oculus-rift-dk1-and-dk2Virtual reality, with Oculus Rift as the industry front-runner, is poised to become the ‘next big thing,’ but it isn’t there just yet… in fact, there’s a long way yet to go.

It’s easy, covering virtual reality so closely as Road to VR has been since 2011, to think that virtual reality is everywhere, when in reality we might only be looking where there is virtual reality.

Don’t get me wrong. Virtual reality is going to be huge. The Oculus Rift has kickstarted a new era of VR. It wasn’t a big business, many of them too jaded by the VR crash of the early 90s, but instead the collective support of thousands of normal folks who believed in Palmer and Co. and were willing to put up the cash to prove it. And then came several impressive rounds of investment, followed by Facebook’s surprise acquisition. With that latest development, they’re at the peak of their notoriety (thus far).

If you’ve been to the last few major game conventions (or even just been following the news) you’d surely conclude that virtual reality is the current buzzword of the industry. Without spending a dime on advertising, news of VR and Oculus have come out of these conventions with, from what I’ve seen, as much fervor (if not more so) as the latest generation of game consoles (who, mind you, have spent untold millions on ad campaigns, product reveals, and content agreements).

But what portion of the mainstream do these conventions, which are attended by an immense minority of the overall gaming population, represent?

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Let’s see if I can illustrate a little perspective for you. We’ll use Google Trends to gauge the level of mainstream awareness of some terms since 2012. First, let’s look at “virtual reality” and “oculus rift.”

1 oculus-rift-vs-virtual-reality

Amazing! According to our little chart, “oculus rift” has completely supplanted “virtual reality.” For the portion of the mainstreamers who have heard of the Oculus Rift, it is likely to have better name recognition than the term “virtual reality.” These will be the people who, when you show them any VR headset, will say, “Oh it’s an Oculus Rift!” just like everyone’s mom used to call any MP3 player in the early days of that market an “iPod.”

Those of you who paid attention in school should be saying to yourselves, “what’s the scale of the Y axis?” Indeed… how accurate is our internal model of the Oculus Rift’s popularity compared to its actual popularity?

Speaking of the iPod, let’s use that as an example to see how the Oculus Rift stacks up in terms of mainstream awareness.

2 oculus-rift-vs-vr-vs-ipod

Hey, not too bad. Oculus, which doesn’t even have a consumer product out, is being search about 1/4 as much as “ipod.” But, the iPod has been largely replaced by music-capable smartphones. Let’s see how “oculus rift” compares to one of the big game consoles, which I think we can all agree have achieved mainstream status.

3 oculus-rift-vs-virtual-reality-vs-ipod-vs-xbox

Uh oh… now things are looking a bit more stark. “Virtual reality” is basically no longer even ranking relative to our other terms. “Oculus rift” is looking closer to 1/8 the search volume for “xbox,” and that’s being generous, given that the spike that we’re seeing is due to the Facebook acquisition.

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Just to throw the cherry on top, let’s add in the term “iphone” to see a consumer tech products that’s even more popular than a game console (how many people do you know that don’t own a smartphone?)

4 oculus-rift-vs-vr-vs-ipod-vs-xbox-vs-iphone

This is amazing to see, for me personally, because I’ve been following the segment so closely and I’ve attended the conventions, and I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how excited people are about the Oculus Rift (and how many of those people there are at those places). But this is clearly not a representative sample of the population at large, it’s a highly concentrated mix of people who live and breath gaming and tech.

So what does this mean for Oculus? It means nothing more than that they still have a long road ahead before they truly reach mainstream awareness (and I truly believe they, along with virtual reality in general, will make it there).

And while this might help us put things into perspective from the top down, it does the same from the bottom up. This is what we should expect, especially for a company that isn’t yet selling a consumer product. It’s actually quite amazing how much attention Oculus is getting. In some two years they’ve gone from not existing to holding a significant ranking next to a mainstream game console made by a multi-billion dollar company. Oculus is speeding down the road to VR and doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • snake0

    This proves literally nothing. Must be a slow news week.

    • Christoher

      it seems he wasnt trying to prove anything, just a healthy dose of perspective :P

  • Chris W. Morris

    Good points. Also, the “VR crash of the 90’s” wasn’t that big. I remember the songs, movies, and tech of the day. I wrote articles for publications regarding it’s use. Even though VR breached popular culture, the systems were terrible. (Even Pro-Level & University systems.) It was NOT widely appreciated. Therefore, there is no actual comparison to today’s VR.

    The new VR rollout has barely started. The public had a brief glimpse of the FUTURE with the FB/Oculus purchase. It’s up to developers & creative minds to produce what he public will eventually come to love.

    After people love VR, there will be endless reports of problems from people using it. It’s inevitable. All of these things come with powerful new technologies. The benefits FAR out-weight the negatives, and very exciting times are ahead!

  • baggyg

    This is actually quite interesting and is probably as good a measure as any of the entry of VR / Oculus into the public Zeitgeist. Sure its not as newsworthy as a CV1 release date but still worth the read.

  • Richard

    Indeed VR as a concept is being recognized by more people in the last few months. But the majority thinks it is a gamegadget. They can’t see the possible impact VR will have, we neither. We realize that VR could be very big, just because we got our experience and read about the major improvements made within a short periode.
    But you can’t really experience how it is, until you try, untill you feel presence. And after that – with no motion-sickness- it’s incredible. And although you can’t really explain the experience, incredible reports will be spread by everyone that tries it, like most of us did with our DK1. That’s the best possible awareness you can get, and the best boost for VR in general.

    Sure, there needs a lot to be done, but I think VR definitely will be a paradigm-change with no need pushing anything on marketing. Just a decent release with a few top-notch applications

  • Peteo

    I received my dk1 rift last week. It’s great, but it has a way to go. I’ve only had a few moments were I’ve felt “there”. The screen res is too low and the tracking while great needs to be faster and full body. I know a lot of these are fixed with dk2 and I’m sure the cv1 will be even better. There is still problem, you’ll need a Powerful PC for dk2, and most likely cv1. The bumped up res is going to required at least a $200 graphics card to get a great experience, to run that card you’ll need a bigger power supply than must pc’s come with. Most laptops/ultra books won’t provide a great experience. Sure, there allot of PC gamers that have rigs that will do fine, but this is not close to “main stream”. Even PS4 will have trouble with consumer VR (is Sony including another gpu in the head set?) VR probably won’t go main stream until these chips are lower power and cheaper, or smartphones/tablets get more powerful.. VR will get there, and some of us will experience “presence” before most people, but I think it’s gonna take a while to go main stream. I’m just glad it looks like we are on tract to finally do this.

  • Runewell

    I look at this as an opportunity. Now we can develop for VR before the masses truly take notice. It pays to be one of the first in the space.