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

Oculus should focus on getting games and gear into VR adoptee's hands rather than locking paid-for games to its walled garden.

vivevsrift
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

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.

A series of missteps

Somewhere between Oculus Share and this new DRM though, Oculus seemed to lose track of pie-in-the-sky Luckey’s vision and started acting a lot more like a “real business.” One that wants to start a pissing match between itself and its biggest competitor.

It’s alienating many of Oculus’s diehard fans. Even the ones who can see why Oculus would be upset at Revive flaunting the rules (myself included) seem incensed Oculus would waste time on what’s essentially anti-consumer Whac-a-Mole. The DRM arms race is a tedious cycle that’s all-too-familiar to PC gamers, and Oculus is diving headfirst into that empty pool.

oculus rift consumer shipping

This is something that many early Oculus Rift preorderers still haven’t seen yet.

Meanwhile some of Oculus’s biggest fans don’t even have a Rift yet. Preorders are set to stretch through the entire summer. I bet some would-be apostles are using their Vive to play games they should’ve been playing on their Rift months ago.

And don’t get me started on how dismal the Oculus Store has been since launch. There’s a middle ground between the lawlessness of Oculus Share and the walled garden it’s running now. I’d wager less than a dozen games have been added to the Oculus Store since launch.

Is it because nobody’s making games? Well let’s briefly check Steam and—oh wow! There are dozens and dozens of Rift-ready games, sitting right alongside Vive games. Why aren’t those on the Oculus Store?

So post-launch, the Rift has been a disaster in terms of fulfilling preorders and in terms of adding content and—most of all—in terms of communicating with people. And the way the company wants to represent itself? By locking down its already woefully-underdeveloped storefront so that people with a competing headset can’t give Oculus money.

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The Oculus Home hub.

Because yes, let’s not ignore that aspect—people still need to buy these exclusive games from Oculus to play them on the Vive with Revive. They might not be buying a Rift but (unless they’re pirates, which is a whole different issue) Oculus is still selling software.

“Better plan: Add in DRM.” Damn it, Oculus. Your audience is one of the most technologically-sophisticated groups of people in the entire world. You created a gadget proselytized by nerds, created a community of savvy apostles who literally annoy would-be converts with their feverish “VR is the future and I will brook no dissent” attitude.

In all likelihood, you are never going to lock down these games. Picking a fight with the Internet is always a bad idea, and worse still when you’ve picked a fight with a group this tech-literate. 

But the better question is “Why bother?” Even if you win—and it’s a big “if”—you just look like a crotchety old man. Not like the leader of a movement.

Want to learn more about Oculus Rift? See Hayden's Oculus Rift versus HTC Vive showdown below.

This story, "Why Oculus's bitter DRM arms race exacerbates the Rift's disappointing launch" was originally published by PCWorld.

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