A Better Way?

The data shows us that Facebook’s investments in Oculus exclusive content have positively benefited the content library early on, but that benefit shrank as time went on and VR games released in the library improved over time. But could the company have done more with the same money?

Some have argued that Facebook could have made a greater impact by making a larger number of smaller bets, instead of a smaller number of big bets on games aiming for AAA scope.

“When you fund a startup, your goal is to fund a company that will ultimately become a ‘unicorn’ (e.g. worth $1 billion). If you play the numbers game correctly, you can invest $10 million into 10 companies, and if just one of them becomes worth $1 billion someday, you’ve made your money back […],” said indie VR developer Gerald McAlister, in a conversation with Road to VR prior to taking a position at Oculus. “This seems to be the approach that Oculus took: Invest several tens of millions of dollars into some big studios, and hope that what comes out is good. The problem is that their goals are not aligned with what startups want. E.g. Oculus does not care about making a large profit from their investment directly, but just a decent profit with the ability to have more good titles on their platform. By taking this approach, Oculus has ended up in a situation where of the [hundreds of millions of dollars] they’ve supposedly [invested in VR content] they have ended up with no games to get above a 90 on Metacritic (the highest rated is Lone Echo at 89 and the lowest rated is the recent Medal of Honor). They have a half dozen AAA games, but few with the quality the platform needed.”

McAlister believes the company would have made a greater impact in improving its VR content library if it had made many smaller bets.

“This is where I say their approach should have actually been the opposite: split up [the content investment] and give it to a bunch of smaller studios […]. Beat Saber has as high of a rating has Half-Life: Alyx, yet a fraction of the budget (more than likely). Superhot VR has an 83 on Metacritic, well above what Medal of Honor has, yet started as a game-jam game. Games like LOW-FI and Smash Drums are high risk, but also potentially high reward for Oculus in terms of what they bring to the platform,” McAlister said. “$100,000 to an indie dev stretches much farther than I think Oculus and others realize, and would allow them to fund thousands of games in an instant. If just 1% of those games turned into another I Expect You to Die title, that would be 50 titles with higher scores than what Medal of Honor had. That’s a major selling point for VR right now, and would likely open the flood gates in ways that most consoles haven’t even seen before.”

Without knowing the exact amounts Facebook has spent funding various game, it’s hard to conclusively say if their approach was ‘worth it’, or they would have been better off by spending the money in different portions.

With Quest, Facebook opted to curate the headset’s content library for the first time. The company said it believed it made a mistake in having an open store with Oculus PC, which led to too many low quality titles that customers found it difficult to find the gems. The curated approach on Quest has led to a smaller library of higher quality content compared to Oculus PC’s larger quantity of lower quality content:

However, to McAlister’s point, only four of Facebook’s ‘big bet’ games are among the 20 best rated Oculus PC titles today.

Rank Name Rating (# of ratings)
#1 The Room VR: A Dark Matter 4.89 (299)
#2 Wolves in the Walls 4.83 (1,139)
#3 Beat Saber 4.81 (15,137)
#4 Moss 4.8 (932)
#5 Until You Fall 4.73 (186)
#6 Trover Saves the Universe 4.71 (302)
#7 Lone Echo (Oculus Studios, 2017) 4.7 (4,851)
#8 Brass Tactics (Oculus Studios, 2018) 4.69 (753)
#9 I Expect You To Die 4.68 (1,251)
#10 Robo Recall (Oculus Studios, 2017) 4.68 (11,336)
#11 Electronauts 4.67 (103)
#12 Racket: Nx 4.66 (112)
#13 Space Pirate Trainer 4.64 (726)
#14 Dance Central (Oculus Studios, 2019) 4.64 (341)
#15 The Thrill of the Fight 4.63 (561)
#16 Vox Machinae 4.62 (383)
#17 The Invisible Hours 4.62 (224)
#18 Five Nights at Freddy’s VR: Help Wanted 4.61 (655)
#19 Bending the Light 4.61 (173)
#20 BlazeRush 4.61 (780)


While it’s true that Facebook has bet big on some 25 titles, not all of the money it’s spending on VR content has gone there. In addition to money that went to non-game content (like immersive video and other non-game media), Facebook has made efforts to reach smaller developers through Oculus Start and Oculus Launch Pad.

