Oculus Quest originally had no gaming focus and was partially redesigned at the last minute for that purpose.
This fascinating insight was revealed by Director of Content Ecosystem Chris Pruett in a talk titled “Meta Quest Today and Where It’s Going Tomorrow” at GDC 2023. Recently, all of Meta’s GDC sessions have been made available on YouTube (see sources at the bottom of this article).
In the nearly 50-minute talk, Pruett discusses, among other things, the development history of the Oculus Quest, which was released in May 2019. This product was preceded by the Oculus Rift PC VR headset (2016) and the Oculus Go standalone device (2018).
Two camps, two (failed) attempts at mass market
Pruett says there have been two camps within Meta: One advocated for fidelity and a high-end experience, while the other pushed for reach and use of ease. The Rift product line, discontinued in 2021, was in a sense the baby of the first camp; Oculus Go was that of the second. But neither device had the mainstream success Meta had hoped for. Rift required a PC and was cumbersome to use, while Oculus Go was too technically limited by its 3-DoF tracking.
“We put a bunch of effort into both of them. We made content for both of these things. We marketed the crap out of them, we sold them at retail, we put them in different countries. Like we just did it properly. And we learned about this. And then we used the things that we learn to design Oculus Quest,” Pruett says.
“Hard Pivot” at the last minute
Oculus Quest, he says, is the merger of those two things (fidelity vs. reach), and was in development for a very long time.
“The first Quest device was actually in development before Go even went into development. And we, very late in the program based on these learnings from Rift and Go, pivoted the Quest device to be much more games focused.”
Two of the most important Meta lessons learned during this time were that “content is king” and that virtual reality (in this early stage) is all about video games. Quality VR games were what drove people to buy a VR headset.
One of the ways this late pivot to gaming found expression was in the controllers, which were redesigned at the last minute. Instead of trackpads similar to Oculus Go’s, Quest’s input devices received analog sticks and buttons. Changing a set up hardware pipeline is “extremely expensive and extremely difficult”, Pruett says, but it was necessary to make Oculus Quest a success.
Who knows what would have happened to Oculus Quest if it had launched with trackpad controllers!
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You can read all about the Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro in the linked reviews.
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