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How a Computer Glitch Caused HTC Vive to Sell Out

March 4, 2016, 7:27 PM UTC

The HTC Vive Consumer Edition officially went on sale to the public on February 29 for $799. Within the first 10 minutes, the company sold over 15,000 units, according to a tweet from Shen Ye, a VR product specialist at HTC.

What happened next was essentially a computer glitch that told consumers the device was sold out, according to Dan O’Brien, vice president of planning and product management for HTC Vive.

“We had some hiccups with the back-end system,” O’Brien says. “It was a global launch with region-specific allotments around the world. When a SKU sells out in a bucket, it’s supposed to flip to another bucket. Our back-end system sent people a message that the Vive was sold out, instead of telling them we’re continuing to take pre-orders all the way through launch day, April 5.”

The company did sell through its April allotment, but O’Brien says the site has been corrected. Anyone can order the product today and should receive it in May, HTC assures. The Vive will also ship with three free games.

HTC received considerable media coverage focusing on the “sold out” aspect of the virtual reality platform, which could have sent the wrong message to consumers wanting to buy the room-scale virtual reality platform.

Quick sales of the HTC Vive also go against the grain of the argument that the $799 price point is too expensive. HTC is charging more than Facebook’s competing Oculus Rift virtual reality system, which sells for $599 but does not come with Oculus Touch. Those virtual hand controllers have been delayed to the fall, and a price has not been revealed yet.

“The price point is not an apples to apples comparison because we put more in the box,” O’Brien says. “A year-and-a-half ago when we first sat down with Valve and 20 development teams, we announced that we were developing a room-scale virtual reality platform with a front-facing camera, a headset with 360-degree tracking, and controllers for both hands. Plus, we have the Chaperone system that ensures safety when navigating VR experiences in your living room. We’ve accomplished that and put all of that technology in the box. All you have to do is take it out of the box and plug it into a PC.”

Another issue that has been brought up by analysts is that the processing power required for a PC to run a virtual reality system such as the Vive or the Rift limits the potential audience for these devices. O’Brien disagrees.

“Valve’s Steam platform has a base of 125 million active customers, and that info is a little old,” O’Brien says. “They grow that customer base every month. And Steam has a healthy base of gamers that don’t need to update their PC. Vive will run straight out of the box. Our partnership with Valve allows us to market straight to those consumers who don’t have to update their systems.”

O’Brien says the second largest audience for the Vive is the tens of millions of PC gamers who only need to spend $300 or $400 on new graphics card from Nvidia or AMD. He says this audience hasn’t had a reason to buy a new high-end card in a long time, but virtual reality offers them something new.

“We’ll have PC bundles with Vive-optimized PCs on our website soon and we’ll tell people they’ll have a great experience,” O’Brien promises. “But I don’t think PC bundles will be a major driver of sales.”

In addition to the upcoming PC bundle options, HTC has released a software tool allowing consumers to test their PC to determine if they need a new graphics card, additional memory, or a completely new PC.

SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreuen predicts consumers will spend $5.1 billion on virtual reality gaming hardware, accessories, and software in 2016. That’s up from the $660 million spent in 2015, says the marketing leader. Meanwhile, the global market is expected to grow to $8.9 billion in 2017 and $12.3 billion in 2018.