The VR Wars: Oculus, Vive Seek to Establish Advantage
After delaying orders as a result of component shortages whilst angering wannabe early adopters, Facebook-owned VR company Oculus is confronting another headache as it goes about the process of technologically and culturally establishing the immersive medium. Titles that were intended to only be used with the Oculus Rift system can now be played on an entirely different VR headset.
Less than four weeks after the $600 system was launched on March 28, cunning amateur coders have already figured out how to unlock the cartoony platforming game “Lucky’s Tale” and VR vignette collection “Oculus Dreamdeck” for the HTC Vive, an $800 competing VR system released April 5 by smartphone maker HTC and gaming company Valve. In recent weeks, more “only on Oculus” content have been cracked.
The reverse, at least for now, isn’t an issue for HTC and Valve, whose online hub is headset agnostic, that is, content purchased from Steam can be used for the Vive or Rift. However, even though neither Oculus nor HTC restrict developers from selling content elsewhere, titles from the Oculus Home online store are meant to only work with the Rift system.
This is another blow to Oculus, the Facebook-owned VR pioneer that has struggled to fulfill the promise of high-fidelity VR in consumers’ homes and, in recent times, faced questions over its privacy policies. Although most VR developers currently design for as many systems as possible, several are initially releasing titles for either the Rift or Vive, which currently have different control schemes.
The VR Wars
According to said Kjartan Pierre Emilsson, co-founder and CEO at Solfar Studios, which crafted the “Everest VR” simulator, Solfar Studios are “focused on the Vive right now because of the ability to create room-scale experiences, but we’re planning to release on every platform available. In these early days, we think it’s important for ‘Everest VR’ to be experienced by as many people as possible.”
Video game exclusivity has, for decades, mostly been restricted to consoles, which are more difficult to crack than PCs. For instance, gamers can only play a “Super Mario Bros.” installment on systems created by Nintendo, whereas the “Uncharted” series is exclusively on PlayStation machines, while gamers with an Xbox have the “Halo” franchise to themselves.
It’s an on-going conflict, referred to in gaming circles as “the console wars.”
Even though the Rift and Vive both require high-powered PCs to operate and provide similar windows into 360-degreee virtual worlds, the two competitors currently have different approaches to VR. The Vive’s sensors and wand-shaped controllers offer VR across a room, while, until Oculus releases its Touch controllers later this year, the Rift only works seated with a traditional gamepad.
Sony will make a foray into the marketplace in October with the comparable PlayStation VR system, which unlike the Rift and Vive, will cost $400 and only work in tandem with a PlayStation 4 console. It’ll also ship with many more exclusive titles, including the robot battle game “RIGS: Mechanized Combat League” along with a VR rendition of “Star Wars: Battlefront.”
Software is king
“We think content is king,” Shawn Layden, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment America said. “We have six months not only to educate consumers about VR but also make sure we have a robust line-up when we launch in October. I think we’ll have a nice, healthy line-up when we bring PS VR to market. It’s so important to have all the software there.”
By the end of 2016, it is projected that all three major VR systems will essentially feature the same functionality: a headset and a pair of controllers capable of mimicking hands in virtual world.
“Are they selling razors or razorblades?” said chief technologist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Chris Curran. “I think moving forward this is going to be much more about the platform and the marketplace for content than it is about the headset. It’s not unlike smartphone market. At first, that was about the hardware. Now, it’s more about the overall experience.”