After years of development and demos, virtual reality’s moment of truth is approaching. And that’s pretty exciting for Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR, which Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014. Luckey has been touting the virtues of VR for several years, and he was out again at Microsoft’s Xbox spring showcase to tout the sandbox juggernaut Minecraft on the Oculus Rift VR headset.
We talked with him about the significance of Microsoft’s partnership with Oculus. Microsoft is adding its Xbox One controller to the Oculus Rift bundle, and it has also created a version of Minecraft that runs in virtual reality. These kinds of partnerships are what Oculus VR needs to do its part in building the VR industry, which could be a $30 billion business by 2020, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.
Luckey has become an expert on all things VR, and he’s been talking up some of the experiences coming for the Rift, such as Oculus’ own Dragon Front, a collectible card game that is like a version of Hearthstone in VR. Luckey said that it isn’t clear just yet how prices will settle for VR games and apps. But the main thing he is looking for right now is outstanding content. After all, the software is going to sell the VR hardware. I chatted with Luckey while standing in line for my turn at Minecraft in VR.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Minecraft on Oculus — how important is this kind of title for you?
Palmer Luckey: It’s one of those trick questions. It’s definitely an important game. It’s one of the most popular games in the world right now. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say it’s critical to our success, necessarily. A lot of people are excited about playing Minecraft in VR, so it’s going to be really helpful.
GamesBeat: It seems to fit well. The idea that you’re building things and then moving in to have a better perspective on what you built.
Luckey: A lot of the cool things you can do in Minecraft involve multiplayer, where you have different people all in one space communicating. You get a lot of stuff in Minecraft VR that you don’t get in the PC version like spatialized audio. Everyone’s voice comes from the right place, so you get a sense of where everyone is in the space. It’s running at 90 frames per second in stereo 3D. They’ve done a good job getting the performance where it needs to be. They’ve worked on the UI to make sure it’s not a straight port of what was made for a PC game. That’s not going to work well directly ported to VR.
GamesBeat: They showed this with HoloLens as well. Is it the same thing?
Luckey: No. You should talk to them for the specifics, but the version they showed for HoloLens is very different from what they’re showing on Oculus.
GamesBeat: This is a lot of work. Does it represent some back and forth with you guys?
Luckey: Yeah, it’s been a collaboration between both of our teams. They’ve been doing most of the work, but we had a lot of people on the Oculus side working with them to make things go as smoothly as possible.
GamesBeat: How are you feeling about the launch?
Luckey: I’m feeling good. Everything’s crazy, but in a good way.
GamesBeat: As far as keeping the momentum going on VR, what do you think will help?
Luckey: The biggest thing is more content. We’re announcing a lot of things. Other developers are announcing stuff. People have to have things to play. It doesn’t matter how cool the technology is if there’s nothing for people to play. I think people are going to be stoked about what’s in the pipeline.
GamesBeat: How much development is out there, as far as you can tell?
Luckey: I don’t know any exact numbers, but it’s a lot. Most of the stuff coming out soon has been in development for a year or two or three. At this point, there aren’t many surprises. Not much is bursting into being these last few months. Most of it is stuff that’s been targeting launch for a long time.
GamesBeat: Are people figuring out how to price VR games yet?
Luckey: No, I don’t think anyone’s figured it out. It’ll depend on how large the market is, what the attach rates look like. Prices are driven by what developers need to make to pay their bills and make their budgets back. But I don’t think anyone has a good handle on how VR will be priced yet. I mean, we know how we’re going to price the games we’re doing ourselves at Oculus Studios, but that’s not necessarily because we think we’ve figured out the perfect prices. All we can do is make our best guess.
GamesBeat: It’s interesting to see some of the 1.5 or 2.0 VR coming along now, like the Leap Motion finger-tracking and the eye tracking a couple of companies are doing. It seems like the platform is moving quickly already.
Luckey: Tobii’s been around for a long time. Leap’s been working on VR for years. There’s a big difference between building cool prototypes and actually releasing consumer gear. The VR scene is moving fast, and a lot of innovation is going on, but I don’t think you’ll see hand tracking become a significant part of any mainstream VR games for at least a couple of years.
GamesBeat: The interesting thing to me is that the second you enable one thing in VR, then you want all the rest of it too. Once you have a couple of fingers, you want your whole hand, then your whole arm, and all the way up.
Luckey: The eventual goal is to be able to capture your entire body and facial expressions, every movement you make. That’s on the input side. On the output side, you want better graphics, better sound, haptic feedback. There’s a lot of stuff people want.
GamesBeat: That’s all very enticing, but it seems like job one is to keep people interested at every stage along the way.
Luckey: Yes and no. I don’t think companies will wait and parcel out features over time just to keep people interested. They’re going to be adding them as quickly as they can, because everyone will be doing that. Nobody’s going to be in a position to parcel out what they have over time based on selling a first gen, second gen, third gen. It’ll be a push to get all this stuff working well as quickly as possible.