Oculus CTO John Carmack took to the stage at Oculus Connect 6 to give his patented stream-of-thought speech. Here, he gave what he called a “eulogy for Gear VR,” as he detailed the failings, and some of the harder truths that both he and the company had to face in what turned out to be a less performant return on investment.

If you know anything about Gear VR, you know it was a bit of a Frankenstein hardware platform. Along with newer Samsung smartphones came the need to rejigger the headset to make use of them, although that’s not the biggest issue that lead to ultimately worse retention that all other Oculus VR headsets on offer.

“It was the classic leaky bucket that growth companies are advised not to pour effort into,” Carmack lamented. “We did pour a lot of money into the content there. There was significant amounts of money spent on content, and when I would look at a spreadsheet on where all of it went, and some of the apps that did almost nothing, it’s kind of sad.”

Image courtesy Oculus

In comparison to Rift, Rift S, Quest, and Go, Gear VR retention was “way lower,” he revealed. Although Gear VR runs basically the same content as Oculus Go, Carmack posits that user friction was the big sticking point, and that early concerns around battery life—Gear VR draws from the smartphone’s battery—were somewhat overblown.

“In retrospect, the people draining their battery […] were playing in VR and having a good time, and that wasn’t really driving them away,” he explained. Instead, Carmack says, the issue of poor user retention was more based on the fact that users had to get their phones out of their pockets, pull off cases, mount and dock it.

“There was a lot of things we could have done. The docking was fiddly. The mounting was fiddly. There were all sorts of software things that we could have done a lot better.”

Carmack admits that Google Daydream’s holder was better than Gear VR simply because it held the smartphone in place, and didn’t require physical docking—something that was needed with Gear VR in the early days due to the lack of high precision IMUs in compatible Samsung phones.

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“The lessons we learned from this,” Carmack maintains, “is it’s almost always better to trade things to make it easier and faster to get into the experience.”

Funnily enough, Oculus first saw good numbers with gamepad-based Gear VR games, but the return on investment still wasn’t optimal, Carmack revealed. The gamepad itself was too simplistic, he said, so much so that it couldn’t play popular games that would keep users in the headset and coming back for more. The true nail in the coffin was, according to Carmack, that the gamepad couldn’t let the user play Minecraft.

Photo by Road to VR

In the end, lowering the price of Gear VR did virtually nothing for retention either. The company did throw around the idea of creating another headset-smartphone style which would connect via a cable and stay in your pocket while a light and high-resolution headset was tasked with doing visual work alone, but by then the company had headed in the direction of Oculus Go.

That’s where the Gear VR content lives on today, and will continue to live on through Quest.

If you want to watch the entire talk, you’ll be able to catch it here.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Mateusz Pawluczuk

    Well for now only 50+ apps are coming to Quest from Go. But maybe in the future they will let users go into an “emulator” mode and try other stuff as well. All the Felix & Paul stuff, non gaming experiences (Melita), stuff by Baobab Studios.

  • “significant amounts of money spent” “some of the apps did almost nothing”

    This makes me want to scream. All I ever wanted was an app for 8K+ video playback (so the quality doesn’t suck), and viewing of high-res (gigapixel) panoramas (w zoom). Yet, still no.

    • Rosko

      Are the samsung displays even 8k?

      • Cdaked

        Pimax 8K+, I supose.

      • The screen doesn’t need to be 8K, the media does. Once you stretch 8K around 360 degrees, it’s much less pixel density than even current headsets.

    • Did you ever try Visbit 8K? It had a very limited selection but was a great proof of concept.

  • David Glenn

    I thought Gear VR was a scessess in terms that it introduced VR to tons of novelists and if your going to sell the concept with little risk involved, Gear VR was the way to go at the time! Now that Quest is in the picture, I now see Oculus moving on, but at the time Gear VR was a great way to show off what VR could do. The only drawback I saw was the shoot from the hip controler that I found annoying.

    • Cdaked

      But now you have the Oculus Go that don’t need an expensive phone for this.

      • David Glenn

        And if you what the Gear VR without the phone, you can use the GO. My choice would be the Quest given that you have two controlers.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    That’s where vr started for me around five years ago with the innovator’s edition.

    • MosBen

      Same here. I didn’t have a good enough graphics card for the DK2, but I did have Samsung phone.

      • JesuSaveSouls

        I actually bought a used note 4 for 350 off craigslist just to use the gear.So totally spent was around 550 to use the gearvr.

    • Immersive_Computing

      VR started for me in 1991 with “Virtuality” arcade machines in London’s Trocadero centre. Then some early commercial stuff. Then nothing till 2016…

  • Brettyboy01

    “the issue of poor user retention was more based on the fact that users had to get their phones out of their pockets, pull off cases, mount and dock it.”

    Honestly, the above issue was the major thing for me, taking my phone out of an Otter Brand, 3 layer protection case was an absolute pain, so the Gear VR ended up being a short lived experience every time.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    Hard to believe I paid originally over 200 for a gearvr which didn’t come with any controllers or a phone at the time.Still looking back it was worth it.Nothing was like that available before.

    • adasd

      your comments have been great lately. I really appreciate it, thank you!

      • JesuSaveSouls

        Thanks for that I appreciate it so much.

      • JesuSaveSouls

        If you open your heart just a little,a portion,a thread and give God a grain of you.He will do the other stuff.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    Perhaps someone will decide to keep one and not throw it out.I have one in my cabinet somewhere.Then we find out too the gearvr has some hidden features also that makes it adaptable to play on a pc.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    One thing gearvr store has that oculus pc or quest doesn’t have is oculus arcade.Not sure if go store has it since I never owned one.Hoping that is coming to the quest with the go crossover games.Always wanted to play officially licensed retro arcade games in 6dof.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    I remember using my phone on the gearvr and it would come out so hot I could barely handle it without getting burned.

  • JDawg

    I remember fully charging my phone and using a small ice pack from the freezer pressed up against the phone to keep the phone cool so VR wouldn’t crash. Then I could almost get 20 minutes of VR play in. What a huge hassle!

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    AFAIR he didn’t say that lowering the price didn’t change retention, but that INCREASING it didn’t impact the sales. The Gear VR startet at USD 200 and was dropped to USD 100 shortly after, because Oculus/Samsung assumed that the price was too high. But in a later revision the price increased to USD 130, and it didn’t reduce the adoption rate. He mentioned this specifically as their conclusion was that a low price isn’t as important as they initially thought.

    The same is true for the Oculus Go, where a lot more people pick the more expensive 64GB version than the 32GB base model. And sales of Go game titles weren’t as good as they had hoped, while the more expensive Quest titles sell a lot. You probably have to stay below a certain cost ceiling (e.g. USD 2000 for PC and HMD is too much for most), but below USD 500 the price is no longer a mayor factor for adaption, so making it worse to shave of costs won’t help.

  • Lucidfeuer

    It’s mind-boggling why Samsung, which aims at being an all-purposes electronics and even appliances company, would completely abandon the VR race, especially as a gateway marketing argument to Galaxy phones.