“Holiday 2015?” A virtual echo could be heard around the internet when HTC said those words on 1st March 2015. It was a second, much more exasperated echo, following the eye-widening news that the company had partnered with legendary developer Valve to create a new virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), the HTC Vive. Just moments later, the Taiwanese smartphone maker confirmed that new device would be launching at the end of this very year, making it the first major HMD to get a date and, quite likely, beat out much of the competition.
But how can HTC go from reveal to release in around 10 months?
Make no mistake about it; the HTC Vive is a well-kept secret. A handful of indie developers were revealed to be working on the device at its debut at Mobile World Congress (MWC), each of which has closely guarded the secret until now. Outside of those teams, it appears that no one knew about the Vive. It’s a very deliberate move in order to keep the project under wraps. It’s possible that other companies working on titles may have known about the kit ahead of reveal, but this wasn’t something the Valve shared with everyone and anyone.
While it’s no doubt impressive to keep such a significant product under wraps for so long, it does create some concerns. With so little time between the release of development kits – expected later this spring – and the launch of the consumer version, how does Valve expect to support the Vive at launch? Is the work of a handful of indie developers going to be enough?
The answer could very well lie in the most unexpected of places; the Oculus Rift. Undeniably the biggest contender to what many consider to be the product responsible for reigniting VR, the HTC Vive could well be looking towards the 100,000+ developers out there that are already in possession of Oculus Rift kits for support. With no release date for the consumer version of Oculus VR’s PC-based device, developers will surely find the idea of porting their videogames, some of which are ready and waiting, over to the HTC Vive very appealing. They’ll still hit the Oculus Rift as well, of course, but HTC and Valve may well get there first.
VRFocus has spoken to a number of developers ready to sign up for a Vive. If the porting process is made easy, then it could well be that many developers will see their first true consumer releases with Valve over Oculus VR.
Valve is also planning to issue its first development kits for free, further enticing teams to hop on board. Of course, few of these titles will fit the user-tracking featured in the Vive thanks to Steam VR’s base stations, but the company has confirmed that the kit doesn’t force this control scheme onto titles. Instead, Vive will support seated experiences as well, meaning just about any Oculus Rift title should be able to find its way onto the platform. If this sounds like something of a coup d’état against Oculus VR, consider the Vive’s very existence means that Valve has gone back on its intentions to support the Oculus Rift over releasing its own hardware.
Neither side will openly admit it, but Oculus VR and Valve are about to go to war. The HTC Vive’s holiday 2015 release is simply the first shot fired. Whether it’s on-target or a misfire is more up to VR developers than it is Valve.