Samsung and Oculus have been working together on a portable virtual reality platform called Gear VR, and our recent hands-on with the hardware was exciting.
The product works; it provides a high-quality virtual reality experience in a completely portable product, and based on the wide variety of games and experiences we were able to try on retail units, the launch software will be just as impressive. There's only one problem.
For the first few months, developers will be forced to give their games away. And they're not happy about it.
Missing the important time for a new game
This is a big deal for developers who have spent a large amount of time working on games designed specifically for virtual reality; the sort of developer that Oculus needs to court for the platform to become successful.
Early rumors indicate that the Gear VR shell will sell for between $100 to $200, and the first version of the hardware will only be compatible with the Galaxy Note 4. If you're purchasing both pieces of hardware specifically for VR, you're not the sort of consumer that's price conscious above all other factors.
"We’re launching Gear VR without monetization in Oculus Home."
You're also the sort of consumer that's hungry for virtual reality, and ready to pay significant amounts of money to experience it. If you're a developer this is the perfect storm: A small window where the most devoted players have invested the most in hardware and are willing to pay a premium for an experience where there isn't a huge number of titles to choose from. If you get your game on the Gear VR for launch, the attach rate for sales to hardware will likely be outstanding.
This is why many companies strive to have games available for console launches; the early adopters aren't as price conscious as the later consumers, and will pay more per game for more games. It's a feeding frenzy, and it should be the reward for making such a large bet on virtual reality before there is evidence of a sustainable market.
But Oculus confirmed that the first rush of games, that all-important launch week, won't make developers any money. What is causing that massive oversight?
"We’re launching Gear VR without monetization in Oculus Home," Oculus' Nate Mitchell told Polygon in an interview.
This is a big deal, because you have to go through Oculus' storefront to sell your games; developers won't be able to launch Gear VR games on Google Play or any other storefront. And Home is releasing without a payment system.
The decision to launch without a way to sell games wasn't part of any plan, it's just a portion of development that's proving to be a sticking point leading to launch. "Payments are hard. We have not rolled out our payment infrastructure as fast as we’d want," Mitchell continued.
This puts developers in a very rough spot, and the company seems to know it. They can either launch their games with the hardware and enjoy the high attach rate with the early adopters while giving their product away, or wait until the future when the payment system works but the users may not be as willing to pay for that number of games.
"I share their pain. I truly do. This is not where we wanted to be. We wanted to have our payments infrastructure online already," Mitchell said. "We have devs, they’re making made for VR games and they say I’m ready to sell it to all of these users, and we’re like, 'Hold that thought for a few months.'"
This is actually good news for early adopters, since they'll be getting all their games and content available in the storefront for free. It's very bad news for the developers who are giving up sales in order to be there first. It puts the biggest supporters of virtual reality game development in an awkward spot, and there's doesn't seem to be a good solution.
"The truth is, we’re behind on where we want to be, and we’re working as fast as we can to get it in place," Mitchell stated. "It should have already been there."