Last week at GDC Oculus revealed their first new PC VR headset in three years, the Rift S. We sat down with Facebook’s Jason Rubin, VP of AR/VR Content & Partnerships, to learn more about the strategy behind Quest and Rift S, and where Oculus is trying to steer its ecosystem.
Jason Rubin joined Oculus in 2014 and has been a key figure in guiding the company’s content investments and strategy. Following the recent Oculus shakeup and deeper absorption into Facebook, Rubin is now overseeing AR and VR content & partnerships at Facebook. Rubin has been a key spokesperson and a tempered voice for Oculus throughout his time at the company; he is also seen as one of the last visible pillars of the ‘old’ Oculus.
In a wide-ranging interview with Rubin at GDC 2019 last week, we got to learn more about why the company believes that the Rift S is the right choice to push its VR ecosystem to reach a critical point of sustainability.
Rubin was quick to say that Oculus expects to deliver a next-gen headset down the road, but explained why the company doesn’t believe that now is the right time for a ‘Rift 2’.
“Beyond any shadow of a doubt, at some point we will have a next generation [headset] where we add some sort of feature that breaks all the old stuff and makes it either not work or seem obsolete,” he said. But the company presently believes that growing a cohesive audience is more important than pushing technical boundaries.
“Our goal is to bring as many people into the ecosystem as possible. Bifurcating the ecosystem with a Rift and a Rift 2—just to put that out there—is not the right thing to do right now.”
Alluding to the initial $800 price of the Rift and Touch controllers back at their launch, Rubin explained that the company believes price is a critical factor.
“We know from Rift we don’t want to sell an $800 system. […] We think these two devices [Quest and Rift S] are the right thing to do to suck more people into the business. Once more people want VR, are in VR, and love VR, some subset of them are ready to go to the next generation.”
When pressed on whether or not the company could have approached the PC segment with both the Rift S and a higher-end headset (like a ‘Rift Pro’) for the enthusiasts and early adopters that form the foundation of the company’s PC VR business, Rubin explained that the company doesn’t believe that a multi-tiered approach is worth the costs and complexity.
“There’s a cost to everything that a company does. And while there might have been some people we’d make very happy with much higher resolution screens or something along those lines, some group of people would have to prototype that device, some group of people would have to deal with the supply chain for that device, some group of people would have to deal with warehousing, shipping, and everything else,” said Rubin. “And those people—when you can only have a company of a certain size (we can’t grow infinitely)—those people would be taken away from the other things we’re working on. […] I can tell you, sitting around the room these are hard discussions [internally], but I think we’ve made the right tradeoff with where we are right here.”
Though there are other VR headsets on the market, Oculus’ platform is closed, which means users don’t have choices beyond the two PC VR headsets that Oculus supports. In 2017 the company said they wanted “go big” with support for other for third-party headsets, potentially through the OpenXR standard.
When I asked Rubin if this was still on the roadmap for Oculus, he said he wasn’t up to date on the company’s OpenXR plans. And while Oculus publicly committed last week to providing an OpenXR app runtime, our understanding is that this is primarily focused on allowing developers to easily port apps into the Oculus ecosystem, not enabling support for third-party headsets.
On the content front, Rubin said that Oculus isn’t slowing down, and believes content is the key to selling hardware to grow its ecosystem.
“Our content [investments have] remained consistent if not expanded every single year since that statement was made [in 2016, about committing $500 million to VR content]. So we’re still wholly committed to making software that drives the hardware purchase,” he said. “And frankly, we think that the content that is on the system is the single most important reason that somebody would want to get into VR. So we’re a little… dumbfounded, if you will, by companies that bring out headsets with no content to drive them, or aren’t investing in content.”
And finally, we touched on the still unannounced VR FPS that’s in the works by Respawn Entertainment. Rubin doesn’t expect that the success of Respawn’s breakout hit, Apex Legends, will impact the development of the game in any way, and Oculus Studios is taking a hands-off approach to let the studio work its magic.
“You do not partner with Respawn and then get involved in designing games for Respawn. Respawn is a fantastically talented company—as far many of the others that we work with: Insomniac, Sanzaru…—we let them design the product they want. So, absolutely, a Respawn product is a Respawn product.”