Is Oculus turning its back on indies a mistake?

The Rift virtual reality headset hits retail on September 20th, but will only be stocked by select majors including PC World and Amazon. Dominic Sacco asks the channel if this is the correct move, or if Oculus is missing a trick.

Waiting for virtual reality (VR) to hit the mass market has felt like an eternity, but the Oculus Rift is finally about to hit store shelves.

The Rift will be priced at £549 – some £200 less than the rival HTC Vive headset. After much anticipation it will launch on September 20th.

Facebook-owned company Oculus has decided to initially partner with a select few retailers in the UK: Amazon, John Lewis, Currys/PC World, Harrods and GAME.

PCR understands that the Rift will not be available to other retailers (including independents) at this stage, though there are rumours suggesting Oculus will open up its distribution ‘selectively’, to include other stores after the Christmas period.

The plan is apparently to invest more money into key partners and centres around the country, so that consumers can get hands-on with the VR device.

Sources say that Exertis or Tech Data may have a deal in place with Oculus, but neither distributor – or Oculus itself – responded to PCR’s requests for confirmation. This is a similar approach to HTC’s retail model with the Vive, which has launched with brands such as Scan, Currys/PC World and Overclockers.

Utopia Computers director and Network Group B2C director Craig Hume believes focusing on a select few retail partners may be a mistake. 

“I’m really excited about the Oculus Rift, and hopefully we’ll see actual stock arriving for some retailers, if not all retailers,” he told PCR.

“If they’re just going to a few retailers, that’s upsetting. If that’s the case, I think they’ve unfortunately misunderstood the market. As Context’s Jonathan Wagstaff explained, consumers need to try virtual reality in order to be able to understand it. 

“I think independent retailers are lined up perfectly to be able to deliver that experience, to talk to people and explain it. I think Oculus would be surprised at just how well indies can shift these units. We’re all sitting wait for them. We just can’t get our hands on them.

“I guess the danger is Oculus and HTC have an opportunity to capture the market before other headsets arrive. This time next year, there are going to be other brands and other options. If Oculus and HTC have not managed to capture the market, they’ve missed a big opportunity.”

One senior distribution source told PCR anonymously that while they were gutted to not be supplying the Rift to the channel, they understand why Oculus is taking a focused approach.

“They’ve unfortunately misunderstood the market. I think Oculus would be surprised at just how well indies can shift these units.”
Craig Hume, Utopia Computers

“It would have been a great honour to stock the Rift – there’s a lot of pent up demand for that product,” they said. “I imagine there may be limited production for the Oculus so it will probably be allocated to just a few people. It’s understandable. It’s hard to start with mass production when you have a brand new product or bleeding edge technology that is very expensive to make. You don’t want to sell too many initially in case there are design faults.”

Overclockers UK says that seeing is believing. It opened a demo station for the Vive earlier this year and says that’s been a success.

“A lot of people have been sceptical about VR but have tried out the Vive with us and think it’s so amazing, they now want to get one,” said Overclockers UK executive director Steve Ling. 

“It’s gone really well for us. It’s all about getting customers in to try it, attaching sales on top and advising the customer what hardware they need to run it. It would be great to get the Rift in the channel and for retailers to get their hands on stock like this.”

Elsewhere, Intel announced ‘Project Alloy’ in August – its own wireless virtual reality headset. The device uses Intel RealSense camera technology to give the impression of placing real-world objects into a virtual one.

PCR’s Sector Spotlight on Gaming – in association with VIP Computers – is running throughout September 2016 – click here for more articles

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