Start with Why. Then figure out How. That leads to What. Never start with What.

Oculus kickstarted the modern, fledgling virtual reality industry – literally, on Kickstarter. VR has been around in various forms for decades. The Oculus Rift represented a major leap forwards and received massive goodwill and public support.

Fast forward to now and there are multiple players in the market. Most notably Oculus (now owned by Facebook) and the Vive from the odd pairing of Valve and HTC. But this industry isn’t like home video in the 80s – back then, home video was definitely going to happen. The format war between VHS and Betamax was daft, but it didn’t threaten the very concept itself.

VR is in a very different place. The job of the Vive and the Oculus Rift is not to be the dominant VR device, but to convince the public that VR is even worth doing in the first place. On the adoption life cycle we’re still very much in innovator territory, barely into the early adopter phase.

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Simon Sinek talks about the importance of understanding your Why. Defining yourself by your Why is what gives you the edge over your competitors, or makes you stand out from the crowd. Most people and companies lead with their What, and make that their mission statement but this doesn’t give you much room to manoeuvre.

Apple, historically, have had a clear Why: doing things differently. It’s why they’ve been able to diversify into other markets and revolutionise entire industries such as mobile and music. It’s why the nerdiest company of the 90s was able to reinvent itself as a leading fashion and lifestyle brand in the late 2000s.

This is also why most Android and Windows Phone manufacturers have failed to do the same, despite having the technical ability to make products as good as the iPhone. They define themselves as producers of mobile phones. That makes them boring. It makes them unappealing to consumers.

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People who Kickstarted Oculus in the first place and people who are now investing in the Vive or Rift products are not interested in product and brand. They are committed to the cause, of making VR work and Become A Thing. Their Why is that they want VR to have a future.

Right out of the gate, Oculus shared this Why and people with the same Why were drawn to it like moths to a flame. But things have changed.

As reported, Oculus are going to considerable effort to create exclusives, and lock products into their ecosystem. Some Oculus games won’t work on other VR devices, not due to hardware limitations but for corporate reasons. Those are not the actions of a company which wants VR to succeed: they’re the actions of a company which wants VR to succeed only if they’re the ones selling it.

Contrast this with the Vive, where Valve have explicitly stated that they won’t be doing exclusives. They’re using a generally open framework. Anything that works on the Vive will work on any other VR device, if it’s capable.

Oculus have forgotten their Why. They’re leading with their What: We will have the leading VR platform. The How then becomes: We make a high quality, restricted hardware platform and provide incentives to developers to make their products exclusive to our platform. The Why doesn’t even get a look-in.

Valve/HTC are leading with their Why: We want virtual reality to succeed, and to become a powerful cultural force. Their How becomes: We make powerful products and make them as widely available to developers and consumers as possible. The What is consequently: We make great VR hardware. All their decisions flow from that Why, and it’s evident in everything they do.

The problem for Oculus is that nobody cares about their What. But anybody willing to invest in VR hardware at this nascent stage will automatically resonate with Valve/HTC’s clear Why. The messages and philosophies emanating from the companies are vastly different.

To general consumers this might not matter hugely. If VR was an established entertainment industry, Oculus could succeed through manipulations alone, just as lots of dull companies quite happily sell TVs. But VR is nowhere near general consumers. It’s perhaps on the radar of early adopters but only barely. It’s hardly registered for the early majority. So the market so far is comprised of innovators, those pioneering, visionary spenders who are willing to take a chance simply because they want a thing to happen.

For those people, hardware and price comparisons don’t matter. All that matters is that VR itself has a bright future. There have been so many false starts over the years that the idea of it fizzling out again is too heartbreaking to consider.

VR has to feel revolutionary. Oculus, presumably influenced by their owners, have taken themselves out of the changing the world game and have instead defined themselves as a product platform. At this stage in VR’s life cycle that’s a risky move. There are few things less attractive to innovators and early adopters.

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