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VR vs Ubisoft on OSVR

2014 was a banner year for virtual reality (VR) technology with the release of the Oculus Rift head-mounted display’s (HMD) second development kit (DK2), Samsung’s Gear VR HMD and the reveal of the Project Morpheus HMD for PlayStation 4. The 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in particular was an exciting time, though somewhat dulled by a grounded comment from videogame publishing giant, Ubisoft. The company stated that VR HMDs would have to sell upwards of one million units before the technology became viable for development.

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It was a comment that pulled VR enthusiasts back down to earth, reminding them that there was still a long way to go before the technology hit the mainstream. But fast forward a year and Ubisoft has changed its tune somewhat. At the 2015 edition of GDC, which took place earlier this month, the publisher was announced as one of a handful of companies joining the Open-Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) ecosystem. This unique concept brings together creators, input solutions, development engines and, evidently, publishers in order to provide an open platform for accessible VR development.

Ubisoft’s inclusion in the list doesn’t necessarily confirm that the company has its own VR videogames in the works, but certainly suggests it is at least somehow involved with the technology. It’s a somewhat surprising move given that VR hasn’t even had a chance to sell those million units yet; Oculus VR has sold over 100,000 non-consumer development kits and Gear VR’s limited launch has been aimed more towards enthusiasts than the mass market.

So, why the change of heart?

Ubisoft’s original comment seemed to become less relevant as 2014 progressed. Social network giant Facebook, for example, announced its $2 billion USD acquisition of Oculus VR just weeks after GDC while Samsung also placed heavy emphasis on the technology with the reveal of Gear VR in the latter half of the year. True, these facts don’t directly translate to sales statistics, but they certainly go a long way to proving that VR will someday be consumer viable.

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The publisher also likely recognises that VR will need support from developers to even reach that lofty goal in the first place. Ubisoft is no stranger to taking risks on new platforms and technology, having complemented software line-ups for the launch of PlayStation Move and Kinect on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively. The company has also been one of the biggest supporters of Nintendo’s struggling console, the Wii U, bringing some of its biggest franchises to the device until it recently suggested that it might have to stop.

Again, Ubisoft hasn’t confirmed it is working on a VR videogame, but it certainly holds some key franchises that are ripe for integration with the technology. Assassin’s Creed’s action might be hard to translate into VR but the series’ unbeatable historical locations are just begging for an immersive exploration experience. The Rayman franchise has found ways to innovate on Wii U and PlayStation Vita; no doubt it could do the same for VR.

Of course, Ubisoft is just one publisher and there may well be others that adhere to the rule it set last year. The likes of EA, Activision, Konami and more are yet to really comment on the possibility of developing VR videogames. For VR to become truly mainstream support will have to come from more than one top-tier company and hopefully more will come on board as the year progresses.

VRFocus has speculated in the past that, despite these comments, Ubisoft might be one of the first publishers to support VR. It’s reveal as the first major AAA publisher to sign up to OSVR certainly suggests that this could well be the case.