Oculus to get hands on with new virtual reality gear

Originally published July 17, 2014

By Ian Sherr

Virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR doesn’t just want to get its products on your head, it wants them in your hands as well.

The headset maker has been quietly preparing motion controllers — devices that let you drive the action and manipulate objects in games with hand and body movements — to complement its forthcoming goggles, people familiar with the development process say. The result: a more immersive experience in video games and other simulations.

But it’s the implications of this technology that may have broader impact in the real world. By marketing its own motion controllers, Oculus may upset developers on its platform.

More than a half-dozen companies are developing their own motion control devices to compliment Oculus’s headset, called the “Rift.” Investors, developers and early customers have already sunk millions of dollars into these technologies; meanwhile, the companies have formed partnerships with software makers to include specialized code to support their devices.

Industry insiders say it’s natural for Oculus to begin work on motion controls, particularly because they’ve become popular among the many game developers. But by doing so, Oculus will also effectively compete against accessories makers who are among the most valuable and vocal champions of its products.

“Oculus’s responsibility is to consumers at the end of the day,” said Julian Volyn, co-founder of Trinity VR, a startup creating motion controllers. Like many other motion controllers being launched, Trinity is turning to users on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to support its development.

It’s unclear when Oculus will reveal its motion controllers to the public. The company has yet to announce a formal launch date for the “Rift” headset, though some industry watchers expect it to arrive next year. Following an agreement to be acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in March, Oculus has said it is creating new prototypes of its products with specialized parts to ensure higher quality.

Oculus isn’t the first company to face the potential of creating a product that could hurt some developers on its platform. Apple was at times criticized for integrating popular functionality into its computer operating system that had been developed by outside software makers, effectively killing that third-party business. Microsoft has also been accused of such practices in the past; It recently raised the ire of some computer partners when it launched the Surface tablet, its first PC.

For Oculus, there is a lot of pressure to make the best possible product that attracts customers to its platform, Volyn added. “It makes sense for them to take matters into their own hands.”