There’s always been a fundamental difference between the console and PC world’s when it comes to videogames, and that’s the exclusivity factor. Console manufacturers thrive on tapping the best content for their systems, either trying to have complete control over a title or at least timed in some way in regards to third-party releases. This has never been the case when it comes to PC due to the nature of the hardware, if a videogame comes out all you need is the required spec to run it. However, when PC-based virtual reality (VR) headsets arrived on the scene the sort of rivalry only seen on consoles suddenly arrived, much to the dismay of many a PC gamer. Yet that rivalry is beginning to thaw, much to the benefit of everyone.
When Oculus Rift and HTC Vive arrived in 2016 only days apart it was seen as a new frontier in gaming, two VR headsets offering the latest technological advancements for consumers the world over. However, straight from the off there was natural competition due to HTC Vive coming supplied with motion controllers and Oculus Rift with an Xbox game pad. This meant choosing a device not necessarily on its features but its available software.
Thankfully, as time has gone on Oculus Touch was introduced as well as the OpenVR initiative to enable easier porting of titles between the two, meaning platforms like Steam started offering content applicable to both. Obstacles still remained as both manufacturers and developers tried to make an ecosystem that was open and easily accessed by all.
If there’s one sure fire way of continuing that process it’s by way of their individual stores, which HTC did by surprising everyone yesterday with its Viveport announcement. On the surface it just means Oculus Rift users have access to another store with which to purchase content, and with Steam and Oculus Store already available to them why would they need another?
Yet the announcement has far more reaching consequences for consumers and VR companies as it means those walls are gradually breaking down, evolving the VR industry along a positive path. Adding greater choice and flexibility for users whilst offering greater monetization of content for studios of all sizes.
Of course one of the big features of Viveport is its subscription service. From $8.99 USD per month users can select five videogames to play then change or keep them the following month. While it may not be to everyone’s liking a benefit of a service like that is continual choice. Customers don’t need to buy a title at full price and risk not enjoying it, instead paying a smaller monthly fee to try lots of experiences, the only downside is you don’t own them.
It was never a service Oculus had planned on implementing when you consider Oculus VP of Content Jason Rubin’s previous comments on the subject. When support for Oculus Rift does arrive in September it’ll give them the same flexibility HTC Vive users have been enjoying for a while now, so long as developers opt-in and allow that function – and why not, when it adds a further revenue stream?
So while Oculus and HTC are making inroads to a more universal industry which makes cross-compatibility easier, and could lead to cheaper prices, the one loose cannon is PlayStation VR. Sony Interactive Entertainment’s (SIE) headset seems to be the outright success story when it comes to high-end VR with over 3 million systems sold, a sure enticement for any developer looking to make a profit. But the process for getting a videogame on the system isn’t easy, especially if a studio wants to add cross-compatible multiplayer. Which is a shame but likely not to change due to the SIE runs its business and the success already achieved.
This might be where we see a tangible split in consumer VR, between the lofty airy goals of Viveport, OpenVR, OpenXR and others and the controlled, insular system found on console. Doesn’t the manta go something along the lines of ‘stronger together than apart’, if so, good things are likely to follow?