Oculus has been on the receiving end of vocal criticism about its practices of funding the development of VR content with the requirement that it be exclusive to the Oculus platform. For many owners of the Rift’s rival, Vive, the biggest point of contention is that Oculus’ PC platform is only compatible with the Rift, which means the exclusive games the company funds can’t be played by the Vive without an unofficial workaround. However, Oculus say’s they’re interested in opening the door to their platform to any third-party VR headsets that want to come in.

Powered by Oculus (or not)

Speaking with Nate Mitchell, Head of Rift, at an Oculus press event in San Francisco last week, it became apparent that the company categorizes the way that other headsets could interface with Oculus’ ecosystem in two distinct ways.

Samsung’s Gear VR is the only headset today that’s ‘Powered by Oculus’

The first is ‘Oculus partner’ headsets, and for that the company likes to point to Gear VR as an example—a headset that’s made by Samsung, but ‘Powered by Oculus’ (which means it uses Oculus as the content platform). Ostensibly, Oculus today is open to more partner headsets joining its ecosystem, though none have materialized.

The category second is ‘third-party’ headsets: those that are made entirely by another company without any involvement from Oculus but want to plug into the Oculus ecosystem through some sort of official, open method. But today, that option doesn’t exist, which means that Oculus is the sole gatekeeper into their ecosystem, and you can’t get in the front door unless it’s on their terms.

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For now Oculus has been tolerating workarounds like Revive, which essentially opens a backdoor into their ecosystem, allowing Vive users to play the vast majority of the Oculus content library without issue. But that’s not exactly ideal for users or for Oculus. For one, Oculus could decide at any time to close that door, which means some Vive users are understandably weary of investing in Oculus content when they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to continue to access it in perpetuity. Then there’s logistical issues, like Oculus games showing Touch controllers instead of Vive controllers, which can make it difficult to learn a game’s controls, or result in awkward button mappings that make the game more difficult to play.

Vision of the Epicenter

Nate Mitchell, Head of Rift at Oculus | Image courtesy Oculus

When I spoke with Mitchell, he told me about the company’s ambition to make the Oculus ecosystem the “epicenter” of VR on PC. When I asked him how that vision could come to life when the Rift isn’t the only headset on the block, we launched into a conversation about the nature of opening the Oculus ecosystem to other headsets.

“We have a vision where basically more headsets are connecting into the Oculus platform. A big part of that has actually been the OpenXR initiative, which we’ve been one of the key contributors to since the very beginning. Not every company that’s out there is part of the OpenXR initiative in the VR space. But there are a couple of folks who have been super active, we’ve been one of those, helping really to find the spec. Both for this current generation of VR but as well as the future that we see,” Mitchell said. “So it’s not impossible to think that in the future you could buy a headset that’s not made by an Oculus partner that actually plugs into the platform, and whether that’s done in collaboration with us […] or whether it’s something built by someone else—whether it’s Ben Lang’s headset that you’ve made totally separate from us—there is a possible future where that plugs right into the Oculus platform and you’re able to drop into everything you know and love about Oculus.”

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Industry Standard

OpenXR is a broadly supported initiative to create an industry standard method of interfacing between VR headsets and software | Image courtesy Khronos Group

When I asked how key OpenXR was to enabling a future where other headsets could transparently connect to the Oculus ecosystem, Mitchell’s careful answer seemed to indicate that the mere completion of the standard wouldn’t necessarily mean that Oculus is ready to open the door.

“[OpenXR is] not the only way you could get there, but it is one of the key things that we think—what’s the best way to frame this—it’s one part of establishing [a future where third-party VR headsets can connect to Oculus]. It’s not the only way you could get there, but it’s a key part of doing it in a way that a number of us across the industry are very excited about.”

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  • bschuler

    Just like you found it hard to believe his claims he does NOT know how many Vive users are on the Oculus store… I read between the lines and it sounds to me like they want a fee paid, and then want to stamp, OCULUS APPROVED, on some headsets and let those in, but still try to keep others out. This isn’t an opening PC VR thing, it is a licensing thing. Do we really want a future where you have to look for OCULUS approved and STEAM approved, stickers on headsets? A world where you can troubleshoot why you friend can’t play a game by looking at a spreadsheet of headsets and what they support? Ugh.. Can’t just everyone get an open standard and support that.. a PCVR headset should be a PCVR headset.. approved for anything VR on the PC. Hope I am completely wrong on reading between the lines.. because otherwise.. ugh. they are STILL not getting PC users.

    • M Rob

      I think you are 100% spot on. remember who is behind them….Facebook.

    • Nimso Ny

      It’s not that they don’t understand PC users. It’s that they are insanely greedy and just want the whole “ecosystem” to themselves.

