The HTC Vive is a mysterious beast. It’s a wonderful headset with great games and experiences, but it’s something we seem to take on a week-by-week basis. There are no huge Vive press conferences (at least not in the west) to announce big games that are years out, or developer conferences to tease the next iterations of hardware and software. Perhaps that’s all to come but, in the meantime, we wanted to understand more about HTC’s approach to the future of VR, so we asked them.
You’ve already seen a few snippets of our interview with VP of VR Content, Joel Breton. He teased us that HTC is working with more than 30 teams on Vive content, and that we should see a big title release for the kit in the next six months. But our mammoth interview with Breton held many more revelations about how the company handles its VR business.
Below are five more intriguing notes taken from our discussion.
Vive X and VRVCA Aren’t The Only Ways HTC Is Funding Companies And Content
HTC is doing a lot of work to help VR startups. It’s got its Vive X accelerator, which offers work space, mentorship and more to successful applicants, and the VR Venture Capital Alliance (VRVCA), which gathers once every two months to review pitches. A lot of money is being pumped into both initiatives, but the company is also doing something a little more direct when it comes to helping out some more established indies and studios.
Breton told us that his team is “focused more on individual pieces of content versus companies.” That means it is actually looking to build a portfolio for Vive, rather than help grow the wider ecosystem. “So our goal is to find great content developers that come with a fantastic proposal, and that’s how we start,” he explained. “That’s how we engage with them and they send us, it might be a demo, it could be a deck, it could be a conversation about what they think they want to do. And then we start right there, try to see if we can line up on the vision of a piece of content, where it might fit in the market and how it can be produced.”
HTC Is Big On Adapting Pre-Existing Apps To VR
One of the biggest surprises of E3 2016 was a VR version of Bethesda’s 2015 RPG hit, Fallout 4, which is coming to the Vive in 2017 along with a VR demo of Doom. Traditionally, VR companies will tell you that the best VR content is designed for the ground up, and porting games to headsets can present a lot of challenges. HTC understands this, but it also feels that there’s a lot of potential in bringing pre-existing apps to Vive with considered development, and we don’t just mean games.
“I personally feel that there is some great work that can still be done with existing first-person 3D games that people know and love and the brands that they know and love that can be adapted to VR,” Breton said. “I don’t call it porting to VR because that’s not going to work. But if you really take a look at what does work in VR and then look at the different pieces of content that are out there I feel that there’s some fantastic games for instance and desktop applications. We’re doing this quite a bit.”
HTC Is Talking To The Games Industry’s Biggest Publishers
Breton is a games industry vet, and he’s worked for a lot of the big publishers. Now he and his team are leveraging the contacts they’ve made over the years to talk to those companies about the possibility of making VR content. That includes companies like Take-Two, Konami, and Sega as well as Bethesda, where he spent four years.
“We encourage them to come and try to move into VR with either future games, current IP, or even this adaptive approach where that might be a quick short cut where they can bring a great 3D first-person game into VR like next year versus two or three years down the line if they start something scratch right now,” Breton said. You’ve already seen some examples of this like Fallout 4, though HTC is also working with Square Enix on Vive projects, including card battler Kai-ri-Sei Million Arthur VR.
Vive Is Serving As A ‘Reference Platform’ Across VR Development
In traditional game development, studios will often work on one console first, and then port that version to other platforms, rather than develop all of them from scratch. It’s often the case that the most accessible and powerful machine is chosen to develop on first, and then companies can scale back from there for other platforms rather than build on top. Breton revealed that HTC is seeing a similar approach with the Vive.
“Very few [VR developers] are actually able to go simultaneously day and date on all platforms that they’re targeting,” he said. “Because development realities are some are easier than others to craft and to optimize and to finalize. So usually what a developer/publisher will do is they’ll start with a reference platform…you should start with the one with the biggest feature set because then you’ve got the highest grade version and then you downscale from there. You don’t try to upscale. For us it turns out quite well because Vive happens to have the biggest feature set so we’re encouraging those folks that are going to go cross-platform to start with the Vive version because it’s actually just going to make their job a lot easier.”
There Are 50-Person VR Teams That Haven’t Been Announced Yet
Everyone wants to see bigger teams work in VR to create more ambitious projects, but the reality is that the low install-base of headsets make that hard to pull off. There are some studios operating at that size, however, and Breton teased that we haven’t seen all of them yet.
“I think in terms of team size I think it’s easier to talk about and we’re definitely seeing team sizes go up into 20 and 30 and 40 and 50,” he said. “I think probably the biggest ones I’ve seen are probably about 50 people and that’s looking about that amount of people on there for a year, so that’s a lot and a lot of man-months, so that’s the kind of scope that we’re seeing some of the larger studios put on the problem at this point.”
We asked if some of those 50 teams hadn’t been announced yet, to which Breton replied: “Let’s see… yes. Definitely.”