Tuesday, February 24, 2015


SteamVR is coming

Today Valve announced it will be scheduling demos of its upcoming SteamVR dev kit at GDC.

Here is a screen capture of the site in case it changes over time:

What does this mean? How does this stack up against Oculus? Is this important?

This is potentially game changing. Here is why

1. VR Development

Valve has been doing VR research and development for years. Long before Palmer's Rift, Valve was secretly working on VR and determining its feasibility.

Here is  a review of someone trying out their demo last year:

 They showed an updated version here (and yea, that is bulky):

2. Oculus and Valve

Here is a quick recap of Oculus's origins by Brendan Iribe

A little later he talks about how instrumental Valve was in their success:

The Oculus Rift was a major accomplishment but it lacked presence. After Oculus's success with its kickstarter Valve invited them to visit their R&D center. It was at that point that Oculus understood the true power of VR. Valve's headset created a true sense of presence. Valve shared their secrets on what made a VR headset work.

Oculus went back to their offices and improved the Rift based on what they learned from Valve.

Later enters Facebook and their acquisition. This isn't a bad thing but I don't think it rubbed Valve the right way:

Here is the quote in case it vaporizes:

It would be sad if there's bitterness between the two companies right now:
I'm pretty sure that there IS bitterness between the two companies.
Valve helps Oculus by giving them research, and Oculus turns around and sells out to Facebook.
It's well known that Valve does possess advanced VR HMDs that they've formerly used for internal research.
It's pretty likely that they're pushing out their own consumer HMD.

To further elaborate: I went on a tour of Valve this past summer and asked them about their VR plans.
The tour guide mentioned that originally, they weren't planning to release their own VR hardware,
but that they had changed their minds after Facebook bought Oculus.

3. The Steam Machine

In 2012 rumors began to emerge about Valve offering a hardware platform for Steam.
In 2013 at CES a prototype of a Steam Machine was shown. Later that year they announced Steam Machines.

In 2014 they held a developer conference primarily targeted at helping developers port their games to Linux.

After that Valve went silent. They delayed the Steam Machine and continued to iterate on the Steam Controller. They left all of the hardware partners hanging and the steam machine and controller were declared dead by most media outlets:

Then earlier this year (2015) they announced they would be showcasing the Steam Machine.

I've been monitoring news of the event carefully and there has been no hint of what they would be showing... until now.

4. Open Software Platform

Facebook did not buy Oculus to just further VR development. They funded it to make money.
Hardware is a competitive space. Any advances they make will soon be caught by rival companies.
To me it seems like the best bet is to create a source of ongoing revenue which would likely come from an app store similar to Apple's app store. This means a closed software ecosystem.

Compare that to Steam. I love Steam. If I can buy a game on multiple platforms and it is on Steam I always choose Steam. This is because I can run the game on any laptop or PC I own. My hardware can continue to improve and my games can just be installed on the fastest rig I have.

With Steam, Valve has an open an instant delivery mechanism for software for the VR headset.

5. Game Development Experience

Oculus has some great minds working for them. No question there. Carmack and Abrash are the VR dream team. I have no doubt they will deliver great hardware. Here is Carmack talking about GearVR. He is clearly pushing the envelop of mobile displays:

The problem is that Oculus is not a game development shop. They hired Jason Rubin to head game development:

But... is that enough? Time will tell.

Other large game companies are waiting in the wings on VR. They are not willing to invest in a game for VR. Valve isn't waiting. I don't know what they have in store for us next week at GDC but it could be great. If anyone is going to make a AAA game that works well with VR it is going to be Valve.

6. Cash Reserves

Facebook acquired Oculus for 2 billion dollars. That is a lot of money but that isn't the same as their cash flow. That was acquision money. That is what Facebook valued Oculus at.

Valve, on the other hand, is sitting on mounds of cash. In 2012 they were valued at 3 billion dollars. I imagine that figure is even higher now:

7. High End Developers

Both Oculus and Valve have high end developers. Oculus's does have 2 things going for them:
1. Their primary focus as a company is VR
2. They have Carmack and Abrash

Valve's hiring and org structure are very unique. Gabe has spoken about it several times:

Here is Valve's employee handbook:

Final Thoughts

What does this all add up to? I thought I'd make a grid of who has what:

This is by no means a complete picture of the VR landscape but illustrates some of the dynamics between the 3 main contenders. I haven't included GearVR because I wanted to focus on a high-end VR solution.

If Valve can deliver a high-end VR headset with the Steam Machine and a great AAA title it could be a the perfect sweet spot between functionality and game play.

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