      You’re saying what needs to be said.
      It HAS to be 100% open otherwise VR is doomed!
      Oculus Home and SteamVR are the worst possible way for VR to work.
      I really like SteamVR honestly, but having it AS the bloddy driver makes me cry.

      I use a Rift DK2, drivers used to be a little icon in the bottom right of your screen, tiny little app, a few actually useful settings and a VR test app. You run any VR game and it just works, nothing extra needed to open, no wasted performance or memory.
      Then Oculus Home happened, and even worse it has to be open even when you run a SteamVR game, which means having both Home and SteamVR open, both of which take wayyyy too much processing than they should.

      When Oculus decide I can use Touch controllers with my DK2, then maybe I’ll consider that they are trying to be nicer. But as it is right now, it’s all LIES!

      • dogbite

        Being the DK stands for Development Kit, I think it’s silly to expect Oculus to continue trying to make it as feature rich as the “retail product” If they had attempted to sell it as an “Oculus Junior” in the retail market, well, that might be a different story.
        As for the tone of the article, I’ll take it as written. Time will tell. I remain hopeful that, in the future, we can all play nicely together unlike what so often occurs in forums like this.

      • Get Schwifty!

        Nonsense… VR does not hinge on Oculus “openness” unless you believe they control that much market share. Get real.

        • Nimso Ny

          I didn’t mran VR hinged on Oculus openness.
          I meant VR hinged on VR openness.
          VR is not a “platform” of it’s own the way that a PS4 or Xbox or PC is. With different consoles you have completely different Operating System and generally (slightly) different hardware, they are truly different platforms.
          The good VR for the most part is on PC as a platform, the user of the device buys all the hardware and it’s pretty generic, games run on my pc and your pc and everybody else’s pc, regardless of whether you use an Intel or AMD processor, or an AMD or NVidia GPU.
          VR is just a peripheral, it should not have these kinds of limitations.

          It’s like saying you can’t play a game because your Mouse is unsupported or your Keyboard is unsupported!
          If a game did that it would have more hate than anything on the internet, and for good reason! :D

    • No Spam

      Oh yeah, PC users *never* have to troubleshot, look for stickers, or figure out compatibility issues. ARE YOU HIGH???

      Hmm, if I’m buying a new monitor I have to look for the G-sync sticker if I’m on Nvidia, or FreeSync if I’m on AMD. Do I have an HDMI, or a DisplayPort open? Is it version 1.2 or 1.4 or 2.0? Which do I need to run at 4K 60FPS? That new monitor supports HDR. But do I have HD10 or HD10+ or Dolby Vision?

      When I buy a fast external SSD, I need to see if I have regular USB, or find the “SS” icon for “superspeed” USB. Talking about USB, I need to wade through mini, micro, regular, and non-standard ends. USB 2, USB 3, then 3.1 type C? Now 3.2 came out? Different ports have different colors, which mean…blue is better? And what about some 3.1 cables supporting video, and others not…some ports support enough power to charge a tablet and some don’t, hmm, where’s my yellow port? (or is it blue? Is it the one with a lightning bolt??)

      At work I want to remote manage a system. Does it have an Intel AMT sticker so it integrates with my patch manager or do I need to write a workaround script?

      I want to run Windows 10 and this open standard called Linux on an old laptop. Is this laptop Linux compatible? Where’s the sticker? I see a sticker for Windows 7, but what about Windows 10? Hmm, the audio doesn’t work – who’s the vendor so I can find the drivers and investigate compatibility? What’s this Optimus thing?

      I want high performance for gaming. Do I look for the Intel sticker or the AMD sticker? What’s the difference between i5 and i7? Do I need hyperthreading?

      You guys are freaking delusional with your “PC is an open standard everything should just work” BS. “No one wants a sticker?” Are you kidding me? The PC is a usability disaster of epic proportions but you don’t see it because “of course everyone should just use pcpartpicker.com to see if their build will work.”

      • Assume his point was that theres enough BS to go through w/o the extra topping of BS from PCVR. So to add more unecesary BS to that is just overkill.

        But keep reading words you don’t see :D

      • As long as it is an accepted standard across the industry that we can make informed buying decisions then fine.

        The worry is that Oculus (Facebook) will still somehow implement a license fee. Apple did that with Thunderbolt and the take up has been excruciatingly slow and frustrating to the users who have much less choice at inflated prices for a technology that is superior to USB.

        So far it looks like Oculus are trying to create a big brand around a set of peripherals much like MS and Sony have done with their consoles. The difference is that PC users want this to be a set of add-on’s to enhance their PC experience and not convert their multi-capable PC into a Oculus PC or a Vive PC. That is my take on it.

