Oculus Rift: Organic Development in a Commercial Age

If you’re a gamer, odds are you’ve seen the hype video. You know, that video that some big hardware developer shows at a tradeshow like E3 telling you exactly how cool their new gimmick is. Whether it’s motion controllers, video input, or 3D displays, the big manufacturers are always looking for that next big thing. Unfortunately, their promises usually fall short. I mean, honestly, how many of you actually use the Playstation Move or really get much use from the 3DS’ 3D display? This is something that has been a part of the home console for years and we are all familiar with. That’s why it’s refreshing to see how the Oculus Rift is developing.

It really hit home for me after a quick twitter exchange with game developer and former THQ President Jason Rubin.

If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a video from their Kickstarter campaign to get you up to speed:

Since this video was made, the Oculus Rift successfully funded its $250,000 Kickstarter campaign and then some. Once the smoke cleared the project raised almost $2.5 million and had nearly 7,000 backers funding to the level of receiving a development kit. All these numbers are impressive at first glance, but there is a depth here that goes even beyond that first impression.

At its core, this campaign showed that software developers were willing to pay their own money to fund this project and start developing this hardware. Companies like id, Epic, and Valve all put forward money (or at least public endorsements) to be a part of the development of the Oculus Rift. These people all wanted to get the hardware as early as possible to included it with their work. Could you imagine developers and publishers putting money towards the development of Microsoft’s Kinect? Sure Microsoft may not need the funding, but it’s more than money. This is a matter of faith in a project.

Most importantly, these are the people that will be making the games that you play with the Oculus. With the support of Epic and their Unreal Engine alone, a large portion of your gaming will support the Oculus and not just as an afterthought. It will be an ingrained part of the engine. This means support for the peripheral from the most basic level and isn’t just some tacked on afterthought.

577093_348736258561228_1821846412_nValve has also stepped up also as one of the largest supporters of this device. They have added Oculus support to their Source Engine, which runs all their most recent games. This means potential for 3D head mounted displays (HMD) in Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, and all their subsequent mods.

While many console gamers are unaware, or uncaring, of the Oculus, this will undoubtedly affect their future gaming as well. Frankly put, PC gaming is where most the innovation in the industry comes from. Online gaming, player made content, aftermarket DLC, disc based media, digital distribution, persistent online worlds, high definition displays; these are all innovations that first became popular on the PC, and then were later adopted by console gaming. In fact, early buzz already has people speculating that Sony might be interested in using the Oculus technology with their yet released Playstation 4.

What’s really interesting is that support is still growing. It seems that anyone who’s anyone in the gaming industry loves this device once they actually get it on their own head. So in an industry where we see publishers paying websites and retailers for buzz, it’s nice to see something that is being embraced and endorsed on the level where it may matter the most.

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