HTC launched Viveport, their VR game marketplace, back in August 2016 to relatively little fanfare. It didn’t boast any compelling exclusives or big draws when it came to content deals, and was notorious for being a buggy, unstable mess. It essentially left Vive users scratching their collective heads as to why anyone would ever want to use it over Steam. Now that three years have passed, and the platform has opened up support to Oculus Rift and Windows VR headsets, you’re probably wondering if Viveport is still to be avoided, or if you should give it another chance.
My take: Viveport has come a long ways since the early days, and now presents a pretty compelling value proposition. It’s still struggling to attract premium content, which may ward off users for the long haul, although a short-term dip into Infinity is certainly worth your time and money.
Once Bitten, Twice Shy
The first time I ever used Viveport, it was entirely by mistake. After getting a new, more powerful computer and locking into an hour-long battle with SteamVR to get it up and running again, I started to get desperate. For some reason neither my Vive or Rift were being detected by SteamVR on the new rig, and although it ultimately came down to having to roll back a GPU driver, at the time I was at the end of my rope.
So I decided to visit the HTC Vive website and download whatever software they had on offer to see if that would fix the issue. Oh, what blissful naivete. While I thought I was getting a driver installer, or some auto-magical software to ease my pain, I was instead treated to a buggy and intrusive storefront that only lasted about two days on my computer before I officially gave it the boot. Yes, I eventually fixed the issue and got my headsets working, although the bitter taste of Viveport still lingered in my mouth.
Needless to say, I was a bit turned off after my first experience with Viveport, and had also heard plenty of similar comments about it in the months and even years after. The next time I installed it was about three months ago, or right when HTC launched Viveport Infinity, their unlimited Netflix-style subscription service—not a first for traditional gaming, but certainly a first for VR. Recoiling somewhat from clicking the patented blue ‘Download Here’ button (once bitten, forever shy), I jumped back in to see just why the company was giving away a full month of Infinity to Viveport users at the time.
After going through the installation process and playing around with the store’s mostly standard UI, it was clear to me HTC had made significant headway in not only overhauling the platform entirely, but in finding Viveport’s raison d’être. Its claim to fame isn’t in its prices or selection of games; it still doesn’t have any great anchor titles that you can’t get on either Steam or the Oculus Store. But it does have Infinity.
An Infinite* Buffet of Games
Viveport is mostly like any other digital storefront—you can buy individual games & apps and launch them directly from the desktop client just like Steam or the Oculus Store—although Viveport insistently points to sign up for the platform’s $13 per month ($100 annual) Viveport Infinity membership once you fire up the desktop client, making it clear just how HTC ultimately thinks you should spend your money.
Opting in lets you pay a single price to download any and all participating apps in the platform’s pool of around 500 games and experiences. If you redeem the two-month free trial for Rift and Index users (14-day trial still available for Vive users), you’ll have that privilege for free for a limited time.
The service is basically founded on the premise that you’ll be able to fully sample anything you want within the decidedly less than infinite confines of Infinity. I tend to think of it this way: Viveport Infinity is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are some big-ticket items in the warmer trays out there—veritable crab legs and peeled shrimp—and then there’s the other stuff. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Here’s a few notable main courses you might dip your ladle into:
- Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs
- Apex Construct
- Fantastic Contraption
- I Expect You to Die
- Knockout League
- Prison Boss VR
- Pixel Ripped 1989
- The Gallery – Episode 1: Call of the Starseed
- The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone
- Tilt Brush
- Windlands 2
All of these games are definitely worth your time, and easily make up the annual subscription cost of $100, let alone the $13 monthly. All together, they represent a total cost of more than $300 when purchased individually, so the value proposition here is clear—if you don’t mind losing access to the game when you cancel your subscription, that is. If you’re a one-and-done sort of person though, it’s a pretty good opportunity to load up on the all good stuff and play it to your heart’s content.
