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New Oculus Store update breaks HTC Vive compatibility project

Roughly a month ago, we covered the Revive project, which aimed to allow the HTC Vive to run titles reserved to the Oculus Store. At the time, Oculus’ official position was that this was an unsupported hack, and that anyone who took advantage of it shouldn’t count on it sticking around for very long. Now the company has made good on that position with a recent Oculus Store update that includes a DRM check to ensure that the Oculus Rift is actually connected to your PC before launching titles.

Here’s how Revive developer CrossVR described the situation:

From my preliminary research it seems that Oculus has also added a check whether the Oculus Rift headset is connected to their Oculus Platform DRM. And while Revive fools the application in thinking the Rift is connected, it does nothing to make the actual Oculus Platform think the headset is connected.
Because only the Oculus Platform DRM has been changed this means that none of the Steam or standalone games were affected. Only games published on the Oculus Store that use the Oculus Platform SDK are affected.
A temporary workaround if you have an Oculus Rift CV1 or DK2 is to keep the headset and camera connected while starting the game. That should still allow you to use your Vive headset to play the actual game, since Revive itself is still working.

The issue, in other words, is specifically linked to the Oculus Store, not a problem with the Vive or Revive application. Since Revive isn’t designed to bypass a platform-level check with the Oculus Store, it doesn’t bypass the problem. Whether people will develop work-arounds or other solutions is unknown at this point.

There are reasons for Oculus to take this step. Since the games on the Oculus Store are only intended for Oculus Rift owners, many of the free titles available on the store front weren’t developed or distributed with the goal of making them free to anyone who owned a competitive VR headset.

Roughly five months ago, Palmer Luckey explained his views on the topic:

If customers buy a game from us, I don’t care if they mod it to run on whatever they want. As I have said a million times (and counter to the current circlejerk), our goal is not to profit by locking people to only our hardware – if it was, why in the world would we be supporting GearVR and talking with other headset makers? The software we create through Oculus Studios (using a mix of internal and external developers) are exclusive to the Oculus platform, not the Rift itself.

The issue is people who expect us to officially support all headsets on a platform level with some kind of universal Oculus SDK, which is not going to happen anytime soon. We do want to work with other hardware vendors, but not at the expense of our own launch, and certainly not in a way that leads to developing for the lowest common denominator.

This recent action to add DRM to the store itself undercuts Luckey’s claim that gamers who buy titles from the Oculus Store are free to mod them to run on whatever they want — but it dovetails perfectly with the rest of his comments. Oculus doesn’t necessarily want to only sell games to Oculus owners in the long-term, but it must create a premium niche for itself as a preferred destination for VR content.

To understand why, step back and consider the PC gaming ecosystem. It’s overwhelmingly dominated by Steam with GOG in second place. Services like EA’s Origin or Ubisoft’s uPlay are the preferred digital sales channels for those companies’ specific titles, but neither has built a strong portfolio beyond that point.

Oculus wants to be the preferred platform for VR gaming going forward, but Steam already is the preferred platform for PC gaming today. If titles on the Oculus Store can run on third-party hardware, there’s no incentive to buy the Rift. If no one buys the Rift, the Rift’s ecosystem won’t grow very well and developers won’t be interested in prioritizing a platform no one is using.

When Luckey says his goal isn’t to lock people into buying Rift hardware but that universal support is a long ways off, he’s being truthful. In the short-term, Oculus does need people to buy the Rift but the long-term plan is to create an Oculus ecosystem. Once everyone thinks of the Oculus Store as the source for VR titles rather than a platform like Steam, Oculus could magnanimously offer support to other headsets, particularly if the manufacturers of those headsets are willing to pay for some type of brand licensing and “Compatible with the Oculus Store” stickers.

A recent report the developer of Steam Spy, Sergey Galyonkin, estimated that the Steam paid games market earned Valve $3.5 billion in revenue in 2015, not counting anything earned in free-to-play titles or in DLC. That figure explains everything about why Palmer Luckey wants the Oculus Store to be the premiere destination for VR content. Even 5% of Steam’s revenue would be worth $175 million — and the only chance Oculus has of taking on the titan of game distribution is to strike fast from day one and build support for its own platform. Companies that wait to evaluate customer paradigm shifts before entering the market often lose their shirts (Exhibit A: Intel and Microsoft).

As of this writing, it is not clear if the Revive project will be able to bypass the copy protection or not. CrossVR has stated that this would be difficult, but that he is looking into the situation.

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