It's wholly expected that to play video games, and VR games in particular, you need a certain level of hardware. That's normal, understandable and perfectly reasonable.
But what hasn't happened before is games locking content to specific CPUs after release.
That's the bizarre situation that has happened with Arizona Sunshine, a VR apocalyptic zombie shooter which launched today. It's a premium title with a regular price of US$39.99, a price that sits in the same kind of territory as major indie releases, recently discounted AAA blockbusters, and so on.
But despite the fairly substantial barrier to entry, it turns out there's an extra cost. A thread was posted on the game's Steam forums questioning why they didn't have access to the single player horde mode on both of their PCs.
The PC that had horde mode was, according to the user, sporting an Intel Core i7-6700 CPU, while the other was running an older 4th generation Intel i5 chip.
Not long after posting, developer Vertigo Games confirmed that the single-player horde mode and an apocalyptic mode (the highest level of difficulty in the campaign) would only be available to owners of 5th, 6th and 7th generation Intel Core i7 users.
Single Player Horde Mode & Apocalyptic Mode
These are two game modes that we have not focused on previously.
Working with Intel allowed us to create even more content than we originally planned, including these modes and the physics systems in the game, making Arizona Sunshine one of the richest VR experiences possible. We want to give 5th, 6th and 7th gen Intel® Core™ i7 owners first glimpse into these additional modes, but they’ll be available March 6, 2017 to everyone who owns the game.
It's a surprising, and wholly unwelcome, direction for VR development. There are plenty of Intel i5 CPUs that can run Arizona Sunshine just fine, but they won't get access to the new modes. AMD CPUs are getting equally shafted. Even those who bought a brand new Intel i7 CPU between 2013 and 2014 is likely to miss out.
Fortunately, frustrated modders have already come to the rescue. You can download a DLL from Github, thanks to LibreVR, that overwrites the compatibility check and unlocks the two modes for all owners. And while users are thankful for the workaround, others have pointed out that it means Vertigo Games are largely getting away scot free.
It's not as if the particulars behind this arrangement were announced beforehand. A month before the game's release, Vertigo Games were telling users that Arizona Sunshine would run on an Intel i5 CPU, but that they should really upgrade:
Of course, there's a big difference between better performance and having access to content. None of the prior announcements on Steam mentioned that these modes would be limited to certain CPUs, however.
I contacted Vertigo Games, asking whether they were sticking by the exclusivity and whether it was a precondition set by Intel in exchange for their support during development. While they didn't respond to those questions, they posted an update announcing that they would be "unlocking these modes immediately to all players".
"We wanted you to feel it was worth it, but we also wanted everybody to be able to play these modes eventually," the developer wrote. "These surprise game modes were meant to be a reward for those players with high-end VR systems who were looking for the most immersive experience possible ... we are unlocking these modes to all players immediately via an automatic update, and we hope you enjoy them."
It's a speedy reversal, but given the swift and unanimous reaction from fans it's understandable. Vertigo deserve some credit for reversing their decision in such a speedy manner, but you have to wonder what the thought process was like that allowed this situation to arise in the first place.