Is a virtual reality headset a platform or a peripheral? It’s an ideological war that’s tearing apart the once-unified VR community, with no end in sight. On one side, you’ve got Oculus saying “We’re a platform.” On the other, HTC, Valve, Razer, Leap Motion, and others are essentially saying “It’s a fancy monitor.”
Here’s the key difference: If every VR headset is a platform, then companies can justify holding back “exclusive” content to entice consumers into their ecosystem. If, on the other hand, a head-mounted display is just a fancy monitor you strap to your eyes—equivalent in status to a mouse or a keyboard or a pair of headphones—then exclusive content makes no sense. You wouldn’t buy a monitor just so you could play the new Doom, for instance.
And it’s a conflict that’s come to a head this week, in probably the most confusing way possible. First, put down your pitchfork. Then, let’s lay out the chronology of events.
Things started when, frustrated by a bunch of games going Rift-exclusive during E3, a Reddit user posted a thread complaining about Oculus’s tactics. Typical day on the Vive subreddit, really—except Croteam’s Mario Kotlar jumped into the thread and alleged something people long-suspected but couldn’t confirm: Oculus is buying exclusive rights to third-party games. Said Kotlar:
“They tried to buy Serious Sam VR as well. It wasn’t easy, but we turned down a shitton of money, as we believe that truly good games will sell by themselves and make profit in the long run regardless. And also because we hate exclusives as much as you do.”
Would that be surprising? No. But it does fly directly in the face of what Palmer Luckey has said in the past. Last year, Luckey took to Reddit to say:
“What we are doing is working with external devs to make VR games. These are games that have been 100% funded by Oculus from the start, co-designed and co-developed by our own internal game dev teams. The majority of these games would not even exist were we not funding them, it is not like we just paid for exclusivity on existing games.”
“It is not like we just paid for exclusivity on existing games.”
But if what Kotlar says is true, then that’s exactly what’s happening now, so I got in touch with Oculus to see what’s going on. And then everything really went to hell, and Croteam CTO Alen Ladavac waded into the fray with a comment and his own Reddit thread.
First, Ladavac comments:
“I want to clarify some of the inaccuracies about our relationship with Oculus. Oculus did approach us with an offer to help fund the completion of Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope in exchange for launching first on the Oculus Store and keeping it time-limited exclusive. Their offer was to help us accelerate development of our game, with the expectation that it would eventually support all PC VR platforms. We looked at the offer and decided it wasn’t right for our team. At no time did Oculus ask for, or did we discuss total exclusivity or buyout of support from Vive. We look forward to supporting Rift and Vive.”
And then here’s Oculus:
“We regularly offer developers financial grants to help fund early development of new titles to accelerate development or expand the scope of the game. In some cases, we exchange funding in return for launching on the Oculus Store first, with the expectation that the game will go on to launch on other platforms.
In the case of Croteam, at no time did we request that they stop development for other platforms, and we look forward to seeing Serious Sam be successful across the entire VR ecosystem.”
So, assuming Oculus and Croteam are on the up-and-up and this isn’t just damage control, then Kotlar was only half wrong. Oculus didn’t try to “buy” Serious Sam VR. Not entirely, anyway.
Instead, I assume we’re looking at a deal similar to the one struck with CCP to keep EVE Valkyrie exclusive to the Oculus for six months. If you still have an ideological aversion to those tactics, I can’t blame you—I too have more fondness for the old “If one succeeds, we all succeed” attitude the VR community used to pay lip service to—but I can’t fault Oculus (as a business) for trying to get something for its money. I just can’t really applaud them for it, either.
The most you can do is try to support companies that are more magnanimous. Companies like Razer, believe it or not—the company announced yesterday it’s donating five million dollars to help kickstart VR development for games across all platforms, not just its HDK2. Maybe it’s time we look to other leaders in VR and stop treating Oculus like it’s the be-all-end-all, lest they actually become the be-all-end-all.