You have to hand it to HTC, they got their PR spot on this week. With the launch of the Oculus Touch taking place on Monday, I, like many, had been wondering what the Rift rival would do to fight back. Oculus closed the feature gap between the two headsets with the launch of its brilliant new controllers, meaning Vive needs to find new ways to differentiate itself.
In response, Vive honed in on one of the most crucial and criticized areas of its platform, software.
Over the past 7 or 8 months the Vive has accumulated a lot of great content. It’s launch line-up was incredibly strong, and we’ve since seen big releases like Serious Sam VR or, more recently, the amazing Google Earth. But there’s also been a concerning lack of direction in this area since launch. It can sometimes feel like there’s no software plan in place for Vive, and that HTC is simply hoping developers will decide to get on board with the headset.
Until now, Vive has felt a bit like if Sony had released its PlayStation 4 console to the masses and then let indie developers and third-party studios do all the work, without creating its own system-selling games from studios like Naughty Dog and deals with developers like From Software. Thanks to conversations with figureheads like Joel Breton and teases from both HTC and SteamVR creator Valve, we know this isn’t really the case. But HTC hasn’t done a great job making that work visible. We don’t see teases of what’s coming or demos of content that it’s really getting behind, we get weeks of middling games with the occasional surprise launch.
Steam has now amassed an enormous 1,000 pieces of VR content, many of which are on Vive, but it’s not curated in the slightest, and there’s more shovelware and tech demos there than there is anything else. Events like E3 come and go and Vive always has a booth but, outside of this year’s Fallout 4 surprise, rarely makes headline-grabbing announcements.
Enter Vive Studios, a solution to all our problems.
Both in name and mission, HTC’s latest initiative sounds a lot like Oculus Studios; working with developers to create better, bigger experiences for VR. Oculus might not have any Uncharted or Halo-level blockbusters in the works, but it’s teases of visually-stunning games like Lone Echo and work with big developers like Insomniac give fans more content to look forward to going forward and a bigger sense of an overall plan beyond hardware, which is certainly one area HTC isn’t failing to make us excited in.
Vive Studios isn’t quite the same thing, as it sounds like some content might not be entirely exclusive to the headset, but it gives players the promise that big things are on the way. Arcade Saga, the Studios game released alongside the announcement, was a fun way to get the ball rolling, but the knowledge that HTC is working on bigger things for release in the next few weeks and “dozens” more for 2017 makes me more excited about the future of my Vive than I have been before.
Platform holders can’t just release the hardware and then hope everything works out on the software front; they need to get heavily involved in the latter, otherwise consumers aren’t going to be compelled to purchase or keep their product. If Vive had gone another year without a more visible push on HTC on this front it could have started to lag well behind the competition. For me, this direct and clear announcement that they were working to combat that perception was exactly what I needed.
Vive is such an amazing platform, and the thought of giving developers the budgets, resources, and time to do incredible things with it is truly enticing.
This is where the race gets really interesting. Vive and Rift are now on equal footing on the hardware front, and it’s up to the content to separate the two. I have high hopes — and quite a bit of faith — that Vive Studios is the start of something special for HTC’s headset, and I can’t wait to see what the company’s got in store.