At this year’s Oculus Connect 5, Oculus CTO John Carmack took to the stage with a rather bold statement, saying that he sees the Nintendo Switch as the main competition for the Oculus Quest.
“Realistically, we are going to wind up competing with the Nintendo Switch as a device,” Carmack said. “I don’t think there’s going to be that many people that say “I’m not going to buy a PS4, I’m going to buy a Quest instead””.
Considering the Switch has sold over 20 million units in its relatively short lifespan, it begs the question; could the Oculus Quest actually compete with the Nintendo Switch? Let’s explore the possibilities…
Is the Oculus Quest a Console or a Mobile Gaming Device?
The Nintendo Switch can’t really belong in one single camp. With its docking station peripheral, it is certainly a console machine, but whilst undocked it’s also a mobile handheld device. The Oculus Quest, which releases in Spring 2019, is touted as a mobile gaming device by its Oculus CTO, not a console.
So it will certainly be competing in the mobile gaming space, but that same space is very occupied by Apple and its iPhone platform, which you could say has a much greater audience and a vast game library since its released its App Store in 2008.
You can’t really compare Nintendo’s handheld console against a Oculus’ mobile VR device, however the act of just playing games on them pull them both back on a level competing stage.
Has Carmack chosen to reach for the low hanging fruit though by putting the Quest in the same ballpark as the Switch, instead of choosing Microsoft’s Xbox or Sony’s PlayStation? We have to look at what sells consoles… its games.
Games Sells Consoles
There is a heavy amount of weight cast on the Oculus Quest as being a gaming platform, and that’s great – for gamers. So let’s look at the games on both platforms.
Nintendo Switch currently has 1238 games listed on Wikipedia. Some are TBA, but that’s a good enough figure to go with for now. The Quest has yet to release its hardware, so it’s not a great comparison at the moment. But with 50 launch games expected, and a library of 2453 Oculus Rift titles listed on Steam alone (of which say 50% could be ported) we are already smashing through Nintendo’s total library of titles.
Games sells consoles, and if you’re any fan of Mario and other big Nintendo first-party games, then you are likely to have already purchased your Nintendo Switch. For Oculus and its upcoming hardware however, having that killer title couldn’t be any more crucial to selling headsets during its launch next Spring.
If 50 titles actually do make it at launch, at least a handful of those need to be jaw-dropping, gun-tooting blockbusters of the VR world. We need to see The Climb, Moss, Robo Recall, Beat Saber and the like, all poised for downloading and playing on the Oculus Quest at launch. Thankfully, all but 1 of those mentioned have been confirmed as launch titles for the Quest next Spring, so Oculus is already on to a good library of games for launch at least.
When you’re gaming on the move, battery life is pretty important. When used as a handheld, the Nintendo Switch lasts for around 2.5-3 solid hours of gaming, or up to 6 hours of battery life when used between applications and games.
The unreleased Oculus Quest is said to have a similar battery life to the Oculus Go, of around 2 hours. But without any real-life tests of the Oculus Quest it is hard to judge, but it does sound like you’ll get similar game time between charges of its headset.
It’s hopeful that the Quest will also allow charging through its USB-C port by plugging in a portable powerbank. But until we get headsets in our hands it is unknown if this will be possible. I am sure charging will be possible, albeit unrecommended by Oculus, as it will be crucial in extending your game time with the headset. But you may want to take a ‘charging’ break anyway if you’re playing for a solid 2 hours in the Quest.
Plug In / Dock For More Power
A genius feature on the Nintendo Switch is the ability to plug its handheld into the base console and enjoy its games in a more common console gaming environment on a much bigger screen.
It is still unknown whether the Oculus Quest will allow you to plug-in and use its headset with a more powerful PC to deliver a richer quality experience, albeit tethered to the PC like you are with the Rift headset.
It’s would be a cleaver move by Oculus to allow this, however on one side you’ll be able to allow players to play Rift titles on the Quest, but allowing this might limit your library of Quest titles as developers would be less likely to port their Rift titles to the Quest if you can just connect the Quest to a PC to play them.
A key element to a successful launch is the price point of entry. How much you can snap up a console can make or break a console’s launch day sales.
The Nintendo Switch launched at a price point of $299 (£279 / 329 Euros) whilst this is a low point of entry for a games console, its cost soon increases once you have purchased a game to play on it. Its online store allows you to play demos for free, but its likely a console bundle or an additional game would have been bought with the console, increasing its actual sale price of over $340-$350+.
This ‘actual’ price increase soon reaches the expected launch RRP of the Oculus Quest, which is said to be $399. It’s unknown yet whether any full games will come bundled with the headset, or if a demo suite can be downloaded from its App Store. With its online Oculus Store and 50 proposed launch titles ready to download onto the headset, at an expected lower price than Nintendo’s own games, if Rift game prices are anything to go by, you may just end up spending a similar total cost at launch than the Nintendo Switch.
You may even be able to play more games for your money than the Switch had at launch too.
There is nothing better (and cheaper) than word of mouth. So building a community can be important to selling hardware units. Let’s be honest, community on Nintendo Switch isn’t the best. Online hasn’t been Nintendo’s greatest strong point.
If the Oculus Quest gets anything like the community support found on the Go or the Rift, it could do better. Its suite of party apps allow you to watch and interact with friends and strangers around the world. This accessibly is probably better than Nintendo’s offering, and the ability to play room-based multiplayer games in titles like Tennis Scramble will no doubt grow communities of VR gamers as well as possibly bring room-based VR eSports to the mainstream.