        Oculus can do what they want at the end of the day as this is their IP but it does frustrate VR users.

    • Mike

      Your wrong, and here’s why. None of the people whining about “I want all VR to be open source” are contributing 2 billion dollars to VR growth. We can either have all VR hardware as an open platform and have VR mature as a mainstream must-have by 2035. Or we can have some separate VR platforms and (PSVR, Oculus, Apple, whoever) and have VR mature as a mainstream must-have by 2025.

      You cannot have everything open and at the same time expect investors to pour money into VR at such a high rate. Apple, Sony, Oculus, etc are not going to pour billions of dollars into something without seeking to get customers addicted to their brand or tied into their platform. Either you prefer to have everything open and have VR/AR mature slower or to have some things that are platform locked and have VR/AR mature much faster.

      • Cl

        If they pay to get games made its fine to only sell it in the oculus store. However they would sell a lot more if it was open to other headsets. They can sell more headsets by making the better headset at the best price. I don’t see how this would make vr mature slower.

        Fracturing an already small market isn’t good and won’t help to make vr takeoff faster.

        • Mike

          No, if the Oculus Store was open to any headset when VR when the consumer versions launched most people would have just gotten a Vive because of the dominance of Steam in the gaming community. Even though the Oculus Rift is superior in some aspects to the Vive (and vice versa for the Vive in other aspects). People would have just assumed the Vive was a safe bet. Personally, when the consumer VR headsets launched, if I knew that Oculus/Facebook would make all of their current technologies (ASW, software auto launch, etc) and future implementations from their R&D compatible with any VR headset then I probably would have gone with a Vive because I’m already used to using Steam. I wouldn’t have even given the Rift a test run. But luckily I did try the Rift and it turned out to have more of the features I wanted and cost a couple hundred less.

          I know a lot of hardware and software makers who made a better product than their competitors and still constantly lost market share. Making a better headset in no way guarantees selling more headsets and gaining market share. Having a separate platform does though.

          I think the billions that Apple, Oculus, (and maybe Sony) are investing in VR/AR more than makes up for any fragmentation. Especially in VR right now, considering that any Vive user can play almost all Oculus SDK games with a workaround, and any Rift user can play almost all SteamVR games. The fragmentation is minor. And there’s also OpenXR coming in 2019 that could possible decrease this even more.

          • At least the Rift is $500 soon.

          • Cl

            Why would people assume that its a safe bet when oculus can play games on both stores without a 3rd party program? Even with oculus having more games, vive still outsells rift. Maybe not with this huge price reduction.

            Business decisions can affect sales just as much as anything else. Bundling with an Xbox controller and not motion controls. Blocking other headsets. The whole 3 camera setup. Things like this make people want to buy the other guys headset.

            I’d think if you took 2 headsets that had the same games and one was better than the other, it would sell more. Not sure why you think differently. Maybe whatever youre referring to didn’t advertise or something.

            If what you say is true though then there would only be 2 phone manufacturers. Instead there is a ton at different price points. You think Samsung and apple are popular because of the apps? Or is it the design and ability of their phones? Idk why anyone buys apple though… Have to use a different charger and things than everyone else. Fragmentation…

          • joemitz

            Why are there still so many people that believe that Vive outsells Rift? Neither company has released sales figures, period. And don’t quote that Steam profiler or whatever that report was. That data is not nearly complete enough to draw any conclusions. Rift users don’t even need Steam installed, for starters.

          • Get Schwifty!

            This guy gets it…

        • No Spam

          Why do you think you know better than them? Don’t you think this obvious observation has been accounted for in the business planning of one of the most successful companies in the world ($500 billion market value)?

          • Cl

            You’re right. It doesn’t matter what’s good for vr. It matters what is good for their bank account. They would make money either way, but whatever could make the most money is what they will do. Because money.

          • joemitz

            Welcome to capitalism.

      • Do ye have any examples?

  • Joan Villora Jofré

    “Best experience only for our customers”
    “the mere completion of the standard [OpenXR] wouldn’t necessarily mean that Oculus is ready to open the door.”

    Not very opened now or in the future.

  • wheeler

    In the worst case, it seems they are suggesting licensing on a case by case basis. Or some sort of “Oculus-approved HMD” setup. And going out of their way to state that the completion of the OpenXR standard wouldn’t necessarily lead to compatibility all but confirms many people’s suspicions. I highly doubt they cannot tell how many users are Vive users vs Oculus users–the numbers probably just wouldn’t look good for them right now.

