Rift and Vive

The number one complaint you'll see about gaming on Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive right now is a lack of popular — commonly referred to as AAA — games. As gamers, we're used to a major hardware launch including a list of games that were made in coordination with the manufacturer. Games that, at least in part, show off what the system you're playing on is capable of. Perhaps more important than how functional the games are, some those launch titles in the last few generations have been staples in the console ecosystem.

While these expectations aren't unreasonable from the perspective of someone who has grown up on consoles, it's a thought that misses the larger picture when it comes to VR gaming. It also unnecessarily puts the smaller VR experiences that already exist in an box they don't belong in.

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Oculus Controllers

Don't be fooled by claims that there are no good games available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive yet. There are plenty of games available, in fact there are more titles available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive than have ever been available for any new gaming platform at launch. Scrolling through the Oculus Store and Steam reveals options at every price point — and plenty of free demos if you're using Steam. Disembodied space stories like Adr1ft, fully immersive RPGs like Chronos and The Gallery, and straight up action shooters like Elite: Dangerous or Eve: Valkyrie or even Holopoint fill both headsets with hours of enjoyment. There are nightmarish horror stories and kid-friendly adventures and just about everything in between.

These VR platforms don't exist as extensions of the console universe.

As with any platform launch, there are also games that just plain aren't very good. Oculus has filled their store with games that have been available for months on the Samsung Gear VR, and while some of those titles have had a noticeable visual upgrade there are few that feel any different. These are almost entirely $10 titles, but the same 20 minutes of gameplay that holds your attention in a smartphone-based VR system feels a lot less worth it on the Oculus Rift. Valve's title list is equally marred by Early Access titles that are clearly labeled incomplete and absolutely mean it. It's easy for a Steam veteran to navigate that experience, but new users are likely to find these incomplete experiences unsettling.

Consumer confidence is a big issue with VR. Few people have ever heard of these titles before, and fewer have played long enough to publish reviews, so it's easy to see why these experiences are overlooked on Vive and Rift. As consumers, we're used to knowing quite a bit about games before making a purchase. In VR, it's difficult to share the emotion and pure sense of immersion with a YouTube video. There's no physical case with a bunch of artwork and someone at the counter to recommend the title, either. This is a purely digital experience through a physical accessory that really needs to be experienced in order to fully grasp, and that makes buying a game you know for a fact will entertain you for hours a little complicated.

HTC Vive

But that's where all of this starts to make a lot more sense. These VR platforms don't exist as extensions of the console universe. Sony and Microsoft have tried that with Kinect and Move, with very little success. Bolting new experiences onto the existing set of rules and ideas doesn't work, largely because of the expectations that exist in those spaces. The need for AAA titles out of the box, the weird assumption that a game has to appeal to everyone in order to appeal to anyone, and the whole concept of never being disconnected from your friends while you play are artifacts of a mature system.

VR as a platform is still relatively immature when it comes to the content that's available, but the experience is far from lacking if you're actually looking.

VR is not here to enhance the current state of what we already know. The whole point is to create a space for new experiences, and it's already working. Look at some of the more popular games for VR already and you'll see things that would never take off on a console. Job Simulator sounds really weird until you put the headset on and give it a shot. Unseen Diplomacy and Budget Cuts don't actually sound like fun until you actually try creeping around and enjoying yourself. Eve: Valkyrie sounds like Yet Another Matchmaking Game until you team up to take down a Carrier together. Each of these are games that work well in VR because they were built for VR, and could only be this much fun in that environment. That means new game developers coming up with new ideas and not sticking with what we already know works in traditional gaming worlds.

Talking about the Rift and Vive in the same post was also intentional, because it's looking less and less like pitting these two systems against one another is going to mean much of anything. Oculus has already made it so you can play games from Steam, and while it's unclear just how "room scale" the Rift is going to be with touch controllers there's going to be quite a bit of overlap in games available for each. It's probably not going to get to a point where every single title is available for both, but it may not be that far off either. We're even seeing talk of cross-platform play already, which is great.

VR as a platform is still relatively immature when it comes to the content that's available, but the experience is far from lacking if you're actually looking. Trying to fit what does exist into the current set of expectations doesn't work very well, and that's okay. It's way more important for developers to continue exploring with what happens when players can be accurately motion tracked and can see the entire world around them, and so far what many have come up with has been nothing short of incredible.