Oculus Reverses DRM Course After Public Backlash

from the power-to-the-vr-people dept

Weeks back, Karl Bode wrote about the curious position Oculus Rift had taken in updating its software to include system-checking DRM. VR headset technology and game development, experiencing the first serious attempt at maturity in years, needs an open ecosystem in which to develop. What this DRM essentially did was remove the ability for games designed to run on the Rift from running on any other VR headset, with a specific targeting of community-built workarounds like Revive, which allowed HTC Vive owners to get Rift games running on that headset. Oculus, it should be noted, didn't announce the DRM aspect of the update; it just spit out the update and the public suddenly learned that programs like Revive no longer worked.

The backlash, to put it mildly, was swift and severe. Oculus having been acquired by Facebook likely didn't help what were already negative perceptions, supercharging the outcry with allegations of the kind of protectionism and the lack of care for the public that Facebook has enjoyed for roughly ever. Still, many saw the whole thing as peons screaming at a feudal lord: Oculus would simply ignore the whole thing. Just weeks ago, in fact, Oculus was working journalists at E3 in defense of the DRM.

The problem, [Oculus Head of Content Jason] Rubin said, comes with the wholesale distribution of a hack like Revive to the whole community, rather than to a few individuals. "[A personal hack] is a far cry difference from an institutional tool made and distributed to a mass number of people to [support other headsets], strip out DRM, strip out platform features and the like. For an individual to do that for themselves, that would be all right. Mass distribution is an entirely different situation."

No explanation on why the level of access to the workaround makes all the difference appears to have been offered, but it seems likely that the company didn't want to appear to be going after gamers and tinkerers, only larger development outfits. If so, the attempt didn't work, because software like Revive was in high demand. This is to be expected, as VR is just now starting to sprout from the seeds laid long ago, with impressive but limited options for both hardware and games to run on that hardware. Those limitations mean that any attempt at exclusivity being tied to hardware that is relatively expensive walls off each of the gardens and limits access and interest. For a technology still in its early stages, this would only stifle growth. Hence, the anger from the public.

Anger which appears to have worked, contrary to what some had thought. As silently as Oculus rolled out the DRM, it has now spit out an update which rolls it back. The world found out about it not from Oculus itself, which curiously didn't want to capitalize on some good press for once, but from Revive's development team.

The Oculus team has reversed course on one of its most unpopular decisions since launching the Rift VR headset in April: headset-specific DRM. After weeks of playing cat-and-mouse to block the "Revive" workaround, which translated the VR calls of Oculus games to work smoothly and seamlessly inside of the rival HTC Vive, Oculus quietly updated its hardware-specific runtime on Friday and removed all traces of that controversial DRM.

What's more, Oculus didn't mention the change in its runtime update notes, which are curiously future-dated one day forward on Saturday, June 25. The news instead broke when Revive's head developer posted a note on the project's Github download page. "I've only just tested this and I'm still in disbelief," the unnamed LibreVR developer wrote. Accordingly, the Revive team has since removed the patch's DRM-disabling feature, which had later been implemented as an extreme measure to make Oculus games play on the HTC Vive.

It appears that even when Oculus chooses to listen to its fans and potential customers, it can't be bothered to do so publicly. This strips its ability to claim credit for the move, credit which it desperately needs after several negative news cycles. Still, the company's PR ineptitude aside, it's a nice lesson in what public backlash and shaming can do to pressure a company to be a little more open.

Filed Under: drm, interoperability, oculus rift, revive, vr
Companies: facebook, oculus


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2016 @ 6:59pm

    I won't be buying an Oculus brand. Period. They have already demonstrated that what you bought isn't yours. Why would I want to spend money on something like that? In 2 years they may again have a change of heart.

    If I buy something I expect it to work till it wears out. Oculus has already ruined it's reputation and I am not about to believe it won't do it again.

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