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Why Oculus's bitter DRM arms race exacerbates the Rift's disappointing launch

Hayden Dingman | May 24, 2016
Oculus should focus on getting games and gear into VR adoptee's hands rather than locking paid-for games to its walled garden.

There’s a program called Revive. It allows you to (for the most part) play Oculus Rift games on the HTC Vive. And why not? The two headsets are, at their core, pretty damn similar. If anything, the Vive has more functionality than the current Rift, meaning it should be easier to go Rift-to-Vive than vice versa.

The problem: Oculus paid (a lot of, I assume) money for a handful of exclusive titles—Lucky’s Tale, EVE Valkyrie, Chronos—to convince people to buy a Rift. If people can wrap them to run on the Vive, it’s like Oculus paid for nothing!

So Oculus patched in new DRM and Revive stopped working. Then over the weekend Revive cracked the new DRM. Such is life.

Pyrrhic victory

oculus rift alt

I’d write Oculus an open letter, but I don’t really have much to say. Four words, maybe: “Stop. Oculus, please. Stop.”

Nothing good can come of entering a DRM arms race. The best case scenario here (for the company) is that Oculus manages to lock down its games to a single, tightly-controlled platform. And sure, that doesn’t sound too bad—if you don’t care about what people think of you.

I once considered Oculus the ideal company to bring virtual reality to the masses. Sure, it was a business. Always. But it paid lip service to something greater. We saw a lot of Palmer Luckey back in those days, clad in flip-flops and talking about how VR was more important than any single company. Hell, he reiterated that sentiment to UploadVR back in March:

“‘People using virtual reality,’ is more important to Luckey ‘than near term profits.’”

That attitude was enshrined in Oculus Share, a Wild West haven for any and all things VR. In the Oculus developer kit era, all “official” Rift content was hosted through Share. Demos, games, experiences, video players, about a million virtual roller coasters, content with dubious amounts of copyright infringement, documentaries—it was all on Oculus Share. Most of it for free.

dumpy going elephants
Oculus Share’s openness inspired awesome, experimental experiences like Dumpy: Going Elephants.

And it made sense. This is how you foster a scene. You give people the tools, you give people the means to distribute, and the diehard fans will create things for fun. For free. See also: Mods.

And it’s also fine that Oculus Share got sidelined for the much more formalized Oculus Store when the Rift released. Now it’s a consumer-facing product, and you don’t want (or shouldn’t want) grandma’s first VR experience to be a janky roller coaster demo that runs at 10 frames per second and makes her vomit.


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