Virtual reality is firmly back in the spotlight at the moment and I’m not the only one giddy with excitement and nausea. Yup, that’s definitely a good feeling. The increase in attention is thanks in large part to the recent release of Sony’s Playstation VR. Recent events from Valve, Oculus, and Microsoft also offer plenty of insight into the progress and strategies of these global behemoths. The impetus and enthusiasm for VR is not in doubt, and the number of “it’s just a gimmick!” naysayers is dwindling by the day.
Microsoft’s recent announcement that VR is coming to Windows 10 via a number of 3rd party vendors and open standards stands in stark contrast to Sony’s more direct bull-by-the-horns approach, and in someways it echos and amplifies a conflict that has been raging in the background between Oculus and Valve (or at least between their fans). The arguments centre around control, investment, what is best for VR, and what is best for the consumer.
The simple fact is that even though virtual reality is a fantastic contraption, it faces an uphill battle to achieve market penetration so the investment from all 4 should be welcomed by enthusiasts from all quarters. However, VR is expensive and if you want to be involved then you need to pick a side to back with your cash. There are many obvious factors to consider when choosing, but one detail that gets less attention is the behaviour of these huge corporate entities, and the direction they are looking to take the technology. So let’s take a look at the big players:
Valve (HTC Vive)
Valve have done well to maintain their status as the patron saint of PC gaming. Every step they are taking is a step towards open standards, and everything they do is fair to VR competitors, partners, devs, and punters. Their respected lighthouse tracking tech is available for anyone that cares to make hardware, their Steam VR platform supports Oculus Rift and even the yet-to-be-released Touch controllers. Gabe Newell has openly stated his opposition to exclusivity clauses, and Valve make funds available to fledgling VR developers without such unfriendly clauses. Gamers are not stupid, and we know well that Valve’s moves are ultimately self-serving as they want Steam to be the prominent content distribution platform for VR, but their methods are largely beyond criticism. There are no flies on Valve. The only negative you can really throw at them is that thus far they haven’t gained much traction, but that’s more a slight on our patience than on Valve’s behaviour.
For Oculus the fly count is less favourable. Their reputation has taken an absolute beating. Owned and operated by the personal info-mining Facebook, and founded by a man now tarred by his controversial support for the views of Donald Trump, Oculus are perceived as a shadowy cloud of pestilence and famine. VR gamers have had to battle to reverse a move to block Vive gamers from playing Oculus games. Oculus also fund developers to make exclusive or timed exclusive games for their platform, but within the PC space that they operate this is a forbidden practice and PC gamers remain vigilant against it.
The PC VR battleground has become something of a good vs evil showdown. Evil’s saving grace is that the Rift is actually very good hardware, and the exclusives that they fund are actually pretty good games. Their approach may be unpopular, but their investments into VR have undeniable benefits and this whole VR movement is largely thanks to their efforts.
Sony (Playstation VR)
Playstation VR carries a lot of the same characteristics as Oculus. Their software platform is inherently exclusive, they fund exclusive and timed exclusive games, and their software and hardware form a locked in ecosystem. They are hitting VR early, with a mind to take control of this emerging market so that they can dominate it for years to come. However, Sony stand proudly on a different battlefield to Oculus where none of this breaks any rule or etiquette. Rightly or wrongly, this is exactly what console gamers expect and Valve’s holy aura does not permeate this place.
In fact right now there is nobody else on this battlefield at all, which means Sony can claim credit for making virtual reality available to a wide swathe of people that might otherwise run the risk of a Samsung phone exploding in their face. They have invested significantly into virtual reality, and that is wonderful news for the fledgling tech. Much like Oculus, you may question some of their motives but ultimately the resources and expertise they have thrown in are a massive positive for VR.
Microsoft (Digital Herpes)
Their recent announcement that VR support is coming to Windows 10 with open standards, supporting a range of headsets from various vendors actually appears to be very positive. Open standards are the ideal for VR in all respects. It allows for rapid advancement and competition in the hardware space. It allows developers to make games for the widest audience they can reach. It allows consumers to buy the VR they want based on the price and merit of the hardware, rather than restrictions imposed by software exclusivity.
Let’s not celebrate just yet though, as this is Microsoft. Their standard will probably exclude Vive and Rift, send detailed analysis of our brain activity to the NSA, and urinate in our cornflakes. Probably. And more pertinently, thus far they simply haven’t matched the investment of the other 3. Microsoft are sitting back and letting the others drive VR forward. If not for the investment and risk taken on by Sony, Facebook, and Valve, it is unlikely Microsoft would ever have turned up at all.
So which company’s efforts are you supporting? What does the future of VR look like under each of them? Or is it all about the here-and-now, and you already have a Playstation 4 so this isn’t even a question. Let us know in the comments below! No registration necessary.