Unity 2019.3 introduces a new plugin system for XR headsets, and deprecates official support for Gear VR, Google VR, and Valve’s OpenVR (the API for SteamVR).
Valve is working on a plugin for the new system, according to Unity:
“Valve is using our XR SDK to develop their OpenVR Unity XR plugin for 2019.3 and beyond,” Unity explains. “They will share more information on where to access it once it is available. Until that plugin is available, built-in support of OpenVR will continue to be functional and available in 2019.3, and we will support our users with any critical fixes.”
What This Doesn’t (Yet) Mean
This doesn’t yet mean that developers can no longer build Unity games for these platforms. For now, it simply means that bugs & issues introduced by the engine which affect the support for these platforms “may not be prioritized”. This also serves as a warning that they will be removed from the engine in the future.
That actual removal won’t happen until version 2020.1. Despite using years in version numbers, 2019.3 has yet to be officially released, so 2020.1 is likely months away.
Of course, developers can continue to use older versions of Unity to build their games — although obviously that means they won’t have access to new & future engine-level features and optimizations.
The New Unity Plugin System
The new XR plugin system is intended to simplify the way VR and AR works across the various platforms in Unity in the long term, and allow for new XR features and software plugins to work across all VR & AR hardware.
Under the new system, Unity is “officially” working with 7 XR platforms: Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore, Microsoft’s HoloLens & WMR, Magic Leap, Oculus, and PlayStation VR.
These platforms are “fully supported” by Unity, and the company is “directly” working with them on “deep platform integration, improvements to our engine, and optimizations to our XR tech stack for the platform”.
Notably absent from the list of officially supported platform partners is Valve, the company behind the popular SteamVR platform.
However, the new plugin system does allow third parties to develop XR plugins for Unity separately from official support.
Valve’s application programming interface (API) for SteamVR is called OpenVR. According to Unity, Valve is “currently developing their OpenVR XR Plugin, and they will share more information on where to access it once it is available“.
There are two Unity designations Valve could be delivering this system through. One is as a ‘Verified Solutions Partner’ (VSP) and the other is as an ‘Innovator’. Being a VSP “offers various levels of support, including test verification and promotion of the plugin once released.” It has not yet been revealed whether or not Valve is a VSP.
Will This Really Matter?
There are no announced plans for an unofficial plugin for Daydream or Gear VR, however, there are plans for an open source plugin for Google Cardboard. This means developers will eventually have to resort to non-current versions of Unity to develop for Daydream or Gear VR.
For SteamVR, the change means that responsibility for support of Valve’s platform in Unity now rests solely on Valve. It also may make it more difficult for Valve to work around engine-level bugs or introduce new features that require engine support.
At the end of the day, however, this probably won’t really mean much to the average SteamVR developer other than the fact that the party responsible for the core OpenVR support in the engine changed.
It could be argued that a lack of official support would be important to large publishers/developers choosing which platforms to develop for, but even this seems like a stretch for now.
We’ve reached out to Valve for clarity on the current state of its relationship with Unity, plans for future support, and any other statement on the topic. We’ll update this article if we receive a reply.