Love Facebook or hate it, there’s no denying that the social network giant has done a lot for virtual reality (VR) and the XR industry as a whole. Without Facebook’s cash Oculus wouldn’t have grown the way it did and been able to support so many developers, thus increasing that much-needed content. Sure, it hasn’t been a smooth ride – when is it ever? – and the original founders have all now gone but there is still drive and determination to make the technology succeed. Acquisitions are part and parcel of the process and Facebook buying Beat Saber developer Beat Games is both bold and divisive as any the company has made.
Mention VR and Beat Saber is never far away. Ever since its Early Access release in 2018 the videogame has gone on to attain massive popularity on each of the headsets it supports. When a PlayStation VR version arrived at the end of 2018 the title sat at the top of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s (SIE) download charts for many months – and still continues to do so. It was in May 2019 when Beat Saber sealed its dominance, fully released for PC VR headsets with a level editor, as well as a version for Oculus Quest.
Since then Beat Games continues to keep Beat Saber interesting and relevant with a regular rollout of new tracks, affiliating with the likes of Panic! At the Disco, Imagine Dragons and Monstercat. These official music packs are all the more important for closed ecosystem devices like PlayStation VR and Oculus Quest, where third-party tune modding isn’t an option.
So this brings us to the dilemma that is the Facebook acquisition of Beat Games. It’s certainly good from the developer’s point of view as it means greater financial security whilst being able to focus on making the experience even better – the announcement did confirm the highly anticipated 360° Levels mode is coming in December 2019. This also means any future updates (sequels?) will likely come to Oculus platforms first. The big question is exclusivity?
Now Facebook has tried to quell these fears straight away by answering a couple of these questions via the Oculus Blog. When asked about: “slowing down updates for non-Oculus platforms and prioritizing development for Oculus?” Mike Verdu, Director of Content responded: “No, Beat Games will continue to ship content and updates for Beat Saber at the same time across all currently supported platforms.”
And as for Beat Games remaining independent Verdu added: “The Beat Games team will operate the same way they have to date as an independent studio, and they’ll continue to work on Beat Saber across all currently supported platforms.”
While both remarks are promising there’s no getting away from the fact that Facebook runs the Oculus platform and store much more like a console, with exclusives like Stormland and Asgard’s Wrath there to entice customers. Facebook ultimately wants you to own an Oculus product, and exclusive software is a sure-fire way of doing that. What better way of bringing more people under the Oculus umbrella than a Beat Saber exclusive.
This also may be a response to Insomniac Games joining Sony Worldwide Studios. PlayStation VR has already seen massive success, having a developer with so much VR experience – alongside all of its other videogame content – is a huge plus. Don’t forget that all of Insomniac Games VR titles – Stormland, Edge of Nowhere, Feral Rites, The Unspoken – can only be found on Oculus Store, which can make a huge difference.
Commenting on the news to VRFocus, Admix’s CEO Sam Huber said: “From a business point of view, it’s very exciting to see that Facebook is buying successful VR studios as Playstation has done in the past. Beat Games embodies what it means to be a successful VR studio and this exit will energise the developer community to follow in their footsteps.”
Facebook will have a strategy when it comes to investing in small worthwhile developers as Oculus Studios can’t carry the burden of first-party content on its own. So expect Facebook’s umbrella to widen ever further in 2020 as the future of VR is continually nurtured. Plus, if a videogame is doing very well across all platforms surely it doesn’t make sense to dampen that momentum by narrowing the audience.