The debate over "exclusive" Oculus Rift games reached a new pitch yesterday. The catalyst: Serious Sam VR, and the question of whether Oculus is attempting to buy up exclusivity for in-development games.
Serious Sam VR in action. Like all VR games, it's probably a lot cooler in the headset
Since the Rift launched in March, Oculus has offered a number of exclusive games for their headset. Games like Farlands, Lucky's Tale, and more recently Edge of Nowhere were either wholly funded by Oculus or were developed by in-house Oculus studios. They can only be bought through the Oculus store and will only run on the Rift — Oculus recently stamped out a functional bypass to software platform checks — despite the fact that the rival HTC Vive could theoretically run them just fine. This has understandably upset a lot of PC gamers, who view the Rift — and VR headsets in general — more as PC peripherals than as distinct platforms with their own discrete software.
Yesterday, in the midst of another user's more general Reddit thread slamming Oculus and their owner Facebook for their various exclusive deals, Mario Kotlar, a developer working at Serious Sam VR studio Croteam, chimed in with a behind-the-scenes story:
[Oculus] tried to buy Serious Sam VR as well. It wasn't easy, but we turned down a shitton of money, as we believe that truly good games will sell by themselves and make profit in the long run regardless. And also because we hate exclusives as much as you do.
Dat shitton of money tho...
Many people reacted to Kotlar's comments with fury, in large part because, if true, such an action by Oculus runs directly counter to what Oculus founder Palmer Luckey told Gamasutra in August of last year. "Oculus Studios is not out to buy exclusivity," Luckey said at the time, "they're out to fund full games for the Rift."
Several hours after the initial post, Croteam's Alen Ladavac left a follow-up comment to elaborate on Kotlar's initial statement (emphasis mine):
OK, Mario, you've had fun here, now let's get serious. :)
I want to clarify some of the inaccuracies about our relationship with Oculus. Oculus did approach us with an offer to help fund the completion of Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope in exchange for launching first on the Oculus Store and keeping it time-limited exclusive. Their offer was to help us accelerate development of our game, with the expectation that it would eventually support all PC VR platforms. We looked at the offer and decided it wasn't right for our team. At no time did Oculus ask for, or did we discuss total exclusivity or buyout of support from Vive. We look forward to supporting Rift and Vive.
That's an important clarification: Timed exclusivity is still a drag, but less of one. We asked Serious Sam VR publisher Devolver Digital if they had anything to add, and a spokesperson sent the following statement:
Whenever there's great software there's always talk of exclusives, this happens all the time and isn't anything new. Of course businesses are always going to want the best for their audience and Devolver Digital is no exception. We've often worked with partners to bring our games to specific platforms, and we also support the developers we work with and their decisions for what's best for their games.
When asked for comment, an Oculus spokesperson responded thusly (emphasis mine):
We regularly offer developers financial grants to help fund early development of new titles to accelerate development or expand the scope of the game. In some cases, we exchange funding in return for launching on the Oculus Store first, with the expectation that the game will go on to launch on other platforms.
In the case of Croteam, at no time did we request that they stop development for other platforms, and we look forward to seeing Serious Sam be successful across the entire VR ecosystem.
So, everything settled, right? Oculus made an offer to give Croteam some money in exchange for timed exclusivity, Croteam said no thanks, a Croteam developer said something glib on Reddit and caused a stir, and now everyone's on the same page.
Of course, no, it's not that simple, and it looks like the debate over VR exclusivity isn't going to die down anytime soon. Oculus is well-funded, and will continue to have money to invest in game development. They will continue to ask game developers to give them something in return for that money, and that something will likely continue to take the form of temporary or total exclusivity.
Many PC gamers will continue to look askance at that practice, wishing Oculus would instead allow their games to work on all headsets. Commercial VR is still in its infancy, and it makes a certain amount of sense to conclude that more games on more headsets is good for VR in general, which in turn is good for Oculus. Furthermore, anyone who buys an Oculus game must surely wonder if they're locking themselves in to buying their next VR headset from Oculus, lest they lose access to their back catalogue.
I'd love it if Oculus would opt for a more open approach; I'm not surprised they aren't.