After a multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaign, a $2 billion purchase from Facebook and media coverage from tech-enthusiast websites to the cover of Time Magazine, 2016 was supposed to be the year of the Oculus Rift. Instead, the year has been lukewarm toward virtual reality’s once brightest sun.
The decline began when the latest wave of news linked Oculus founder Palmer Luckey to a conservative 501(c)4 group called Nimble America. The group is known for being something of a meme machine, throwing out anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda and utilizing white-supremacist and anti-semitic imagery.
Since the initial report by Daily Beast, Luckey has admitted to donating $10,000 to the organization.
“I thought the organization had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards,” Luckey wrote in a post on Facebook.
In the same post, he said he was neither the founder nor an employee of Nimble America and that he is not “NimbleRichMan,” a commenter in the /r/The_Donald subreddit who claimed to be an anonymous near-billionaire dollar donator.
“I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners. The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views,” Luckey wrote.
Despite the attempt to distance himself from the news story, the damage was already done.
Several developers, such as Polytron Corporation and Tomorrow Today Labs, are pulling Oculus support from their games.
Insomniac Games, developer of the Rachet and Clank series, issued the following statement.
“Insomniac Games condemns all forms of hate speech. While everyone has a right to express his or her political opinion, the behavior and sentiments reported do not reflect the values of our company. We are also confident that this behavior and sentiment does not reflect the values of the many Oculus employees we work with on a daily basis.”
Other developers like E McNeill and James Green said Luckey’s personal politics are irrelevant to their business practices or the stances of Oculus.
In fact, the official position of Oculus’ parent company, Facebook, were outlined by CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the F8 conference last April.
“As I look around and I travel around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against this idea of a connected world and a global community,” Zuckerberg said. “I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others—for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, reducing trade, and, in some cases around the world, even cutting access to the Internet.”
The statement doesn’t directly mention Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, nor is it attacking one person or idea, but it represents a commitment against the policies being pursued by the GOP candidate.
This is only the latest in a string of events to chisel away at the reach of the virtual-reality platform.
Oculus Rift launched in March of this year at a $600 price point for only the headset and Xbox controller. Before they announced the price, however, multiple statements from Luckey gave the device a ballpark cost of $350. The final cost drew considerable ire.
The HTC Vive, Oculus’ chief competitor, launched at the higher price of $799, but it included room-scale VR and their specialized touch controllers. Oculus Touch has yet to be given a release date but will likely be released later this year.
In June, the device once again came under fire for digital rights management (DRM) policies. The company initially claimed users could mod Oculus Rift games to work with other VR headsets, a promise that proved to be untrue.
There’s been a general sense of mismanaged messaging that’s plagued Oculus early on. The issues themselves might not even be major ones, had they not been the result of backtracked statements.
Right or wrong, well-earned or overblown, this is the initial legacy Luckey and others have built in the early years of the Rift. Facebook maintains VR is a key part of their vision for an interconnected world, so it’s not going anywhere. But in the gaming world, the Vive or PlayStation VR seem poised to be king.