With enough support from its apps and organisers, the Oculus Quest could have a vibrant community across a wide range of content in its applications and games.
Yet another important element to a successful platform is the ability to purchase and download content directly from the device. Nintendo had a rough start with its App Store, yet its momentum is growing with each new piece of physical content also appearing on its App Store. From demos to full digital triple-A releases, there is a growing library of content, however like the majority of console App Stores, most games are overpriced when compared to their own physical releases.
The Oculus Quest will no doubt carry over the same Oculus Store used on the Oculus Go and Rift headsets. Hopefully with the ability of cross-buy, existing Go or Rift users will be able to download previously purchased titles that are also compatible with the Oculus Quest. If Oculus does not support cross-buy I am sure we will see some negative flack against them, which is not ideal come launch day.
The benefit of cross-buy will be that when you boot up the Oculus Store on the Oculus Quest, its store will be rammed-full of hit titles and free-to-play apps and games on launch day. A jewel in its crown when compared to Nintendo’s lacklustre offering at lunch.
Since day one the Nintendo Switch has been promoted as a console for party play. Its handheld controller even comes apart to form two controllers for single and split-screen gaming. The Oculus Quest, and VR in general has this stigma of being a solo experience. Without being able to view what’s being seen inside the wearer’s VR headset, the experience cannot be shared or enjoyed, at least locally.
Unless VR games have been designed to work alongside other devices, such as Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, or Covert, multiplayer on the Oculus Quest will be limited to the user and other Quest wearers. At Oculus Connect 5 we saw two local multiplayer games shown. The first was Tennis Scramble, where two players wearing Quest headsets could play real-scale virtual tennis against each other. This could also have been two players in different parts of the world, online.
The second multiplayer demo shown was Dead & Buried Arena; an arena-based multiplayer shooter with up to 8 players, each wearing Quest headsets. Running around in a world-scale arena, duel-wielding pistols whilst hiding behind real-world objects and walls. It was nothing more than a proof of concept of the technology, but with enough backing you could see this being duplicated in VR arcades or potentially in eSports tournaments for big cash prizes.
The freedom of multiplayer on mobile VR that the technology of the Quest provides, brings a huge amount of potential to the platform. The experience may seem limited to the wearer, but for the one sitting in the driving seat, it’s going to be one hell of a ride!
There is no doubt about it; watching media or movies in VR cannot be beaten, other than watching in a real-life cinema of course. You could be limited to a 32″ TV in your lounge, but by strapping on a headset that can cost a fraction of the cost, you could be sitting in front of something the size of a multiplex or IMAX cinema screen.
Nintendo Switch users would not be able to beat VR in this department, other than being able to share the viewing experience. Just like multiplayer, watching media or movies becomes a solo experience unless shared with other headset wearers in party apps like Oculus Rooms or Bigscreen VR.
You just can’t beat watching big screen movies with your friends, whilst on the surface of the moon.
Since its Wii console, Nintendo have lead the pack when it comes to active-gaming and general fitness on a mainstream console. It brought us Wii Fit and Wii Sports, waving Wii Remotes to play tennis and heading soccer balls on the Wii Balance Board.
With the Switch’s motion sensing Joy-Con controllers, active-gaming continues to roll on, albeit in a slightly less promoted approach than in previous console generations. Wether you drawing pistols, milking cow udders or flinging frisbees, the Nintendo Switch still features games that will keep you moving over its competitors. VR however can take fitness to a whole new level.
With six degrees of freedom tracking and its Oculus Insight technology tracking your every move, there will be many games on the Oculus Quest that will get your heart racing, and many of these will not even be branded as a fitness title. Whether it’s a couple of levels of Beat Saber or a few waves of robot killing in Robo Recall, the most enjoyable fitness games are the ones that don’t behave like one, yet they require enough consistent movement to maintain a steady active heart rate.
There will no doubt be a library of fitness-focused games released on the Oculus Quest, and with the amount of tracking technology at its disposal, I am sure we will see a number of unique and exciting fitness applications releasing on the platform.
Can the Oculus Quest Compete With Nintendo Switch?
So can the Quest compete against the Switch? Sure it can; but it has to tick a lot of boxes along its way towards lunch day before anything is certain. Oculus has to win-over the kind of people who don’t even know what the Quest is, let alone know what VR does or has never experienced VR, to sell the amount of units Nintendo has of its Switch console.
Oculus also needs its killer title, its headline act, its Mario of the VR world. This doesn’t need to be a mascot of Italian plumping proportions, it’s all about that key game. Mario wouldn’t have been the Mario we have come accustomed to if it wasn’t for his first appearance as ‘Jumpman’ in Donkey Kong. Oculus needs some original and AAA quality titles in its library of 50 launch titles to make its mark and lure people down from the fence.
It’s going to be a challenge to sell the Oculus Quest to an audience that will reach a market share as large as Nintendo’s 20+ million Switch owners. With its fairly accessible price point of entry, compelling technology, freedom of wires and its library of killer upcoming titles, the potential is very strong in the VR space at least.
I for one am super excited to see how well the Oculus Quest does when it releases in Spring 2019. I’ll be there at lunch day, and with enough marketing and hype built up, I am sure there will be many like me waiting in-line to pick-up the next greatest thing in VR since the first release of the Oculus Rift headset.