The Princess Bride is a movie of many wise and quotable truisms. Such as: “Have fun storming the castle!” and “You killed my father. Prepare to die.” And also, more relevant to our purposes: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”
If Oculus VR and the HTC Vive are in a hardware war, then the PC market is their Russia. Ars Technica compares the current rivalry between these two virtual reality headsets to the good ol’ days of Sega’s console bid versus Nintendo in the early 1990s, but consoles — unlike peripherals intended to work on endlessly transfigurable hardware like a personal computer — are locked down; purpose-built. If you want to run a game on a Playstation 4, it needs to be one that manufacturer Sony agrees with you putting there, or you’ll have to get creative and probably violate a few user agreements to make it happen. Whereas if you want to run something on a PC, and the people who made it insist it can only work with certain software, inevitably, someone’s going to have a cracked version working around these limitations inside of a month. If not a few hours.
That’s the situation in which Oculus now finds itself. It boasts a number of exclusive launch titles for its Rift headset, including some packed in with the device itself, but a homebrew patch has made many of those exclusives playable on the Vive. It’s not foolproof — you still need to run the games through Oculus’s creepy potentially-privacy-invading software, which is what a lot of folks were looking to get around to begin with — and it won’t last forever, but it’s there if you want to try it.
Oculus doesn’t condone the patch, of course, and has issued a statement about it: “Users should expect that hacked games won’t work indefinitely, as regular software updates to games, apps, and our platform are likely to break hacked software.”
That’s not a hardware war, then, but an arms race — and not Oculus against its competitor HTC, but against PC users doing what PC users do best, which is to mod, hack, and pirate things. To a certain extent, Oculus no doubt expected this: after all, the development kit version of its hardware has been in the wild for years, and developers have already come up with wildly experimental uses for the headset far beyond the scope of the company’s commercial enterprise. So staying one step ahead of PC modders and hackers is the price to pay for wading into that market. But as the price of VR hardware goes down and the market grows, VR publishers are going to be putting out fires like this more and more, not less.
Alternatively, Oculus, HTC and other VR headset manufacturers could give up on the idea of exclusives and work toward cross-compatibility instead, which would appeal to PC users and certainly discourage piracy and hacking. But that’s a risky proposition when you’re first trying to get your product out the door and you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Regardless, the one truly impossible pipe dream here is Oculus creating a system so iron-clad that the PC market can’t crack it. That just isn’t happening. You’re in a land war in Asia now, Oculus — but I’m sure someone over at your offices is very good at Risk.
(h/t Ars Technica.)
Kris Ligman is the News Editor of ZAM and admittedly, quite bad at Risk. Quote cult movies to them on Twitter @KrisLigman.