Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets now on sale. Price: $599

Facebook Inc.-owned Oculus VR on Wednesday became the first of three leading technology companies to begin selling virtual reality headsets, offering its Rift device for $599.

The announcement of the price Wednesday immediately drew groans from video game players, whom Oculus expects will be the first batch of customers. They had wished Facebook would sell it for about $350 -- taking a loss -- to appeal to more people. The higher price tag could cause some price-conscious gamers to skip the Rift for now.

The frustration erupted even though many saw the price coming. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey had hinted in recent weeks that Rift would be more expensive than bandied about guesses because the first go of Rift would be produced in limited quantities, include high-end components and not be heavily subsidized.

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Oculus executives also had privately hoped the company didn’t have to be the first to price the new-age goggles, which hold a smartphone-like screen close to one’s eyes, enveloping the wearer in a virtual scene.

Sony Corp. and HTC Corp. are expected to sell similar devices for immersive gaming and video-watching later in the year. HTC only recently delayed plans to launch sooner, which made clear Oculus would be the first to price.

Now HTC could face reduced backlash if, as expected, it prices its Vive device even higher and positions it as more complex. Sony’s PlayStation VR is likely to end up more affordable (and in the hands of more people) since it’s aimed as an add-on for the millions of people who’ve already spent hundreds of dollars on a PlayStation gaming console.

The Oculus Rift requires pairing to a high-end computer, likely about $1,000.

The price also rattled analysts, who said they must revise estimates about the first big year of virtual reality. Evercore ISI’s Michael Swierczek said Oculus’ higher-than-ballparked price “has provided a significant head wind” to his 2016 estimates of 12 million headsets shipped and $3.5 billion in sales across the entire VR industry.

The Rift is available for order online, though it won’t ship until March. Demand within the first few hours already had pushed shipping dates into April. Some analysts predict Oculus will cap sales of the first-generation Rift at several hundred thousand.

About 47% of U.S. video game players surveyed said they were at least interested in virtual reality devices, media consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates announced Wednesday.

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