Oculus founder responds to criticism of Rift backorders with sass, gets sassed back
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has never been one to sugar coat it. The up and coming company is being crushed by the weight of its own success and had to push back pre-orders for the Rift back to August. This wouldn’t be that big of an issue except that big box retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy are starting to get their stock which gives those who buy a VR ready computer bundle from them a Rift way before the Kickstarter backers get theirs.
Where is my Oculus Rift pre-order?
This of course doesn’t sit well with customers who were told from the beginning that pre-ordering was the best way to ensure that they would be the first to get the Rift. Users at /r/oculus have been voicing their discontent for some time and it finally boiled over with a Tweet from Palmer Lucky himself:
For those uninitiated, he’s referring to the video game crash of the 1980s where Atari had no choice but to dump their remaining stock at a landfill in New Mexico. This was eventually confirmed in a documentary and copies of the games were sold at auction for charity. While no one wants to throw away perfectly good product into a landfill, what happened to Atari and the video game industry in the 80s is nowhere close to what’s happening with Oculus now.
Perhaps Lucky thinks that having shortages increases the allure of the product. Well sometimes that’s true when you don’t expect your product to take off. Take the Nintendo Wii for example – no one knew that it would be that popular and shortages were reported for almost 2 years. But Oculus has had three years to anticipate and gauge demand for the Rift. The hype has been slowly building to fever pitch and when the pricing and pre-orders were officially announced in Feburary, the Rift promptly sold out even at the unexpected $600 price tag. Not to mention other companies like Samsung are giving away their headset (which runs Oculus software btw) with the purchase of an eligible phone.
Oculus rift fans react to Palmer Luckey’s Tweet
The tweet was shared on /r/oculus and was obviously not well received. Hundreds of comments stating that Luckey didn’t know what he was talking about prompted the Oculus founder to respond to directly in a calm, professional manner. Wait, no he didn’t:
“Judging from the comments in this thread, people seem to have already forgotten that we were sold out till summer even before the component shortage pushed some people further out.
DAE Jan 6th Shitstorm? Pepperidge Farms remembers”
Big mistake assuming that the user base likes being talked down to in a condescending manner; the thread was civil for the most part with people expressing their displeasure in his tweet and after his response, the shit really hit the fan. User randomawesome served up a supreme smackdown by notating all the Luckeyisms where Palmer has over-promised and under delivered. Luckey responded in a passionate manner fanning the flames some more. You can read the whole thread for context here
Luckey continues to show his maturity as he engages with someone who retorted to randomawesome in a manner not congruent with someone who’s the face of a large company. Seen here:
Oculus is no stranger to shortages. The company was about to fail because it couldn’t keep up with the dev kits and didn’t have money or connections to secure parts. When they were purchased by Facebook 2 years ago for two billion dollars, the company received a much needed boost. The injection of money and capital helped Oculus become the company it is now by releasing a consumer ready VR product. But one thing that Oculus couldn’t buy is quality PR. Palmer Lucky has continued to put his foot in his mouth when it comes to addressing the shortcomings of the Rift.
Six months before pre-orders went live, Palmer had mistakenly stated that the consumer Rift would cost around $350, but it ended up being $600. Consumers expecting a cheap VR set were salty, but Luckey explained that delivering a high quality product was paramount for VR success. Which most people took at face value.
You would think that Facebook would have assisted Luckey with addressing these concerns. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar corporation whose user base expresses their outrage with changes to the product on a daily basis. And yet Facebook is still a juggernaut of social media that even Google couldn’t take a chunk out of.
Palmer Luckey isn’t the first tech genius to be so outspoken
The lesson that all tech firms need to learn here is that you don’t put your tech genius in charge of PR for your company. Time and time again, this point has been proven: when you’re passionate about the product you’re creating, sometimes warranted criticism about your baby hurts your ego and you shoot off a random tweet that can get picked apart by people who have nothing better to do than be right on the internet.
It’s happened to Phil Fish, the brilliant creator of Fez, who left the industry after an argument with a journalist who criticized Fish’s response to questions about the Xbox One’s self-publishing policy change. Fez 2 was cancelled and Fish has since made good on his word to not return to the industry.
It’s happened to Gabe Newell who has a number of internet gaffs, most recently when he publicly fired DOTA host James Harding and then responded on Reddit justifying his decision by calling James an ass and stating it was a mistake to give him a second chance. He also stated Valve would be firing the production company as well.
Bre Prettis was the founding member of makerbot and went absolutely off the rails after his company started picking up steam. Turning from a revolutionary genius to a leader of a huge company doesn’t scale well.
It might have worked for Steve Jobs, but people forget that he was ousted out his own company before leading Apple to where they are now 12 years later. And even he was just as abrasive to consumers as other company heads.
Perhaps Palmer Luckey needs to take a cue from Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley and take a more supportive role in the company as CTO and let someone else handle the PR and day to day. It’s no doubt that Lucky is amazing for what he has done for the VR community. 4 years ago, we were still in an age where an immersive VR was science fiction. Oculus came along and changed that. You now have Sony, HTC, Samsung, and Google throwing their hat into the ring to bring headsets to the masses. Without Luckey’s ingenuity, we would have still have the Virtual Boy as a reason why VR won’t work. But that doesn’t excuse the off the cuff responses that do nothing but antagonize customers who are more than willing to drop $600 on a product they’ve waited years for. Surprisingly people are willing to forgive Luckey and Oculus for these shortcomings, but it’s a matter of time before even the most loyal fans jump ship to a company that can fulfill its promises without being condescending to their fanbase.