Oculus Start is designed to give indie VR developers a direct line of contact with the company, and offer support, dev kits, software, and more. Oculus Launch Pad is a ‘boot camp’ style program which aims to increase the diversity of developers building content for VR.

For Launch Pad, Facebook says it “may award competitive scholarships in the amount of $5,000–$50,000 to qualifying candidates that require additional financial support in taking their concepts to the next level.”

Though the funding that’s flowing through such initiatives pales in comparisons to the ‘big bets’ Facebook has made. The latest we’ve been able to find is that the program has distributed some $900,000 in grants across 37 projects (~$25,000 on average per project) from the start of the program in 2016 through early 2018. It’s a drop in the bucket (0.2%) compared to the $500 million Facebook said it committed to funding VR content.

– – — – –

With Facebook resetting its VR ambitions with Oculus Quest, it has a rare chance at a do-over. While there may be lessons to learn from its first attempt, so far we’re seeing the company continue to lean into big bets on exclusive VR content.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Toothlover

    In other words. HLA came in 2020 which is raised reviewers expectations through the roof.

    • benz145

      I assume this is in response to the average 2020 rating being lower than 2019? I don’t think HLA has too much to do with it. Quest launched in 2019 and was already gaining good momentum into 2020; I think the Oculus PC store was already beginning to be abandoned at that time (as Facebook was signaling that Quest was the future) so the only projects launching in late 2020 were perhaps the lower quality ones that didn’t make the cut for Quest’s curated store.

    • Kunakai

      The roof?

      In so far as enjoyment goes I’d say the expectations of VR titles is below the floor when compared to conventional games.

      I’d expect many non enthusiasts moving into the space is going to lower the bar in general given the relative difference in number of games availible and investment between conventional and VR games.

  • wowgivemeabreak

    Is your list of top 20 rated Rift games using a threshold of 100 reviews? Because if not, Walkabout Mini Golf with 76 reviews is rated higher than all of those. I get an average of over 4.9.

    It’s sad it only has 76 reviews on the PC side (while over 2.1k on the Quest store) yet at the same time, that shows how dead the Rift/PCVR store is compared to Quest.

    • VR

      >> It’s sad it only has 76 reviews on the PC side (while over 2.1k on the Quest store) yet at the same time, that shows how dead the Rift/PCVR store is compared to Quest.

      Actually, PC VR is also growing healthily.

      In the means of ratings, maybe it could be better if we compare a well known, more common game like Beat Saber. Speaking of Beat Saber, it has 35,175 Ratings for Quest, and 15,135 Ratings for Rift. I mean, the difference is not something like 76 vs. 2.1K.

      Anyway, best part of the story is that VR is evolving as a whole.


    • VR5

      PCVR gamers tend to favor “only possible on PC” and AA(A) titles. Doesn’t mean that smaller budget titles cannot do great also but such titles face much bigger competition on PC, making it harder for them to stand out.

      • VR

        Well said.

      • JakeDunnegan

        And PCVR gamers can shop in other stores. So games like Beat Saber can be (and I know a lot of us do) buy it on Steam instead.

    • benz145

      Yes the top 20 Rift games later in the article is only those with 100 reviews or more. It is indeed sad how Facebook has pretty much left its PC VR store to fester: https://www.roadtovr.com/total-quest-game-reviews-exceed-oculus-pc/

  • VR5

    The point of exclusives is to sell your own hardware. Considering how well Rift was doing compared to the competition even on Steam, it seems to have worked. It can’t just have been price, since the cheaper Windows MR headsets without exclusives did much worse.

    • Hivemind9000

      Not exactly to sell hardware, as they seems to be selling them around cost (according to a few analysis threads I’ve read), but to get people invested in their ecosystem so they buy more games, giving Oculus Facebook their cut.

      • VR5

        That is more correct, yes. And unfortunately for FB, many Rift owners bought more of their games on Steam where they don’t get a cut.

        Which is another reason why FB now focusses on Quest instead.

  • Dragon Marble

    I am not sure if you are looking at the right thing. It’s not about ratings. You have to count how many people bought headsets because of MoH and then ended up spending money on Beat Saber and Superhot as well. It’s impossible to know from the outside, but that’s what the exclusives are about.

