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VR vs. Exclusives

Exclusives have changed dramatically over the past decade. In the PlayStation 2-dominated landscape of 10 years ago companies like Square Enix were happily bringing anticipated RPGs and sequels to just one platform. But that’s clearly no longer the case, as the same publisher’s announcement last year that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be a holiday 2015 exclusive on Xbox One was met with such negativity that it was practically forced to admit a PlayStation 4 version would also be arriving later on. Unless you’re owned by a platform holder or having your content published by one, the chances are that you’ll want your videogame to reach as many platforms as possible. How is that going to translate to VR?

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If you’ve been following VRFocus for the past few months since the reveal of the HTC Vive, you’ve probably noticed a pattern developing in interviews with content creators. Those working on VR titles for the Oculus Rift are, more often than not, all too happy to announce that they will be bringing their work to the HTC Vive and Project Morpheus on PlayStation 4 as well. This is hardly surprising; the HTC Vive operates on PC, where any developer can release their projects, while Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) has made strides in making the PlayStation 4 itself an open platform.

In fact, so successful has SCE been in its indie story that many developers simply assume they will be able to bring their product to the platform in time.

It’s a healthy ecosystem to be supporting. No one knows how VR is going to perform when it first hits the consumer market and it can only help those brave enough to support it early on to bring it to as many platforms as possible. Someone working on the Oculus Rift can greatly expand their potential audience by porting to PlayStation 4 and Project Morpheus, something that a number of VR devs have noted is a relatively painless task.

But exclusives are still set to play a big role in the VR landscape going forward. After all, how else will Oculus VR be able to distance itself from the HTC Vive? What better way to convince an audience with enough money for just one HMD to buy yours than by having the best content?

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In fact, all 3 companies seem to be working towards this goal. Oculus VR has announced a handful of Oculus Rift exclusives so far, including Lucky’s Tale from Playful and Herobound: Spirit Champions from Gunfire Games. It remains to be seen if other titles closely associated with the kit, including the latter’s Chronos, Insomniac Games’ Edge of Nowhere and Sanzaru Games’ VR Sports Challenge, will be true Oculus Rift exclusives, but their close association makes it seem likely.

Valve and SCE are yet to show their cards when it comes to true exclusives for their respective systems. Both companies own some important IP and studios that could steal headlines with VR versions. Valve in itself is a big name, responsible for many a beloved modern classic. And the company has brought IP such as Portal and DOTA 2 to VR, but merely as tech demos for now. Is it working on a full sequel to either of these or, dare we say it, the Half-Life franchise to suit VR? The latter especially would kick-start VR’s arrival for sure.

SCE, meanwhile, continues to showcase the work of third-party teams and tech demos from SCE London for the most part. The company showed great promise at E3 2015 by revealing RIGS: Mechanised Combat League from the team at Guerrilla Cambridge, but PlayStation fans want to see others getting involved with the tech too. Naughty Dog’s penchant for storytelling seems like the perfect match for immersive, cinematic VR experiences, while Guerrilla Games’ own familiarity with the first-person shooter (FPS) genre will need to be capitalised on at some point.

VR isn’t set to suffer a content drought; indie developers will see to that much. But, while third-party projects will continue to steadily arrive for all 3 HMDs, it’s going to be the exclusives that emerge as the ones to watch and truly separate each one. HTC Vive may seem ahead of the pack with its Room Scale tracking, but what good is that if the experience that seems best suited to it is exclusive to one of the other platforms? As we finally gear up for the consumer launches of these kits, this is one area that’s going to be fascinating to watch.