The Oculus Quest from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was billed as the most important headset for the virtual reality (VR) industry in 2019, and in many ways it has lived up to expectations. The headset has made VR more mobile and accessible (both in price and ease of use), and it's apparently selling better than Facebook had planned.
If you try to order an Oculus Quest headset today, you can expect a nearly two-month wait. Has VR finally reached the mass market?
Virtual reality's new popularity
One of the biggest challenges in the VR industry has been reaching any kind of scale. Since the products were launched, Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation VR has sold only 4.7 million units (most at discounted prices), Oculus Rift has sold 1.5 million, and the HTC Vive sold 1.3 million, according to SuperData Research, a Nielsen company.
That's not a big-enough installed base to attract developers, or to qualify as a product that retailers want to dedicate much shelf space to. So VR has been a failure in many people's eyes, at least so far.
There are multiple challenges VR companies have in reaching scale. One is price and the other is the fact that only a small percentage of people have tried high-end VR because it hasn't been very accessible to consumers. The Oculus Quest is trying to address both of those obstacles with a $400 price point that can get the device into more people's hands.
The hottest Christmas gift in VR
It's no coincidence that Quest sold out over the holidays. It's the perfect price point as a gift, and many consumers will identify it with the gamers in their lives. But hot holiday sales don't mean the headset is on a great long-term trajectory.
Consumer goods that have a boom-and-bust sales cycle during the holidays don't necessarily have a history of generating long-term value. Think about the Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY) Wii: It had a meteoric rise from 2007 to 2009, only for consumers to realize that they didn't get past a handful of games that were dusted off during the holidays. There wasn't much that was enduring about the Wii, despite being extremely popular, and Nintendo's stock price crashed after the initial wave of popularity.
GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) is another company that's highly reliant on the holidays, to its detriment year after year. It has had problems with overbuilding inventory, missing the mark with product designs, and even the dreaded undersupply of inventory. The stock has lost 95% of its peak value because it couldn't balance the supply-and-demand challenges of the holidays.
Oculus wants to build an enduring platform
What's not clear now is if Facebook and Oculus can build an enduring VR platform. Devices are selling as fast as Oculus can make them right now, but we need to see their use increase and the content library expand beyond a handful of highly popular games.
The 2019 holiday season is a positive step for VR and Oculus. The hard work begins in 2020 to make the industry sustainable long term, and that will be easier said than done. But that's where the long-term value for Facebook shareholders will be.