  • These graphs are just for nerds. I think it absolutely worked because Facebook VR headsets utterly dominate the VR landscape, which is what Facebook wants, and they have arguably the strongest game libraries of any VR platforms out there, which is what counts most to most users. So I think it was worth it by pretty much any meaningful metric.

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      It is not just for nerds. We all want VR to grow, and are somewhat frustrated that there are too few large developers working on AAA titles and too few affordable headsets. This will only improve if a lot more people start using/buying VR, so what works is a pretty important question.

      Facebook may dominate VR because:
      – Of all headsets the Quest have the best value for the money.
      – Their software library is the best.
      – Their exclusives draw the most people.
      – They spend the most on marketing.
      – The Quest is the cheapest and easiest way to play Beat Saber.
      – …

      Depending on which of these are true/relevant, investing in AAA titles might be a great idea or a total waste of money. If it is just the cheap price, spending the money to make the Quest even cheaper would be smarter. If it is the brand recognition of exclusives, they should license more titles. If it is Beat Saber, then HTC has no chance even if they release a better Quest 2 clone for a lower price, since Facebook now owns Beat Saber and will not port it.

      Answering the “does it work” question wrong may seriously harm the further development of VR.

    • benz145

      Ah yes, who wants data when we can just use our gut?

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    I applaud the systematic approach, and the attempt to find a viable marker for success, but I think you somewhat missed the mark. Facebook’s motivation to sponsor AA and AAA titles is given as an attempt to “attract gamers accustomed to seeing large scope, high production value content in the non-VR gaming world.” Then you go and measure how well the games are rated to determine if the investment has payed of, with Marvel Powers United VR and Medal of Honor looking the worst.

    But attracting non VR gamers and creating great VR games are not the same. The quality of the library matters more for keeping players on the platform than for getting them in the first place. 39 out of 40 Steam users are not using VR, and selling them VR isn’t trivial, since many games like Beat Saber cannot be sold by having a great trailer, they have to be experienced.

    To get these non-VR gamers onboard, a recognizable brand like Medal of Honor is way more valuable than Lone Echo having great ratings. Medal of Honor as a franchise has (according to Wikipedia) 17 titles since 1999 on desktop and all consoles and had sold 39M copies by 2016. A VR version pretty much says “this is a legitimate gaming platform for AAA titles”. So judging the investment by the quality of the game is somewhat shortsighted, when this is largely a move to promote the platform, where the attention of potential new users is the primary goal.

    I don’t know how much Facebook will have to pay Capcom for porting Resident Evil 4, but it will be a lot, despite being the adaption of an existing,16 year old multi-platform game. The same money could pay for a number of indie titles that are designed from scratch for VR, which would seem better value for those already owning a Quest. But for growing the platform to 10M+ users (Zuckerberg’s estimate for the required size to make a platform self-sustaining and attractive to larger developers), having a Resident Evil title is worth way more. It is money well spent, even if it gets only average ratings and never breaks even.

    • This! Its also the reason they took Insomniac on board. And Ready At Dawn.

    • as one of those mostly non-vr gamer i have to say u nailed it. i am always more excited for ports than i am for “built from the ground up” vr games. oculus getting re on their store is huge to me just like when skyrim, fallout, and borderlands2 vr went to just steam i was piss but got 2 or of the 3 and love both games. oculus is waking up to the fact to go pass the vr diehards they need to make deals like this one over building games people like me will over look.

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    • benz145

      All fair points. I would say though that it’s in Facebook’s best interest to have their big bets be both big IP and well received. After all, what does it look like to a potential headset customer who looks at Medal of Honor and sees it poorly rated by reviewers? That doesn’t exactly make them want to jump into a headset purchase even if they were initially excited about the idea of Medal of Honor in VR.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        Sure it would be best if the ports of popular franchises would also be great VR games. But this could be prohibitive expensive.

        A lot of criticism regarding AAA to VR ports is that things like menus, camera controls, movement etc. are poorly adapted. It works, but not great. Performance is often poor and the games feel rather unpolished, while polish is what we expect from AAA titles. Medal of Honor, FO4, Skyrim (and probably RE4) feel more like recycled with VR patched in for a budget limited by VR being such a small niche.

