Last month, the gaming community erupted amid the controversy surrounding the paid mods deal between Valve and Bethesda. The deal would have let modders sell their mods in the Steam store – but it came with a caveat, a large portion of that money was going to line the pockets of Valve and the original publisher, in this case the studio behind Skyrim, Bethesda. The modding community was upset with the deal for a number of reasons but mainly because the splits seemed to be way out of proportion. The strong response from the community led to Valve pulling to payment feature but it may not be the last we have heard of them, as in principle paying developers for their work isn’t the worst idea we’ve ever heard.
This controversy also speaks to the need, especially at this early stage of VR development, for an app store that isn’t tied to a particular platform. When the Vive, Oculus Rift, and Morpheus all come out over the next year they will each be tied to their own ecosystems (SteamVR, Oculus Home, and the Playstation Store respectively). Whether it is restricting access to certain apps or not allowing developers to publish because they don’t meet content restriction guidelines the consumers and developers can often get the short end of the stick in these kind of ‘walled gardens’. So what’s the solution? Well it may be as simple as one letter, ‘V.’
V is a self contained, virtual reality enabled “open alternative” to platforms like SteamVR and Oculus Home. Open app platforms like The Rift Arcade and WeARVR have sprung up recently but neither of those options offer quite the feature set that V does.
It starts with a crisp user interface. Upon launching the app, you are asked to enter your login information. Each user has their own account which can be accessed from any computer (similar to Steam). Once logged in, you are greeted by the marketplace and library. Using your cursor you can select any of the experiences and then download and launch them directly from within V, you never have to leave VR. Check out this video of the platform in action:
On the user side, V is an amazing experience. It allows for seamless transition between experiences. The user interface is both natural and well designed, and the text descriptions are clearly legible, even in the DK2. It felt like an excellent way to browse and launch VR content, and actually was, for me, a smoother browsing experience than the current SteamVR beta. Beyond the VR client, V’s marketplace also is accessible through it’s website.
V’s seamless interface is only the beginning of what makes this platform so great, the company’s mission is all about supporting developers. Steam asks for a minimum of 30% for revenue splits on apps sold in it’s Steam store, something that worries the likes of Minecraft developer, Notch “I do somewhat worry about the PC as a gaming platform becoming owned by a single entity that takes 30% of all PC games sold.” Speaking with developers, 30% seems to be a standard baseline with some stores asking for more; V on the other hand is asking for much less. According to V’s co-founder, Tyler Andersen, “if you are a indie dev we might land at around 10%, but if you are a big time title from EA we might land at 28%, because you know, why give EA a big break.” It’s not just standard paid content either, V wants to give developers options for how to release their games for free, with the option for people to donate as well. In those cases, V will only be taking 5%.
“If you are a indie dev we might land at around 10%, but if you are a big time title from EA we might land at 28%, because you know, why give EA a big break.”
V also wants to make the uploading process very open, providing developers with only one restriction, the content must work in direct to rift mode on Windows or in fullscreen with no menu bar on Mac. Other than that Andersen says, “we built V in a way so it can handle any type of content and peripheral. Leap, razor, unreal, unity, native, whatever.” (Assuming you have the drivers installed of course).
Andersen does issue a grain of salt, and it’s one that is a problem with the VR industry as a whole right now:
“I attribute to this to the industry being in its infancy… lack of open standards, lack of motivation for developers to update content, buggy runtimes from oculus, games running on different display modes, how the various OS’s run content, unity and unreal deployment requirements. Each of those variables is buggy in its own right. When you combine them to make a thoughtful distribution system it’s… very challenging.”
That being said it was a challenge that the team has accepted. Not every experience that is uploaded to the store in the future will load correctly immediately – the the ones I tried in my hands on all did though – but as standards develop it will alleviate those issues as it will be easier to optimize the pipeline.
Right now, V currently in it’s beta, has 20 VR games and experiences available in the marketplace:
- Guided Meditation
- Titans of Space
- Lava Inc
- Battle of Endor
- VR Karts
- Tron Light Cycles
- TNG Engineering
- Cannon Ball
- Scale Shock
- VR Steroids
- Space Race
- Hack your Couch
But V has plans to add many more in the near future. They also allow for app submissions through their upload page. The process will take “only a day or two,” from start to finish, assuming there are no issues.
V may be only a launcher and marketplace now, but Andersen hinted at a much grander vision, he wants to build a community side to V. Says Andersen, “think reddit meets Kickstarter meets Steam Greenlight.” Basically, what Anderson wants to bring to the table is proving ground for VR content, a place where developers can get more than just feedback, they can get a sense of traction and even collect donations to help them continue to build their projects. It is a grand vision that could lead to a lot of interesting content – and can help developers gauge what worlds the public wants to see in VR.
V is a necessary step for VR, one that has been a long time coming. An app store that lets developers get their experiences up quickly – and lets them receive necessary feedback is something that can only help VR as a whole. The fact that it is an incredibly great experience on the user side is only the icing on the cake. Speaking with respected VR developer Brian Ferrara (who has worked on several AAA titles himself, including The Last of Us and Arkham Knight) about the topic, he left me with some excellent final thoughts:
“The walled garden model for platforms, hardware and software has been historically effective, but on a longer timeline, these things will inevitably shift. The rise of open source, moding, crowdfunding and the accessibility of professional tools has created a market-altering flood of new content, devices and technologies leading to the quickly shifting wants and needs of end users. The real winners are figuring out how to unify and harness this, rather than putting up walls that ultimately confine innovation.
Platforms like Oculus Home and Steam need to listen to their users and devs very closely to stay competitive, because the next big VR platform has yet to be defined and could potentially be disruptive.”
…And you can’t spell disruptive without ‘V.’
Want to try V out for yourself? Head over to startwithv.com right now and enter in the beta key “UploadVR”. There are only a limited number of keys so be sign up right away, they are first come first serve. From there, you can play many of the top VR games and experiences to date. Everything from a exclusive new game from the creator of Darknet – VRTS, to classics like Windlands, Titans of Space, and Radial-G… and all with never taking off your DK2.
Disclosure: UploadVR is proud to announce we will be curating a monthly selection of “UploadVR picks” on the V marketplace. We look forward to helping to highlight some of the best content each month in VR.