Less Big Titles, Plenty of Chaff
Big caveat: you won’t find a number of Steam/Oculus Store regulars on the Viveport platform at all, not just on Infinity. There’s no Beat Saber, Job Simulator, Elite Dangerous, Pavlov, Onward, Fallout 4 VR, Skyrim VR, or Electronauts just to name a few. While Viveport does have some recognizable names such as Superhot VR and Arizona Sunshine, these aren’t available through Infinity, so make sure to check first. This invariably puts a damper on what would otherwise be a true one-stop shop capable of taking some real VR user market share away from other platforms.
Coming back to my buffet metaphor: unsurprisingly, a pretty large percentage of the food on offer seems to be cheap filler, some of which is clearly of questionable provenance. Once you start browsing Infinity games and get past page 5 of 28 (ordered according to HTC’s own ‘Featured’ filter), you start to see just how much $1 – $6 range content there is.
That’s not to say any store should only have the ‘good’ games; we all have different tastes. Case in point: I thought Sos Sosowski’s Moshpit Simulator was good even though much of it is a self-aware pile of flaming garbage, and it pains me to think that indie titles of all stripes shouldn’t have a place in the store front. There’s plenty of low quality games to sift through in Infinity though, and whether you play them or not, you’re paying for the privilege.
That said, HTC is constantly vying for developers to publish on their platform, and offers an attractive revenue share to help incentivize (80/20 currently). In addition to tossing their games on Viveport, developers can also check a box to get their games into the Infinity program. And as it goes, Infinity represents a smaller, but more consistent revenue stream: exactly the type of thing older, higher-profile games and—forgive the word—shovelware can equally benefit from.
When you download and start a new title on Infinity, the app developer is paid a percentage just for getting you through the door. While I haven’t played every horrible looking game to test my pet theory, I imagine this leaves more room for nefarious developers to make outwardly attractive promotional material and store descriptions, and then leave you with your pants around your ankles once you actually fire it up.
Performance, Platforms & Patience
Viveport is no longer the resource hungry lout it once was. Now, it seems to sit contentedly in the background (where it belongs), sipping no more appreciable resources than Steam or the Oculus Store when idling. Launching a game is a refreshingly no frills experience too; native Rift games start right up, while all others automatically open up via SteamVR.
In my revisiting of Viveport, I also found it non-intrusive to a fault. Playing Viveport games on Rift, I have the ability to jump directly to the Oculus Store with one button press at any time, and provided SteamVR is also active, right back to Steam Home too. The only way to interact with Viveport is through my monitor, which seems like a missed opportunity for users who want to invest themselves more in the ecosystem. It’s possible this could change in the future as Viveport justifies itself as a platform and not just a storefront with a thus far unique subscription service.
And that decision to lead the way into subscription-based VR gaming has lent Viveport an air of legitimacy, however if the content doesn’t keep up with even the most zealous of users, Viveport’s big claims to fame may present somewhat of a revolving door of users coming in for the good stuff, then leaving when the shrimp is gone and the Mongolian BBQ station is closed (yes, the buffet metaphor again). And it’s clear HTC and its Viveport team have their work cut out for them as they carve out this new path. Ideally, HTC will need to ply more top developers to also publish on Viveport, which would help bring the dueling platforms’ premium games more to parity.
In the end, Viveport is in somewhat of a sticky place. As a store, it hasn’t made the deep investments in content that Oculus has to attract users. It also doesn’t benefit from Steam’s catch-all business model that has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in much larger quantities. But free is free, and if you’re interested in any of the titles I mentioned above, you should definitely give Viveport another chance.
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You may be asking yourself at this point whether I’ve decided to pay for Viveport after my two-month free trial that came with owning an Oculus Rift. As a VR journalist, I’ve actually played most of the ‘premium’ games on the list already, either obtained as review copies given to me by developers, or purchased through other store fronts when they first came out, so I’m far from your typical user here.
Depending on your amount of free time, you may or may not be able to rip through all of the top titles in less than two months. At that point you’ll have to decide whether it’s right for you or not, and whether you’re okay with losing access to the game afterwards. Whatever your decision is, there’s no better deal that free, so take that for what it’s worth. And whatever the case may be, you can always sign back up and pick up where you left off at any time.