Interview: Five things you didn't know about the HTC Vive


What a week we had. E3 2016 brought us two new systems – the Xbox One S and until now only rumored Project Scorpio – along with a half-dozen new titles to look forward to on the PlayStation VR when it launches.

But while Sony had an audacious presentation to showcase its PlayStation VR headset and its partners’ titles, the two biggest names in the virtual reality game – Oculus and HTC – sat off on the sidelines playing more of a support role rather than stealing the spotlight for themselves.

But that suited HTC’s VP of VR Content Development Joel Breton just fine.

After launching the platform three months ago, Breton has been hard at work wrangling up more content partners and helping developers make the most of HTC’s nascent VR headset.

I caught up with him in a meeting off the show floor where he shared five key facts about the HTC Vive that he reckons the world needs to know.

There’s 250 games and apps on the Vive right now

At launch, the HTC Vive had well over 40 games available which means, if you count it as a gaming console (some do, some don’t) then, according to Breton, HTC is the record holder for the biggest content launch of all time.

“I think the Wii U had 35 when it launched, and then before that the Xbox 360, when it came out, had about 25 games if I’m not mistaken,” Breton said. “So we’re very proud of that.”

HTC Vive

But more impressive than its launch numbers is the speed at which developers have pushed new games to the store.

If you can’t find something to enjoy on there right now, you might be doing something wrong

Breton told me that there are more than 250 “pieces of content” – games, movies and apps – available for the system right now, a mere three months out from launch. To put that in perspective, Xbox One had 57 games three months after it came out, while the Oculus Rift has stalled out at a paltry 34.

Breton may have said it bluntly, but he also said it best: “If you can’t find something to enjoy on there right now, you might be doing something wrong.”

Bigger, deeper and richer content is in development

One of the biggest complaints about the Vive is that, for the most part, the games released so far feel more like tech demos than they feel like full titles that you’d see on store shelves at Best Buy, GameStop or EB Games.

When asked what he’s been doing to bring better titles to the store, Breton pointed to the announcement that Bethesda, makers of Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series, are making one of the highest-acclaimed games of last year, Fallout 4, completely playable in VR.

He said that it takes AAA developers at least a year to have a tangible product, and even longer to create something as immersive as Fallout.

But here’s the other bombshell Breton dropped: The next Skyrim is in development for the HTC Vive as we speak.

HTC Vive

Well … OK, not exactly the next game in the Elder Scrolls series per se, but according to Breton there are a few of those really big, open-world games in development as we speak.

“The games that you want to come back to time and time again – the ones with 100 hours of gameplay and hundreds of side-quests – are in the oven baking right now,” Breton said.

However, when pressed for more specifics – what the names of the games are, what publishers he’s been working with and when that VR version of Skyrim was coming – Breton played it cool, leaving it at a simple “they’re on the way.”

HTC and Valve have no interest in controlling the price of your games

So what happens when all that content is ready to come out? Breton says that it’s up to developers and publishers, not HTC and Valve, to set the price for the content they create.

It’s absolutely up to the publisher and the developer to set their price

“It’s absolutely up to the publisher and the developer to set their price,” Breton said. “If they ask, though, we definitely want to give them some guidance.”

This Laissez-Faire approach sounded controversial at first, but the more Breton talked about it, the more it made sense.

While he acknowledged that there are scenarios where a developer might set the price of its game higher than what it’s worth, the review system on Steam would inform potential buyers instantly that the game isn’t worth their cash.

Moreover, thanks to Valve’s lenient refund policy, Breton says that gamers can simply ask for their money back should they feel the developer used false advertising to lure them in.

“But I think what’s happening now is that developers are looking at what’s on the store, since there are 250 pieces of content, and see what’s selling and what their prices are.”

HTC and Valve are aware that finding 360-degree video is hard

After spending an extensive amount of time with both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift to write their respective reviews, there’s little I found that the Rift could do better than Vive.

Room-scale virtual reality beats seated experiences any day of the week and, for the time being, HTC Vive is the only system that has first-party touch controllers.

But one huge glowing red weak spot is HTC and Valve’s inability to place 360-degree video and photos in front of your face like Oculus can.

HTC Vive

While Oculus has a specific section of its storefront dedicated to 360-degree streams from Twitch and curated content from YouTube and Vimeo, the Vive has relegated that content to third-party apps far away from the main home screen.

The good news is that HTC’s VP of VR Content Development knows where its weak spots are, and has a plan in place to patch them up sooner rather than later.

“We’re going to have a solution there,” Breton said. “I can’t tell you what it is today, but stay tuned, we’ll have some announcements shortly.”

The Vive is more capable than users – and even developers – think

It’s the same story every time a new console comes out.

Developers, after finally figuring out how to squeeze every ounce of power out of last generation’s hardware, rush to get their hands on the latest and greatest hardware, only to realize that they have no clue how to make the most out of the technology.

And while you’d expect that to happen on HTC’s headset (trust me, it is) Breton says that developers are facing even bigger problems figuring out how to solve problems they’ve never faced before – like figuring out how to get players from Point A to Point B.

Right now we’re not even close to having content that is maxing out what the Vive can do

“It’s going to take awhile to get the teams up to speed on what the differences are between the platforms and how to solve the problems that pop-up when developing for virtual reality,” Breton said.

But there’s a silver lining here: Yes development teams still learning how to walk in HTC’s new world of fully immersive gameplay, but once they get up to speed they’ll discover that the hardware is far more powerful than they had ever thought.

“Right now we’re not even close to having content that is maxing out what the Vive can do.”

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