        Considering how different HL:A is from HL2 regarding mechanics, pacing, level design, size of the world, asset details, interactable environment etc., turning a flat screen AAA into a VR AAA could often require pretty much a rewrite. It might be cheaper to create a new game than to convert an existing title to a polished VR game. Even flat screen franchise games like Uncharted rarely reuse assets from previous games, because reworking them takes too much effort.

        And I’m not even sure such a rewrite would be universally well received. Most who bought Skyrim VR probably had already played the game and now want to be immersed in this world they already know and love. Changing the game a lot to make it better for new players might ruin the experience for those that just want to re-experience it in VR. I bought vorpX primarily to walk through Assassin’s Creed Origins. The experience is pretty horrible, the once lush world now a pixely mess, but I’m fine with that (until RTX 3XXX cards become affordable). I don’t even try to play the game that I have completed several times in flat. I just wander around in Memphis and wouldn’t be happy with a VR optimized version that prevents me from revisiting locations just because getting there is vomit inducing. My case may be extreme, but experiencing this world in VR is way more important to me than it being a good VR experience.

        VR is a different medium, so there are limits to how well games not designed for VR can work without making massive changes first. AAA conversions from flat screen will get better with developers gaining experience in porting to VR, or AAA titles getting designed with VR ports in mind. But as long as VR gaming is just a tiny niche, AAA VR ports will most likely mean experiencing the world of a AAA game at a clearly not AAA level of polish due to costs and the expectations of players that already played these games outside of VR. The ratings will reflect the lack of polish, but it is still worth it because there are so many people that will get into VR just to get immersed into games they already know, even if these aren’t the best VR titles.

    • Gonzax

      You nailed it, man. And the RE4 example is perfect. Tons of people will buy a Quest 2 just for that game and probably get hooked on VR after playing it, which is exactly what Facebook is looking for.
      How many headsets did HL: Alyx sell?? tons! An indie game would not do that. And Superhot might have a higher rating than MoH but that doesn’t mean it’s a better game either.

  • Wild Dog

    I was hoping for a TLDR.

    • benz145

      Without full details on budgets from Facebook (which we’ll never get), it’s not easy to make definitive TLDR. The article lays out one way to look at the available data.

      • Wild Dog

        After reading it, I thought the TLDR was “It was good money at first, but they shoulda loosened up on the pedal after a while of chasing exclusivity.”

  • Ad

    1) McAllister works at Facebook now?

    2) How did Mages Tale end up on steam?

    • benz145

      1) Yes he recently announced he took a position with the compacny.

      2) A few of the exclusive titles seem to have been timed exclusives (ie: Eve Valkyrie, Mage’s Tale) rather than permanent exclusives. This probably comes down to the structure of the deal between Oculus Studios and the developer. A title fully funded by Oculus Studios is likely to be a full-time exclusive.

      • Ad

        What about games that got some amount of funding and only came out on facebook’s store, are they counted here?

        And Gerald is just the best, I’ve never see someone so spitefully hostile to literally any criticism, any dev so willing to throw other devs under the bus, or just any commentator so clearly insistent he was unbiased and independent yet obviously biased to the point of just making strained cringe arguments for them and apparently working there now.

        • benz145

          Can you give me an example of which games you mean?

          • Ad

            For funding I’m not sure about names, but like with the low fi sequel, he said he was waiting for funding, and I’ve heard people say that many games get some amount of funding. A bunch of the initial quest titles seemed like they got funding.
            As for only coming out on facebook, I just mean anything that didn’t release on steam. Like spheres for example.

  • Very interesting analysis… it has its flaws, but it is interesting and well written

  • Are ratings the same as sales? You don’t really have any sales figures for Oculus, as they’ve released none. Ratings, in general are bunk when it comes to quality. Bland and forgettable titles can rank in high scores with very lack luster sales, just because they have a tight community of fan-boys that shift the value of things. And very well selling games, like Skyrim or No Man’s Sky, can have very poor ratings despite being far better games, as well as having better sales.

    Beat Saber, for instance, is a game were you smack boxes with glow sticks. It’s the Flappy Bird of VR games. But some boring noobs can’t get enough of it, and many of those noobs run YouTube channels that love to promote the game regularly just by always showing it in the background and excitingly talking about any and all minor upgrades for it. Compared with Skyrim VR, it’s a crushed soda can in the bottom of public trashcan, in both sales and quality. But it’s highly rated. Clearly ratings are a joke.