    But if one were to give them the benefit of the doubt, their statement about QA still pretty much quashes any hopes for the kind of openness PC users want. According to Valve, there are several more SteamVR HMDs in the works (but only one identified) and as with any hardware on the PC each will have its own quirks. You’re simply not going to get that “It Just Works” level of compatibility unless Oculus is given a lot of control of each VR peripheral’s implementation. What CrossVR has accomplished for Revive is clearly sufficient for most PC gamers and internal developers at Oculus could obviously do better and with minimal resources, but even that apparently isn’t good enough for them. If I remember correctly, CrossVR has stated that one of the reasons he’s developed Revive is to show just how easy it is to support multiple VR peripherals.

  • LameMan

    What a stupid excuse.

    • joemitz

      Not really.

  • Joe

    As a dev you’re really not inspiring confidence, Nate. Your daily active users are very low. Your bet on supporting multiple SKUs (gamepad, seated, standing, “roomscale”) has created a fractured market where most people do not have a roomscale configuration. Your roomscale tracking is still problematic. And now you give an interview where it’s unclear what the company’s future direction will be with regards to the openness of the platform?

    I feel strongly it’s time to unequivocally open things up, no hedging or ambiguity. And BTW, the fact that you strip out any SteamVR dlls from builds is just fascist (what if I want to use Steam Audio in my Rift build? No? Well, guess I’m off to Steam). You guys should change your strategy.

  • GrangerFX

    Not good enough Oculus. Not good enough by miles. Windows VR is coming out in a few months and initial reviews indicate that it is nearly as good as Oculus/Vive and the few defects it has should be quickly rectified (possibly by the release date). If I was developing a game for VR, there is no chance I would want to lock myself to Facebook/Oculus when there is an immediate and much larger market of lower cost, comfortable, high resolution headsets to go after. Users are going to love not having to set up permanent cameras in their homes too.

    • MasterElwood

      Windows VR is going to bomb like windows mobile did. Microsoft clearly doesn’t get it anymore.

      • GrangerFX

        Like XBox bombed? (BTW I am a Playstation fan.)

        • MasterElwood

          The Xbox one also sold far less than the ps4 because Microsoft tried the “kinnect for everyone” approach – and people didn’t give a shit. They just don’t get it anymore.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      As I haven’t seen any reviews yet of WindowsVR with real production headsets, or any real reviews of any of the coming WindowsVR headsets. I would rather put my money now into developing for SteamVR/OculusSDK than WindowsVR. SteamVR will be the better bet (unless you get some financial injection from Oculus ofcourse) as you’ll know most of those coming headsets will also be supported by SteamVR.

      • GrangerFX

        The only thing that gives me concern about Windows VR is that Steam has not officially announced support for it yet. Hopefully that will happen by the time it is released (even if it is in the future). Windows VR lacks a library of great VR games. No one has the production headsets yet so there is no way to review them. I am going off the developer editions which already sound really good considering the price. My biggest issue with Oculus/Vive headsets is that they are really uncomfortable to wear if you have glasses. That right there is a complete show stopper for me. The Playstation VR is quite comfortable though and the WIndows VR has a similar design.

  • Get Schwifty!

    At the end of the day, no matter what access Oculus provides, even if they opened up everything 100%, you guys would still bitch because frankly they are backed by Facebook and any move is a priori suspect. Kind of sad really. There’s not doubt so-called closed systems also have the effect of pushing the industry forward because they tend to be more focused in conjunction with more open systems. The reason Linux can’t make a real dent in the desktop space outside of enthusiasts is much of the software is half-assed and feels janky because devs want to only do what’s “fun” and not the real work of providing a finished product (much like much of the garbage on Steam for VR). A more closed environment with a goal in mind tends to provide more finished work, which in turn pushes the envelop and expectations for the “open” community. Like it or not, the moves for Oculus overall are pushing the industry forward and if you are so sure that buying outside of their ecosystem makes the most sense, then you shouldn’t need to worry.

    • benz145

      I would say that it isn’t clear to me what portion of people don’t want to support Oculus because of Facebook or simply because of exclusive games. You’re not wrong though that there’s people out there who are vocal about not backing Oculus because of Facebook’s ownership.

    • joemitz

      Damn, you hit the nail on the head. I wish more people saw it this way. Using Linux as an analogy is spot on.

    • NooYawker

      I must admit.. yes. I’ll never use their hardware. I have purchased games on the oculus store. But I disable their runtime in services when I’m not playing an oculus game.

  • Jeff

    long article, mostly consisting of oculus touting their own platform in the most general terms, a very small amount of lip service, and no real news pertaining to the title of the article.

  • I see only fluff words here…

  • Mr. Morosov

    Am I the only one who hasn’t touched one of these things because I want to wait for the dust to settle down and see what gets big for games?