Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games and creator of Unreal Engine, has a unique position in the virtual reality industry. As an active supporter of VR and head of one of gaming’s most important VR-compatible game engines, when Sweeney speaks, we tend to listen.
In a recent interview with Glixel’s Chris Suellentrop, besides giving his predictions of where VR is headed in the next 12 years and some of the acculturation society will go through to integrate VR into daily life, Sweeney dropped some surprising information about just how successful the HTC Vive headset has been in comparison to the Oculus Rift. He says that out of the approximately half-a-million PC VR headsets sold to date, HTC Vive “is outselling Oculus 2-to-1 worldwide.”
Sweeney hasn’t qualified those numbers with any specific source, and neither Oculus or HTC have given specific numbers publically, so we only have his word to go on. Still, the question remains—why? According to Sweeney, the biggest factor is Oculus’ walled garden approach to software. And if it’s continued, Sweeney says, it could mean trouble for Oculus.
“When you install the Oculus drivers, by default you can only use the Oculus store. 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. I argued passionately against it,” Sweeney says.
“But ultimately, the open platforms will win. They’re going to have a much better selection of software. HTC Vive is a completely open platform. And other headsets are coming that will be completely open. HTC Vive is outselling Oculus 2-to-1 worldwide. I think that trend will continue.”
Thanks to Valve’s OpenVR API, most commercially available VR headsets have access to Steam’s VR library including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and OSVR. The same however is not true for the Oculus Store, which only officially supports the Rift (unless you install Revive—but that’s another story).
“Any software that requires human communication is completely dysfunctional if it’s locked to a platform. And everything in VR and AR will be socially centric. Communicating with other people is an integral part of the experience. Look at the top mobile communication apps. They’re all multiplatform: Instagram, Facebook. They are only useful if you can communicate with all of your friends. If Apple had the most awesome chat platform ever, but it only ran on Apple devices, guess what? It wouldn’t succeed. Because half of your friends have Android devices.”
While Sweeney points to Oculus’ closed-platform approach, there’s certainly other variables that could lead to an install-base lead for the Vive. For one, Oculus doesn’t ship to China, a massive potential market where VR is growing rapidly, and one which HTC is pursuing aggressively with deals to put the Vive in thousands of VR arcades across the country. To our knowledge, Oculus also doesn’t have a Rift offering specifically for enterprise customers. HTC on the other hand offers the Vive Business Edition, which comes with dedicated enterprise support and a warranty that covers commercial use.
But what about Epic Games’ upcoming Oculus exclusive Robo Recall (2017)? Sweeney advocates for an open platform, but the studio is clearly intending to profit from Oculus’ closed-app marketplace. Sweeney responds:
“Yes. It’s funded by Oculus. It was a budget that could never be funded just on the basis of sales. So that enabled us to do some cool things. My view is that the Oculus store, which is an awesome store, should run on all PC and VR devices. 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.”
We spoke with Oculus’ Head of Content Jason Rubin at Gamescom 2016, and he maintains that Oculus’ penchant for exclusive content “is the only way to viably jumpstart the market.” Check out the full article to get Rubin’s take on it.