Sixense refunds backers for VR controller, five years later

Oculus and HTC controllers helped squeeze Stem out of the mass market.

More than five years after funding its Stem virtual reality controller system on Kickstarter, Sixense is paying back those who pledged for the device. Sixense is no longer making a consumer version of the controller, as it is focusing on producing hardware for enterprise and healthcare companies.

The company is refunding all of the 2,383 people who backed Stem to the tune of just more than $600,000 through Kickstarter, as well as those who pre-ordered the device after that campaign (those pre-orders totaled around $500,000). While Sixense recently figured out how to mass manufacture Stem, it has decided to withdraw from the consumer market, in part because VR headset makers now have their own controllers. Instead, it will make a more expensive, enterprise-focused product in smaller numbers, CEO Amir Rubin told The Verge.

Since the Kickstarter campaign ended, Sixense has created several Stem development kits but has faltered with the consumer product after running into various design issues. The product was supposed to ship in 2014 though it faced a string of delays before Sixense ultimately canceled it. Before now, Sixense had given everyone who asked (around 20 percent of backers) their money back. Last month, Sixense sold most of its stake in MVI Health, a joint venture between it and healthcare company Penumbra, and made $20 million in the process. That partly paved the way for the blanket refunds.

Oculus and HTC have their own motion controllers, making life more difficult for Stem and other third-party controllers, many of which hit Kickstarter at around the same time as Stem after the Oculus Rift VR development kit was released. However, Rubin hinted to VentureBeat that his company may revive its consumer ambitions later as the VR market grows and demand likely increases for more precise controllers.