In another update to Oculus Rift Kickstarter backers, Oculus have announced that a 4 month free trial of Unity Pro is to be supplied as part of the soon-to-be-shipped Developers Kit. However, many early adopters have been disappointed by the revelation that there’s now to be no Oculus Rift support in the free version. We take a look at the details and Palmer Luckey’s response to the criticism.
The Oculus Rift: For Amateur and Pro developers alike?
Way back in August 2012, Palmer Luckey and his new VR company Oculus outlined a dream. He wanted to design and build a consumer VR headset that was as easy to develop for as was humanly possible. The most impressive aspect of the Kickstarter was not the fleeting glimpses of future prototype hardware, but the effort going into wooing supporters from all levels of the gaming industry. Most impressive of all, was the enthusiastic endorsements from Unity – a giant-in-the-making amongst off-the-shelf game engines and one that offers an attractive entry point for developers on a shoestring budget.
Post-Kickstarter, positivity seemed to increase, peaking with Project Update #13, back in November 2012 – where Oculus proudly pronounced:
The Unity integration is getting underway with the latest Oculus SDK codebase. We’ll post another update in the near future with footage of Oculus VR inside Unity.
We’re working closely with Epic and Unity on integrating support for the Oculus Rift in the free versions of their engines and will keep the community posted on the progress.
Community reaction was, understandably, very positive indeed. Here was confirmation that not only were enthusiasts to receive one of the best HMDs in years for merely $300, but that they could hit the ground running with no further financial investment whatsoever. Oculus was on it’s way to delivering it’s promises.
[Virtual] Reality Check
Fast forward to March 2013 and to another update email from Oculus, again detailing progress with Engine developers, that all important Oculus Rift support:
We’ve been collaborating with the Unity team on the Oculus integration, adding and exposing new engine features to make the Oculus + Unity experience even better but the Oculus plugin requires features that are currently limited to Unity Pro, including shaders for optical distortion and access to the Rift hardware.
With that in mind, the team’s excited to announce that Oculus has partnered with Unity to include a free, 4-month Unity Pro trial license with every Oculus development kit! The extended Unity Pro trial license means that Oculus developers will have everything they need to start building VR games in Unity.
Now, let’s not be in any doubt, this is a fantastic coup by Oculus. Unity Pro is an increasingly feature rich development platform costing circa $1500, so scoring 4 months free access to Oculus Rift Kickstarter backers is a powerful incentive to get developers up and running and enough time to make some serious headway in any project they have in mind.
Of course, at the same time, it effectively confirmed that there was now to be no support in the Free version of Unity 4, with the new trial period effectively a spoonful of sugar to help that $1500 invoice go down.
To keep perspective here, to just about any project with commercial intent, $1500 is peanuts and by all accounts, Unity 4 Pro is worth every penny. That however isn’t the worry. The concern is that large parts of the grass-roots hardcore VR enthusiasts from communities like MTBS3D, which forms a huge part of the Rift’s heritage, will feel shut out by this news.
Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, has now responded officially via the Kickstarter comments section for backers with the following statement:
Sorry. We completely understand that people are upset about Oculus not being integrated into Unity Free.
The fact is, Unity Free lacks some of the features that Rift support requires, like shaders for optical distortion, access to the hardware, and sensor data. We’d love to see a full integration with Unity Free in the future, but we’re not there today. So instead of leaving the first Oculus developers out in the cold with a 1-month Pro trial, Unity stepped up and offered everyone a 4-month trial.
We’re not trying to spin or hype anything. We want to empower Oculus developers, and we really were excited to provide the extended trials.
We know some of you are upset that we hadn’t finalized the Pro requirement sooner. We’re sorry about that. We’ve been working with Unity everyday to see what we can do, and we didn’t discuss Unity Pro trials with Unity until shipping had already begun.
Thanks for your continued patience and support, we would never have gotten as far as we have without our community. There is good news on the horizon, and we are excited to be showing off all our latest demos at GDC. We hope to see some of you there!
An effective rebuttal against naysayers you could argue. And it does seem viable that the core requirements to support the Rift’s unique requirements may well trickle down the tiers to the free platform in future iterations.
It’s unknown just how much Rift integration cost Unity in man-hours. A recent a recent Twitter conversation involving David Helgasen (CEO of Unity Technologies) seems to indicate not overly much. Regardless, this story does serve to highlight Palmer and Oculus’ lofty ideals meeting the cold reality of commercial interests.
But, as with the recent Doom 3: BFG announcement, the embryonic Company and it’s founder are rolling with the punches and acting quickly and skilfully to ensure that backers of the Oculus Rift aren’t disappointed. In the case of Doom 3, they acted impeccably by offering refunds / remuneration. With Unity, they’ve done all they can to ensure Developers of all incomes / commercial intent are able to start developing for the Rift the minute they get it plugged in.