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Unity CEO John Riccitiello explains why VR, AR headsets aren’t popular



Unity Technologies CEO John Riccitiello speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Unity Technologies CEO
John Riccitiello

Steve Jennings/Getty
Images for TechCrunch

  • There’s been lots of hype around virtual- and
    augmented-reality headsets in recent years — with some going so
    far as to say that they could replace the smartphone. To date,
    though, neither set of gadgets has caught on with mainstream
  • It’s easy to understand why, said Unity Technologies CEO John
    Riccitiello in a recent interview with Business Insider.
  • Not only are such gadgets generally expensive and clunky,
    they lack compelling games and other experiences, Riccitiello
  • What’s more, manufacturers have yet to back them with a major
    marketing push.

If you ask John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity Technologies, it’s no
great mystery why virtual- and augmented-reality gadgets have
thus far been duds with consumers despite all the hype
surrounding them.

You only have to contrast them with a successful game console,
such as Sony’s PlayStation 4, to get a sense of what’s wrong.

The PlayStation 4 has a price many consumers can afford, is
well-designed and relatively easy to use right out of the box,
and offers a slew of compelling games — a combination of features
that none of the VR or AR headsets can tout, Ricciteillo, a
longtime game industry executive before joining Unity, told
Business Insider
in a recent interview

Perhaps just as importantly, Sony launched its game console with
a marketing blitz unlike any seen from the AR or VR headset

Unity’s software is used widely across the video gaming industry
to build video games that work across console, PC, and smartphone
platforms. It’s also used to make virtual- and
augmented-reality games and experiences, including “Pokémon Go.”

“What we’ve had is a sizzle and a whimper and a little bit of
smoke, but no one’s done a heavy launch,” said Riccitiello on the
state of AR and VR. “And I think it’s because, wisely, they
recognize they’re not at the form factor and the price to justify
it,” he says. 

Companies have been working on AR and VR for years with little

Many technology experts consider augmented- and virtual-reality
headsets to be among the
leading candidates to replace smartphones
as consumers’
primary computing devices. The technologies both involve
displaying computer-generated images. With augmented reality,
those images are layered over views of the real world; with
virtual reality, users are completely immersed in artificially
generated images.

sergey brin google glass
Alphabet President Sergey
Brin wearing Google Glass, one of the first sets of smart glasses
to hit the market.

Sullivan/Getty Images

Electronics makers and programmers have been working on both
technologies for decades, and the first virtual-reality headset
hit the market some 30 years ago. In recent years, a growing
number of such gadgets has hit the shelves, including from major
companies including Google, Sony, Facebook, and Microsoft. But
thus far, neither augmented- nor virtual-reality gadgets has
found mainstream appeal.

Cost is a big reason for that, especially on the AR side of
things, Riccitiello said.
Magic Leap One
, perhaps the most hyped AR device to the hit
the market so far, costs $2,300, while
Microsoft’s HoloLens
, another major entrant, starts at

But even VR headsets can be pricey. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the
two most notable and advanced virtual-reality gadgets on the
market, cost $400 and $500, respectively, and both require users
to connect them to a powerful PC.

By contrast, the base model of the PlayStation 4 now costs $300.
And users only need to connect it to their TV to start playing

“We’re going to need to see these things come down in price,”
Riccitiello said.

The headsets so far have often been clunky or heavy

Another big factor holding the devices back from mass adoption is
their design, he said. Game consoles work right out of the box,
and they’re standalone devices; they don’t need to be connected
to any other gadget. And they’re relatively easy and comfortable
to use; typically, you just hold a wireless controller in your

The Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset is demonstrated on stage during the 2015 Microsoft Build Conference on April 29, 2015 at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Thousands are expected to attend the annual developer conference which runs through May 1.
Microsoft’s HoloLens, one of the leading
augmented-reality headsets on the market, starts at

Stephen Lam/Getty

You can’t say the same about most of the headsets on the market.
Both the Rift and the Vive have to be tethered to PCs, while the
Magic Leap One has to be connected to a hockey-puck-sized
processing unit clipped to your belt or carried in a pocket. Rift
and Vive can feel bulky and unwieldy; so too can HoloLens.

“You need something that works right out of the box,” he said.
“And it needs to meet a certain ergonomic design. It can’t be 20
pounds of helmet on your head.”

Another big shortcoming of the headsets thus far is the content
that’s been available for them, Riccitiello said. There’s just
not been any games or other applications for them that have been
must-haves for most consumers.

“You need great content to sell the hardware, but great makers of
content won’t make the content until the hardware’s installed in
a large enough base to justify the investment,” he said.

Headset makers to date really haven’t backed them with marketing

A woman checks a pair of Vive Virtual Reality goggles, produced by Taiwan's HTC, during the Gamescom 2015 fair in Cologne, Germany August 5, 2015.
HTC’s Vive virtual-reality headset, which costs


But the biggest factor may be simply the fact that the makers of
the various headsets haven’t given the devices the kind of
marketing and other support they’d need to have a major launch.

When Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft launches a console, they
invest millions, even billions of dollars on things such as
luring developers to make games for their new machines and
advertising them widely to consumers. Nothing like that has been
done in support of the augmented and reality headsets, he said.

Still, Riccitiello’s a believer that such gadgets will eventually
take off with consumers. Somewhere in the next two to four years,
once the hardware makers are able to perfect the technology, get
prices down, and build up compelling content, one of them will
mount a major consumer push, and the market will take off, he

“The thing is, on the consumer side, people are waiting for magic
to happen,” he said. “Magic doesn’t happen. It’s engineered.”

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