason is we’re using a dev kit with a different panel, and it’s just that drop-in change. The optics aren’t changed at all, so they don’t give you the full field of view. Easy, easy fix—just not easy enough to justify the investment we’d have to make to get it right for a prototype. This is just showcasing HDVR, but it’s no problem to get that field of view back.

I am wondering, we’re about to go test out this big gerbil ball thing—

The Virtusphere.

Right, and I’ve messed with the Omni treadmill a bunch of times. Do you have a position on those?

Right now we’re focused on sitting-down VR. That’s basically the end-all-be-all. VR is so hard to begin with, nailing the sitting down aspect is challenging.

U.S. Department of Defense Photo Archive
Fox reporter Alisyn Camerota tries out the Virtusphere in New York City, May 26, 2006.

We want to get that perfect before we get you standing up, basically blindfolded, running around your apartment. This Virtusphere is something like $50,000, Palmer said.

The Omni is not quite that expensive, at least; it’s $400 or so.

Omni is not that expensive. Omni, I would say is not perfect yet. They have a great prototype and vision for what they’re doing.

Do you have any contact with them at all?

Absolutely. There’s one community, MTBS3D, that a lot of the people in the VR space are communicating and collaborating in. That’s where Palmer posted the original Rift project, so there was a lot of talk on there. The WhizDish guys, which is similar to the Omni, they were on there. A bunch of people working in that space are now ending up on Kickstarter and things like that.

I’ve run on it. It’s fun, in a very, "It’s tiring, I could play this for about half an hour and then I’d be dead."

[Laughs] Let’s all nail sitting-down-VR first and then we’ll slowly get there. We’re not at the Holodeck yet, right? We’re still taking those baby steps. I think they’re making great progress, we’re making great progress—we’ll see how it all shakes out.

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