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Sweeney: VR platforms must stay open, Oculus following “the wrong model”

Epic Games co-founder believes Oculus is making the same mistake as Apple in cutting off its audience from other virtual reality users

Tim Sweeney has urged virtual reality platform holders to ensure their devices and marketplaces are open to other providers in order to avoid the same monopoly that affects a significant portion of the smartphone market.

Speaking to Glixel, the co-founder of Epic Games said he sees "a lot going on that's wrong" in other tech sectors, and points to Apple as a prime example. While he thinks its fine for the firm to be the only distributor of its hardware, he disagrees with their monopoly on distributing software and collecting in-app revenue.

His added that virtual reality pioneer Oculus seems to be operating in a similar way to Apple, adding that this is "the wrong model" for virtual reality and something Sweeney "argued passionately against".

"When you install the Oculus drivers, by default you can only use the Oculus store," he said. "You have to rummage through the menu and turn that off if you want to run Steam. Which everybody does. It's just alienating and sends the wrong message to developers. It's telling developers: 'You're on notice here. We're going to dominate this thing. And your freedom is going to expire at some point.' It's a terrible precedent to set."

Sweeney believes that ultimately the open platforms will win as they will have a better selection of software. He praised HTC Vive for being such a platform and noted that the device is currently outselling Oculus two-to-one around the world, a trend he expects to continue.

The Epic Games founder acknowledged that his firm is making a closed-platform game for Oculus in the form of Robo Recall, a title that stemmed from Unreal Engine's Bullet Train VR demo. However, he attributed this to the fact that the game is funded by Oculus and could never have been built on a budget based purely on sales.

"The Oculus store... is an awesome store [but] should run on all PC and VR devices," he said. "Oculus would do best if they tried to bring users into their store by supporting HTC Vive and Oculus Rift and any other PC hardware that comes out. I think if they don't do that, they're going to pretty quickly fail, because you're not going to want to buy a multiplayer game that you can't play with half of your VR friends."

Sweeney previously spoke out about the need for open virtual reality platforms during his keynote at the latest Steam Dev Day, saying: "It would be really tragic if we let the future metaverse, that binds all humanity together into shared online environments, were a closed platform controlled by a giant corporation.

"As always, they'd use it to spam you with advertising, they'd use it to gather information about your private life and sell it to the highest bidder, and they'd act as the universal intermediary between all users, content creators, and transactions, ensuring that everything has to be approved by them."

In March 2016, Sweeney also expressed concerns about Microsoft's plans for its Universal Windows Platform, accusing the firm of trying to take complete control of the PC ecosystem - a standpoint he reiterated over the following months.

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Latest comments (3)

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 9 months ago
Good thing Microsoft is developing exactly that API, and I hVe at least one game on Steam, Adr1ft that will work with the rift

Vice is only outselling because of the Room VR thing, none of these numbers have had time to be changed by the Touch controllers.

In the end, Facebook has the finances to take out Vive any time they want to. Drop it to $300 (likely approximately cost) when Scorpio comes out, assuming that they work together, and that's likely the end not only of HTC but the Vive
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 9 months ago
But the HTC Vive isn't really an open platform at all, their own platform is also rather locked to their headset. Steam is the semi open platform, because it is the largest digital store, doesn't mean it's open at all (enough games are locked to the HTC Vive headset too).
But I agree, Oculus should open up their SDK to other headsets, but then again, they always said they will support Oculus platform certified devices, which means devices which use the Oculus SDK. It's HTC that's not supporting the Oculus SDK, not the other way round (I'm pretty sure if HTC would natively support the Oculus SDK (and 'certify' it) they would get acces to the store, but that's not in the interest of HTC (or it's partner Valve).
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The failure to manage expectations, and an initial greed to try and control the VR universe has resulted in a confused start to this latest attempt to establish VR in the mainstream (Phase Four). The questions on the veracity and effectiveness of OVR's management team to the task and the possibility that directly or indirectly their actions could have stifled the hopes to achieve momentum for consumer VR will be left to the post mortem after the next round of restructuring at the SoCal offices.

The harsh facts are that 2016 was not the "Year of VR", the hardware has major limitations (price, games, sim sickness, hazards, complexity of use, etc.,) and the attempt to create a "walled garden" around specific HMD's struck people as weird and not a little counter intuitive to the previous Post Kickstarter claims of a Open System for all. It is amazing how many of the same mistakes from the failed 1997 attempt to establish VR have been repeated. Most investors have not signed on for VR in 2015 to hear it is now "10-years off at least" - someone has clearly over-hyped this tech again!

As one fixated on the Out-of-Home Entertainment application of all immersive technology, I am heartened by the explosion of interest in high-end VR development and the sudden influx of VR Arcade and Location-based entertainment opportunities - opportunities I hope content developers from the consumer sector can play a part in.

It is just the manipulation of the consumer story that concerns me, time to broaden the coverage of the market, rather than naval gaze at the missed opportunities poluted by a few!
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