No company got me as excited as you did for virtual reality. In 2014, I watched Ally of Pixelwhipt talk about the second iteration of your developer kit, and I was immediately sold. I decided to change my entire career to focus around these groundbreaking advancements in immersive technologies, and I’ve been working as a VR developer and evangelist for the past two years as I’ve seen the industry grow – far faster than I anticipated, and with much more passion than I had seen in any other facet of the tech world. You were at the core of all of that – I waited in line for hours to try the Crescent Bay prototype at the SVVR holiday party, I traveled around the world toting my DK 2 and telling everyone that you were the company to look to in innovation.
I stayed optimistic with the Facebook acquisition, and I think that at its core, many of the decisions that have been made since then have helped push VR forward even more. As a developer, I can understand the decisions around wanting your SDK to be tightly integrated into your headsets. As a consumer, I understand that your studios want to focus on the best possible experiences for your hardware, and why exclusive titles are something to be expected of the game industry – while I may not like it, personally, I at least understand the motivation.
It started off when I couldn’t use my Cardboard applications on my Samsung S6 if I installed Oculus Home on it. I had to install a package disabler to use my Gear VR headset with Cardboard applications – something that worked flawlessly, I’ll add. I didn’t like that I was, in a sense, being told what content I could or could not consume based on the headset I owned.
I was awake ten minutes before the Rift went up for pre-sale. I felt an adrenaline rush that was unprecedented when I confirmed that my Rift was ordered. When March 28th rolled around, I wasted no time at all upgrading the runtime and testing out Lucky’s Tale on my DK 2 – the headset that had been my go-to for everything.
I’ve been teaching VR development for two years, both in the US and in Europe. I develop applications that don’t ship to app stores, they’re open source and available on GitHub for anyone to poke around with. I help new developers build for VR, and I loved being able to take my DK 2, then my Rift, to show off the advancements in a technology that had taken over my world. I skipped lunch at Oculus Connect 2 in order to get a front-row seat to John Carmack’s keynote in the Dolby Theatre. I am a part of the Oculus Launchpad initial class, an initiative designed to help foster diversity in the industry from underrepresented makers.
I was lucky. My Rift shipped only three weeks late, not months like some others. I played more of Lucky’s Tale and Eve: Valkyrie, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy through the Oculus Home store. There was no refund option, and I had already received my Vive and purchased quite a few games through Steam. I waited and found myself spending a lot more time in my Vive, though I would occasionally pick up the Rift to watch a few of the shorts (Invasion was beautifully done, and I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Henry). I had an amazing time at the kickoff Launchpad bootcamp, but couldn’t shake off the fact that no one would answer my questions around whether or not we had to use the SDK, or if we’d have to have an exclusive release agreement, or if we could only distribute through the official store, to be eligible for support.
Over the last few months, I’ve been working on my own game. It’s something that I’m really excited to bring to life, because there’s nothing quite like it. I excitedly chatted with Palmer about some of the elements behind it, which got me excited all over again. It needs hands, though – and I don’t have Touch. Requests for it have gone ignored.
I’ve been developing now with the SteamVR plugin, because I’d been limited to their platform by hardware restrictions. With yesterday’s announcements at E3, though, that is now an explicit choice. I feel validated that I made the right decision to purchase most of my VR games through Steam, when presented with a store choice. My heart goes out to the developers who have been working to bring their VR applications to life, who are getting torn apart online for the fact that a higher-up at their studio made the decision to do a timed exclusive. I feel for the developers who have been hit financially after you decided to DRM lock Oculus titles, resulting in a surge of VR application piracy. These are developers who have dedicated years of their lives to building your platform up.
Frankly – it’s almost hard to say that consumers deserve better. The sense of entitlement of quite a few vocal Vive owners, and the vitriol spewed towards developers or people affiliated with titles in the exclusive Touch launch, is personal and it’s harmful. These are people with careers built around a passion for a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a huge impact on a new technology -people who have been doing more for the industry than can be valued by lost sales over years of development, evangelism, sharing knowledge, encouraging new creators, and so much more.
Maybe this event speaks to a part of the industry that overall represents a positive place – that momentum is so great, it has reached a point where major companies are battling for market share. Perhaps it’s the dawn of the PS 2 v. Xbox of the VR industry, ushering in an era of new innovation. A far more sinister worry, though, is that Facebook is looking to achieve the “Facebook-status” of VR: not to a be a first-in-class experience, but to be only-in-class. The VR industry is still small. There is a developer shortage. Systems are expensive and innovation needs to be encouraged, not purchased and cut off retroactively.
I understand that at a company, things change. Priorities change, leadership changes, business models change, and competitor platforms may threaten the 2016 slice of the pie – but you aren’t really the ones struggling here. Not yet. It’s the consumers, the ones who were passionate enough to shell out thousands of dollars to see dreams come to life. It’s the developers, who need to find a way to pay bills, often in extremely expensive cities, be taken seriously, and also feel like they are able to create the next-generation of computing experiences in an ethical and non-exclusive way. I didn’t share the hatred that came out when the price wasn’t actually in the $350 range for the Rift. I own two generations of Oculus technology – but if something doesn’t change, I will be much more cautious in the future of what hardware I purchase and support. I will turn to open platforms that do not exclude certain hardware devices in applications which are very capable of running on many.
You can change these things. You once represented everything that was right with the new age of VR technology, but you’ve strayed. I have faith in you that you can listen to the industry you’ve helped build, and do what is right by the consumers and the developers who made you what you are. Please reconsider your commitment to your walled garden, there’s a lot outside that is still growing.
I wanted to share an update as I’ve spent a lot of time today talking to developers, reading more information as it’s been made available, and while I want to keep this post as it stands for transparency, I also have to say that the more I talk to people who are directly involved, the more that my issue has clarified into a specific aspect of all of the discussion: the fact that there is no way to run applications purchased through the Oculus store on different headsets.
Take, for example, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. I absolutely love this application. It’s gorgeous – and it supports both headsets, and is available on Steam and through Oculus Home. I will chose to purchase it on Steam, because I want to be able to play it on both headsets – if I purchased through Oculus Home, I cannot do that, which is where my issue lies. I still overall do not really like the idea of exclusive titles without hardware-specific reasons, but it’s become a lot more clear to me that the industry has reached a time where it’s probably to be aware that it will happen, and I think that this post as originally written neglected to address both sides of the issue fairly.
A big thank you and hugs to everyone that I’ve talked to today about this. Much love to all of you. [ ]-)