In the immortal words of Californian funk group War, "Why can't we be friends?"
As virtual reality splits off into different platforms and technologies, keeping everyone together may be the most important thing of all for this small but growing medium.
As new players enter the market, are we making sure that the industry isn't becoming too fragmented, and putting people off by keeping them apart?
What's happening right now?
This week a bunch of the biggest names in virtual reality came together to form a coalition in the name of better VR. Members of this VR UN, known as the Global Virtual Reality Association, include Google, HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Sony and Acer; most of the big guns are involved. Their mission statement is to "promote responsible development and adoption of VR globally".
That they want to make sure VR is good for everyone. This is still a young industry, and many people are taking their own unique paths. While we all know VR is awesome and has heaps of potential, it remains to be seen how a lot of things will work. Having something like the GVRA to create guidance for other headset makers and game developers will surely be a good thing.
But it's not going to work like the actual UN, right?
Well no, we can't see them all sat around discussing virtual diplomacy and exercising their veto powers. But it has the potential to shape the way the VR industry unfolds through guidance, and it says it wants to "share best practices for industry", which hopefully means this collective thinking will accelerate the speed of quality VR.
A little concerning is that Valve isn't involved; it's one of the biggest players in VR right now and its technology research has been significant. Microsoft is also notably absent despite the excitement around HoloLens.
Ok, but what benefits will I see in the short term?
We're hoping one thing will be a push towards more cross-compatibility, so if you have an Oculus Rift and your friend owns a HTC Vive with the same game, you'll be able to play together. It would mean more games to play, and more people buying into VR. Win win.
Isn't this already happening?
Eve Valkyrie currently works across systems. Also, Ubisoft just announced that it's going to make its games work across the Oculus, Vive and PS VR, starting with its first VR title Eagle Flight. Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, set for next year, will also offer cross-platform multiplayer.
Does cross-platform matter as much in VR?
Arguably more so. As with non-VR video games, the more people you can play with the better, right? But VR is different in that it's a very solitary experience, especially at the moment, so being able to play with other people is perhaps even more essential.
But that's not good business for VR companies, surely?
There's definitely a tension here. We don't think the GVRA will be killing off exclusives any time soon, and we expect Oculus will continue to keep getting developers to publish uniquely to its platform. Same goes for PS VR: don't expect Crash Bandicoot VR to hit the Vive any time in the near future (or PS VR for that matter, we just made that game up). But HTC and Valve are already more open about VR development. Even the first game built by HTC's internal VR studio, announced this week, will work with both the Vive and Rift.
It's even trickier for developers who have to get paid; having a big name wave cash in front of you to stay exclusive could be even more tempting with VR. This week DayZ creator Dean Hall took to Reddit to defend game developers coming under fire for taking exclusivity deals.
"There is no money in it," he said. "I don't mean 'money to go buy a Ferrari'. I mean 'money to make payroll'. People talk about developers who have taken Oculus/Facebook/Intel money like they've sold out and gone off to buy an island somewhere. The reality is these developers made these deals because it is the only way their games could come out."
That doesn't sound like good news for VR
The market forces that govern VR gaming are different to consoles, and it's a bit of a Catch-22 situation right now. The base is too small for many developers to make a good return on investment, and to see it grow we may need to see more hardware companies pumping money into the developers. Having a body like the GVRA will hopefully help this happen.
Meanwhile it's good to see big studios like Ubisoft, which can afford to develop without making a great return right now, put their faith into virtual reality, and keeping everyone playing together.
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