A Kellogg MBA Competitive Analysis: Major Stakeholders in Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality (Sony, Oculus, Valve)

Over the Winter Quarter, our Technology and Innovation Strategy class at Kellogg culminated in a final research paper. The paper looked at the shuttering of Google Glass and what Google’s next steps should be. As part of this, I got to look deeply into the current state of Virtual Reality, which I have been following and waiting for (hello Oculus!) since I was a child, and Augmented Reality. I will be posting portions of the paper (it’s quite long) in digestible chunks here over the next week. Our team was comprised of Melissa Caldwell, Raghu Chirravuri, Olga Gordon, Jeff Hoffman, and me, Michael Nguyen. 

To see all of the sections, see my tag virtual reality.

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Competitive Analysis: Major Stakeholders in Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality

While numerous firms are engaging in VR or AR headset platforms, firms that have major corporate backing to avoid being acquired and have the finances to pose a legitimate threat to Google are discussed below and in summary Table A.

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Sony (Project Morpheus – Virtual Reality) and Valve (HTC Vive – Virtual Reality)

Sony and Valve are similar in their focus on gaming entertainment through VR headsets. While Sony has its own console platform (Playstation), Valve focuses on the PC market, creating a consistent gaming experience for PC gamers regardless of hardware manufacturer or operating system through its Steam gaming platform. In March 2015, both companies revealed they are planning to release their products by the end of 2015. Sony will develop and manufacture its own headset, while Valve will work with partners such as HTC to release headsets, similar to Oculus and Samsung in producing Gear VR. With both firms’ focus on entertainment, these are greater threats to Oculus, discussed below, rather than Google AR and VR.

Facebook (Oculus Rift – Virtual Reality)

The Oculus headset is a tethered (wired) unit that requires a high-end PC to power, creating a sit-down user experience. Oculus has gained traction in VR and AR by creating an ecosystem of applications and new hardware add-ons that add functionality to the device such as body movement and finger tracking for user interfaces.

Oculus initially had a pure focus on gaming and simulation rather than productivity, making it less of a threat to Google. However, with the Facebook purchase of Oculus VR and the announcement of the partnership with Samsung to release Gear VR (more detail below), the Oculus platform is more of a threat. Aside from its current dominance as a social platform over Google+, Facebook has also launched search, advertising, and portal-like products that combined form a significant threat to Google as the default source of information of the masses.

Oculus has released several developer headset kits to the community, with the first consumer-focused version expected in 2015. Oculus has repeatedly stated the consumer product must be oriented to the mass-market not only in functionality but also price. While Facebook does not have direct experience in producing hardware at mass levels, Samsung, its partner on the Gear VR, does. Thus, we believe that Oculus will be able to deliver a mass-market headset more quickly than other competitors.

Samsung (Oculus Rift / Gear VR – Virtual & Augmented Reality)

Samsung’s Gear VR is an untethered (wireless) headset that requires the Galaxy Note 4 mobile phone. Note 4 users simply insert the device into the headset. Using Oculus technology, the Gear VR has an advantage over Oculus because it supports AR through its outward facing camera. Unlike other AR solutions, Gear VR cannot not reasonably be worn outdoors. While Gear VR does not compare to full-powered VR solutions such as Oculus, the partnership creates two concerns for Google. First, Samsung is a dominant global hardware partner for Facebook, with experience in display and mobile technologies. With Samsung as a manufacturing partner, Oculus would have an advantage in merchandising over other platforms. Second, the partnership creates more exposure to the Oculus platform for users and app developers. The Gear VR was released in December 2014 at $199 (non-mass market focused “Innovator Edition”); based on Samsung’s aggression in the mobile market, we can expect rapid iterations on the platform and increased compatibility with new phones.

How Reggie Miller Cost Me an Autograph from Tim Hardaway (and Junior) [Funny Memories]

“I’m Tim Hardaway of the Miami Heat and blah blah blah…[redacted from memory]”

My sister went to the Warriors game versus the Knicks last week and she mentioned Tim Hardaway’s son, and this brought back my own memories of both son and father.

In the summer of 1995, I was 14 years old, waiting at the San Francisco International (SFO) Airport for my relatives (family of aunt, uncle, and two cousins) to arrive from Indianapolis. As they were my only other relatives in the United States, they were my favorite relatives, and Indianapolis was my adopted second favorite city. In addition, the Colts and Pacers were my second favorite professional sports teams in their respective leagues to the 49ers and Warriors (I stopped supporting the Colts after they fired Ted Marchibroda. Nearly 20 years later, I may be on the verge of ending my support for the 49ers because of their stupidity in letting Jim Harbaugh go. Harbaugh was also Marchibroda’s quarterback with the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens and was replaced with whom I fear to be the next Mike Singletary.)

