Oculus Is Hurting VR's Development By Supporting Walled Gardens, Closed Ecosystems

from the tear-down-the-wall dept

Facebook’s Oculus Rift was originally expected to lead the virtual reality charge and become a shining example of “VR done right,” but a bungled launch and a series of sloppy public relations missteps have ensured that won’t be happening any time soon.

The company generated a tidal wave of ill will after production issues delayed Oculus pre-order ship dates by two months or more. That was compounded by some overly broad terms of service language, and an Oculus decision to sell some headsets at Best Buy before pre-order customers had received their own headsets. Combined with a lack of “room scale” support (the ability to move freely in space using handheld controllers) out of the gate and a general nervousness about Facebook’s snooping tendencies, Oculus has effectively given the HTC Vive a huge PR advantage as VR begins to slowly claw its way towards mainstream adoption.

Oculus isn’t helping matters much this week with moves that indicate Facebook and Oculus are very much keen on embracing walled gardens, DRM, and closed ecosystems at a time when VR very much needs the exact opposite to thrive.

As it stands, Oculus Rift owners can play non-roomscale games designed for the Rift via the SteamVR store. In contrast, HTC Vive customers can’t play games designed for the Oculus Rift, since Oculus and Facebook have decided to lean heavily on exclusives out of the gate. To play Oculus games, many Vive customers had taken to using third-party software known as Revive. But in a recent post to Reddit, Revive developers say Oculus and Facebook have deployed an update that stops the workaround in its tracks:

“From my preliminary research it seems that Oculus has also added a check whether the Oculus Rift headset is connected to their Oculus Platform DRM. And while Revive fools the application in thinking the Rift is connected, it does nothing to make the actual Oculus Platform think the headset is connected. Because only the Oculus Platform DRM has been changed this means that none of the Steam or standalone games were affected. Only games published on the Oculus Store that use the Oculus Platform SDK are affected”

Oculus is denying that the software update was specifically targeting Revive, only telling a number of different news outlets that the update was necessary to help curb piracy. Most of the comments to the media imply that shucks — hacks like Revive just occasionally break during the course of software updates:

“We take the security, functionality and integrity of our system software very seriously and people should expect that hacked games won?t work indefinitely as regular updates to content, apps and our platform may break the hacks.”

However, Revive developers say the update isn’t checking to see whether or not software was legitimately purchased, but whether or not the Oculus headset itself is connected and being used to experience that content. To get around Oculus’ update, the Revive developers have been forced to issue their own update that bypasses all DRM and ownership checks in order to work, something the developers say isn’t the path they wanted to take and makes piracy easier than before:

“LibreVR has some concerns about hacking into purchase-protecting DRM in order to get around the Rift’s hardware exclusivity. “I am worried about whether I’m helping piracy by implementing this workaround,” he said. “When possible I’d like my workaround to help developers generate more revenue, not hurt that revenue.” On the other hand, LibreVR also added that “pirates will always find a way to work around DRM, [so] I don’t think my effort significantly contributed to that.”

So at the end of the day, Oculus’ latest decision to lock down its ecosystem not only pissed off the userbase, it contributed to a cat and mouse arms race that may actually ramp up the potential for piracy. Where’s the benefit again?

Oculus’ fall from grace among the VR faithful has been accelerated at times by company founder Palmer Luckey, who has been mercilessly hammered over at Reddit for repeatedly flip-flopping on claims regarding the headset. For example, this is what Luckey said about the ability to use different titles on different headsets last December:

“If customers buy a game from us, I don’t care if they mod it to run on whatever they want. Our goal is not to profit by locking people to only our hardware?if it was, why in the world would we be supporting GearVR and talking with other headset makers? The software we create through Oculus Studios (using a mix of internal and external developers) are exclusive to the Oculus platform, not the Rift itself.”

Except the company’s behavior has focused on the exact opposite: Oculus and Facebook (or predominantly Facebook) pretty clearly believe that a closed door, walled garden approach to VR development is the path forward. The problem is that with a high cost of entry, the VR development community is already struggling for mainstream adoption; VR is very much in the 1.0 era and very much in a period of experimentation, and many (including Valve) believe that more open, cross platform development will help ensure a broader, happier overall userbase. From the overall negative timbre of the VR community right now, Oculus appears intent on learning this the hard way.

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Companies: facebook, oculus

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Comments on “Oculus Is Hurting VR's Development By Supporting Walled Gardens, Closed Ecosystems”

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16 Comments
AJ says:

I almost climbed on board the hype train for this gadget and pre-ordered it. I’ve very glad I didn’t. I predict Steam is going to clean the floor with them when the initial hype dies down. Yes the Steam platform is somewhat walled in too, but they offer an incredible amount of tools, content, support, and modding ability to offset that one drawback… if you want to even call it a drawback.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have a blast every night when I get home from work and pop into my vive. Roomscale does contribute greatly to the experience and the hand held controllers work quite well. I had also originally ordered the rift, but lost all faith when I realized facebook bought them out. Order cancelled and vive bought instead. Just played portal stories vr last night. Expensive to set up initially but worth the cash. Be sure to pickup a 980ti / 970ti video card at a minimum tho.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

As someone who has been excited about this tech for years before Rift even started on, I find this kind of thing so extremely frustrating. I have a head mounted display from the 90s. Used to play the original Unreal Tournament with it. I LOVED it back then but the draw back was horribly low resolution due to the LCD technology of the day. They couldn’t make a high resolution screen that small.

Now take a moment and think about that. I had something like the Rift 20 years ago. This stuff is not at all “new” it is just that finally some companies are starting to build it for the mainstream.

What really makes me furious is that I have been waiting for these devices for around 20 years, and now these morons are trying to fuck it all up? Finally we are going to have somewhat affordable VR gear with actual VR software instead of poorly hacked games, and these morons are trying to kill the adoption of it with stupid DRM bickering and mistreating their most loyal fans?

I really do HATE greedy corporate morons.

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