Some Observations from the First Week of Oculus Quest Sales

The Oculus Quest has now been shipping units since May 21st, 2019, for exactly one week, and I have been closely monitoring the Oculus Quest subReddit channel and other news sources to find out how things have been going.

And so far, things have been going like gangbusters! Many stores such as Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy report being completely sold out of the Quest, and some people are posting messages on the Oculus Quest subReddit, desperately searching for a location that can ship the product (or that they can drive to and pick one up) without having to wait weeks. People report making road trips of several hours to find the last store in their area that has a Quest in stock! Right now, Amazon Canada estimates delivery sometime between June 18th and July 11th if you order the model with 64GB memory today. Your best bet might be the Oculus website, which says they will ship by June 7th if you order today. So yes, you can call the launch a resounding success.

Furthermore, many of those early adopters are giving demonstrations of VR to their family, friends, and colleagues, and many of those people are instantly sold on the Oculus Quest, and go out and buy their own device. Virtual reality is one of those things that is best experienced live, and the Oculus Quest is tailor-made to give demos, since it is standalone headset, easy to transport and easy to set up. It’s also a sizable step up from the rather disappointing cellphone-based VR that is all that some people have experienced so far. The Quest is a game-changer.

In my first week, not only have I spent CDN$699 on the Oculus Quest headset with 128GB of memory, I have also spent almost CDN$100 on games and apps for the device:

I understand that Facebook is taking a 30% cut of the sales on the Oculus Store. Some people speculate that Facebook is actually selling the Quest hardware at a loss, just so they can make money on selling games and apps. The astonishing consumer uptake of the Oculus Quest will certainly attract software developers, once they realize that they have a potentially large audience to sell to. Expect a huge increase in the number of apps on the Oculus Store as the year goes on. There’s probably going to be some fantastic Black Friday sales, too! In fact, somebody has already created a website to help you pick out new apps as they are released.

So, what do I think of the Oculus Quest so far? I am absolutely enchanted. The first apps on the Oculus Store appear to be solid. Beat Saber and Dance Central promise to give me a calorie-burning workout at a time when I am already trying to lose weight via Weight Watchers. Wander uses Google Earth 360-degree photography to allow me to wander the world. (I spent some time visiting the pre-fire Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and admiring the view from the Eiffel Tower observation deck yesterday evening.) Nature Treks VR allows me to meditate in beautiful scenery. Tilt Brush (which was free for me, as I already had purchased it for the Oculus Rift) allows me to express my creative side. There’s really no downside to this. This gadget is the new iPhone, the new iPad, the new PlayStation. I’m sold.

The only real problem that I have experienced is that I simply do not have enough big, empty space in my rather small apartment to really experience the boundless freedom of the wireless Oculus Quest. Often, especially when I play Beat Saber or Dance Central, I brush my hand up against the Guardian boundary system that lights up and warns me when I get too close to walls or other physical obstacles. It’s annoying, and I want more space! I’m seriously considering completely redecorating my living room, throwing out my coffee table and some other furniture so I can create a bigger open space in which to play.

Now, I do have an obliging empty patch of grass located just outside my apartment that would do the trick for true “room-scale” VR. While Oculus does not recommend using the device outside (because you can easily damage the lenses in the Quest by direct exposure to bright sunlight), many people have reported being able to use the device around sunset outdoors without problem. (Of course, having my apartment neighbours wonder what the hell the fat man is doing as he flails around outdoors in a wireless headset and hand controllers is another problem entirely.)

So, as I predicted, the Oculus Quest is a hit, and it promises to bring many more consumers into virtual reality. And, if you’re sitting on the fence, I encourage you to demo a friend’s unit for yourself, and see what all the fuss is about.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew: Lessons Learned from a Suspended Virtual Reality Research Project

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

As you might know from reading my bio, for the past couple of years I had been working on an academic research project involving Sansar. As members of the faculty union at my university, academic librarians have an opportunity and obligation to pursue research as part of their overall workload. Here’s a brief description of what I wanted to accomplish with my research project:

As my multi-year academic research project, I am creating a user-navigable, three-dimensional version of the Mathematical Atlas website (a guide to the mathematics literature for undergraduate and graduate students created by Dr. David Rusin) using Sansar as a software platform. I am doing this research in order to try and answer the following questions:

What hurdles do academic libraries face in providing access to a pre-existing reference/research tool in a virtual reality environment to students?

Are the software tools currently available (for example, those in Sansar) sufficient to build effective, efficient VR experiences for reference? If not, then what else is needed? This research project would be among the very first library and educational uses of the Sansar platform.

How will patrons use reference and research tools in VR? In the specific case of the Mathematical Atlas, will the use of a three-dimensional landscape model help users better grasp the various areas of modern mathematical research and how they relate to each other, as opposed to a traditional flat, two-dimensional webpage? Or will the 3-D model simply get in the way of imparting useful information?

“Wanted to accomplish” is in past tense because, I now realize, I have bitten off way more than I can chew, and tried to take on a research project that I simply cannot complete with the resources I have in any sort of timely fashion. I originally had this wonderful idea that I would create a three-dimensional version of the Mathematical Atlas website, and I would then test users to see how being able to navigate the information in 3D would impact users’ comprehension of the material.

My research project failed due to a number of factors, such as a lack of research time, and poor overall planning and project management. But the biggest problem was that I picked an area where I lacked the necessary in-depth subject knowledge. I have an undergraduate computer science degree and a Masters degree in library and information science, as well as several years of experience as the liaison librarian for the Department of Mathematics at my university. However, it quickly became obvious that a much greater in-depth knowledge of mathematics was required to effectively create the scenes or rooms representing the various areas of contemporary mathematics research that I had envisaged as part of this research project. As I said, I bit off more than I can chew. To give you an idea of how complex this topic is, here is the front-page “map” of the territory:

The front-page map of the Mathematical Atlas website, showing the relationship between the various research areas in contemporary mathematics research (position of the circles), and the amount of published research (size of the circles)

So what I am doing over the next six weeks is writing up an academic paper about my suspended research project, where I outline what I wanted to do and the lessons I learned in trying to get a project like this off the ground, in hopes that other researchers can learn something from my failure.

I still do believe that Sansar and other social VR platforms provide a “short cut” to building and publishing virtual reality experiences that can be very useful for educational and research purposes. For example, I just recently learned about a project at my university, the University of Manitoba, where Dr. Andrew Woolford and Dr. Adam Muller spent four years creating a virtual reality experience based on the testimonies of survivors of Canada’s Indian residential school system. The goal of the project was to shed light on a shameful chapter of Canadian history where indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent away to boarding schools, where they lost their language and culture, and were often physically, mentally and sexually abused, all in the name of government-and-church-sanctioned assimilation into white settler culture:

I am curious about the technical aspects of this project, and I have reached out to the professors who did this work to learn more about it. This is the sort of thing that platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar would be a natural fit for. And I do believe that social VR platforms will play a key role in future educational and research projects. In fact, I still want to do research into applications of virtual reality and social VR to academic libraries. After I write (and hopefully publish) my paper, I will be sitting down to figure out my next research project.