Continuing the story:

“Hi Tim,” said the man behind the counter on the phone in between moments of talking to customers.

I was five feet away from Tim Hardaway and his three year old (had to look it up) son (the aforementioned Tim Hardaway, Jr.), wearing a Reggie Miller (my first jersey, shown below, still in pristine shape) Pacers jersey. Our family had come to SFO to pick up my cousins’ family and I had worn my jersey proudly to show that I love Indiana (please remember I was 14). And yes, I loved Reggie Miller, the Knick killer as well.

However, there was Tim Hardaway so close to me. I wanted an autograph (in 1995, it was not so common just to have cameras on one’s person) of course – it was Tim Hardaway, former all-star (and soon to be once again, sigh. WARRIORS!) and Run-TMC member who had just been traded from the Warrior a few months prior. But I was shy and of course, had branded Reggie Miller and the Pacers across my body. How could I do this, how ridiculous would it be? Plus, what if Tim was a super jerk or just too busy and rejected me. (By the way, Tim was either trying to rent a car at the time or claiming lost luggage at this moment)

Tim looked at me (I can only imagine what he was thinking), and I shied away. I was too ashamed (not of Reggie, but appearing like a bandwagon fan. Tim was never to know that I LOVE the Warriors and always have) and could not do it.

Today, I have kept my Reggie Miller jersey (another embarrassing note, I used to think I would grow into a size 48 jersey. While part of this was the era of baggy everything, I was clearly very optimistic. I am today 5’6, essentially the same height I was at in 1995, and can wear a size 36. NBA players wear size 48 and above.) Recently, I have also purchased a vintage Tim Hardaway jersey as well as a recent issue Chris Mullin (also of Run-TMC) one, shown below.

The Origins of RedOctane (Before Guitar Hero)

I am reading a Harvard case study about Netflix for a class at Kellogg right now and reading about its timing of switching to unlimited rentals in the summer of 2000 reminded me of when I first heard about the company that would become RedOctane, the producers of Guitar Hero (did you see: Rock Band is coming back) and a startup success story.

I remember the exact article posted on April 17, 2000 at IGN: WebGameZone to Offer Import Rentals

Ever wanted to play the latest and greatest games out of Japan, but don’t quite have the budget to do so? There are many titles that are already out that deserve a good run through, but with prices floating around $70 each, one cannot afford to play them all. Well one online retailer noticed this and decided to start a bold new venture: renting import Dreamcast games Online.

WebGameZone is taking the high price of 70 dollars per game and changing it to a simple $4.99 rental. The company is already known for being the largest online videogame rental store, but until now has never offered the latest Japanese titles.

So what does a five dollar fee get you? How does 10 days of usage sound? That’s right… you get over a full week of gaming for the price of a typical fast food meal. After you are done with the game, you just send it back in the pre-paid, pre-labeled box that is provided.

Obviously, we can’t guarantee the quality of the site’s service, but it is certainly something import-hungry gamers may want to check out. Thirty import titles will be made available at first, with more and more being added as time goes on. This is truly a unique venture, and will be interesting to see if it works out.

Both Mike Won and I read the same article and while I am not sure exactly what happened next, one of us found out the company was in Sunnyvale (in Silicon Valley, 20 miles away from where we lived in San Jose), and I contacted them right away about internships. I would have happily worked for free, but got a quick response from Juan, came in a few days later, met the rest of the team (Kai Huang, Charles Huang, Dean Ku, etc.) and essentially had a part time job (probably at $7.50 an hour) at the age of 19 shipping game discs and learning about Japanese import games for the Sega Dreamcast. This probably all happened within 10 days. I was employee #9 or #10 until I left to finish my degree at UC-Berkeley in 2002, but my time there in that first stint is summarized in my LinkedIn profile:

In my first experience with RedOctane (formerly WebGameZone), I started as an intern, learning about shipping logistics. Over time, I was promoted to Customer Service and given complete freedom (and responsibility) to interact with customers and learn how to resolve issues without backup support in a loss limited structure.

Through these experiences, I learned vital lessons about the human psychology, empathy, effective communication, and stress management, critical lessons I still use on an everyday basis.

Promoted from Intern/Shipping Logistics (2000) to Customer Service / Game Inventory Buyer (2001).

Other fun links I found: (but couldn’t find the old logo)

Free Rental Offer

RedOctane Begins Renting Import PlayStation 2 Games

Woa! WebGameZone actually sent it to me!!