Tim Sweeney has some stern words for some of VR’s biggest players. The legendary programmer and founder of Epic Games sat down with me after his keynote address at the VRX conference in San Francisco and, as conversations with Sweeney usually do, the topic quickly turned to the issue of open platforms.
“I think it’s a real threat,” Sweeney said, speaking about the possibility of closed software or hardware in the VR space. “These devices give companies like Google and Facebook terrifyingly specific details about our private lives.”
During his address on stage, Sweeney urged the audience to consider that, “if we ever allow one company to own the meta-verse, then that company would have more power than any government that has ever existed.”
I asked Sweeney if he believed that Facebook or Google could be that company and he replied that they very well “could be” if consumers don’t start paying more attention and demanding more open ecosystems.
“There’s an ethic that needs to develop in the VR industry. IBM’s PC was built with open components and open designs that anyone could purchase and access. All of that early platform stuff was built by outside people because it was so open. But in VR, money grubbing VCs have caused a trend towards closed systems and that’s a problem,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s ultimate example of a distressingly closed platform is Apple’s app store. The issue, for him, is that Apple controls what content can and cannot be made available to users in the app store and it also prevents them from obtaining applications through any other service. Sweeney says that VR doesn’t currently have something quite this restrictive…yet.
Even Oculus Home, which is considered by many to be PC VR’s most isolated platform, gets a pass from Sweeney because of its ability to run outside programs and Steam titles. One of Epic Games upcoming titles, Robo Recall, will be exclusive to the Rift but exclusives are not what Sweeney finds issue with.
“Oculus [Home] is even ok to me. I don’t have a problem with exclusive content I only have a problem when companies start blocking any outside programs from running on their hardware,” Sweeney explained. “Exclusives mean that Oculus is funding third party projects and thats a perfectly valid way to jump start an industry.”
“The idea is you should be able to buy any device and run any program that a developer wants on it. There shouldn’t be any platform at the center deciding what games people can or can’t make. There can be app stores, but companies shouldn’t force consumers to only be able to access content through that app store.”
Sweeney does believe that Oculus Home could have been more open from the start and says that, “The problem with Oculus is you have to turn on that stupid side loading setting when you first get started. It’s pretty bull shit that some executive forced that in, but some guy staked his career on it so here we are.”
Sweeney is also wary of Microsoft’s upcoming foray into the VR space and is waiting to see just how open it will choose to make its own immersive platform. According to Sweeney, “Microsoft hasn’t said yet whether or not it will be tying its VR projects to its own app store. The question is if they’ll build it into a walled garden like Apple or keep it open. I think Microsoft is a great company that builds great things but there are still ongoing issues when it comes to the openness of the whole thing.”
Sweeney also added that, “If it [Microsoft Holographic] is an open platform, then Epic will support it wholeheartedly.”