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Where the $600 Oculus Rift stands in the pantheon of console prices

Where the $600 Oculus Rift stands in the pantheon of console prices

January 6, 2016 | By Alex Wawro

January 6, 2016 | By Alex Wawro
More: VR, Business/Marketing

Oculus VR began taking pre-orders for the first consumer version of its Rift virtual reality headset today, and in the immediate aftermath many people seem to be balking at the price tag.

This will be the price of entry into the VR market for many, so the fact that people seem to find the Rift's $600 asking price (in the U.S. -- it's higher in some other parts of the world) unpalatable is notable for developers who are betting on having a big market to launch their VR game into this year. 

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey took to Twitter this morning to say the company isn't making a profit on selling Rift hardware, claiming that "Rift is insanely cheap for what it is." 

What it is, in essence, is a new platform. The Rift requires a PC to work (and a fairly beefy, potentially expensive one at that) but otherwise offers developers a new suite of inputs and outputs to build games around. It's a bit like the classic console launch, but flipped -- instead of a new box driving an old display, Oculus customers are buying a new display and controller for their old machine.

That got us at Gamasutra thinking -- how does the Rift's price tag stack up in the history of console launches, especially when you account for inflation? Gamasutra analyst Matt Matthews did a bit of in-depth reporting on this topic back in 2013, following the debut of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 price tags, that compared the price of the new consoles with historical prices of everything from the Atari 2600 to the Sega CD.

To get a better sense of how the Rift compares, we re-evalauated those old numbers to account for inflation through 2015 (using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator) and, for fun, laid them out alongside the Rift's asking price. 

What we found, as you can see below, is that at $600 Oculus' VR platform is quite a bit less expensive than some of the early game consoles -- but not exactly cheap, even in a historical context. The Rift is probably more affordable than a PlayStation 3 was, for example, but more of an investment than even the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

However, as Matthews and other analysts have pointed out in the past, there are significant caveats to this kind of retrospective -- electronic device markets aren't always subjected to the same economic pressures that affect inflation rates, for example, and inflation rates don't always correspond to a commiserate increase in consumer purchasing power.

Still, it's interesting food for thought as we head into a year that will likely see multiple high-profile VR platform launches.

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