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The path to mainstream virtual reality lies in profitable developers

Oculus, Sony and Valve/HTC aren't fighting each other for your virtual reality dollar, they're competing with the fact that, right now, most people don't care about virtual reality. The biggest danger to this market isn't that Sony will get your money instead of Oculus, the real threat is that no one will want the technology at all.

It's a valid fear, even among existing virtual reality evangelists. The hardware requires a powerful computer, and that's before the cost of the headset that completely shuts you off from the outside world. You look — and may feel — a little silly as you play. If new controllers aren't needed yet, they likely will be soon. Outside of Project Morpheus, virtual reality is a technology that's going to require large amounts of buy-in from early adopters, both in terms of finances, space and faith that the technology won't die in six months.

The fight, at least in the short term, is going to be in making sure the developers are making money, and that's the secret to virtual reality taking off as a sustainable platform.

A large bet

There is already a large and often friendly community of virtual reality developers who are in the worst position you could possibly imagine in this business.

They're creating software for platforms that are unfinished, most of which have no solid release date yet,. Development kits can be hard to come by and everyone is hoping that it will be easy to move your game from platform to platform.

Virtual reality adoption will be a slow burn, and in-store demos will be essential

On top of that madness, there is no promise that the hardware will sell once it's released. These developers are betting everything on the idea that the stars will align and there will be a market for virtual reality software in the next year or so. Sony, Facebook/Oculus and HTC/Valve will all be fine if virtual reality doesn't take off; they're huge companies with fingers in many pies. The smaller developers who have spent their time and money on VR have bet everything on the technology.

It's going to be next to impossible to make a living by selling your game on one virtual reality platform, as the sales of each piece of hardware will likely be modest until more people are able to try the technology or upgrade their system. Virtual reality adoption will be a slow burn, and in-store demos will be essential.

There are things the platform holders can do to jump-start adoption, such as paying for exclusivity or publishing games themselves, but they're stopgap solutions. Worse than that, they split the market; it's going to be terrible if there are 10 amazing VR games, with five on one platform and five on the other.

We don't want the purchasing decision about which VR platform to buy to become that painful; the best-case scenario is that the vast majority of games are on all available platforms and the hardware will compete on features such as resolution and fit and finish. This isn't the creation of a new console where players already have loyalty to a brand or franchise; it's the wholesale creation of a new way to play video games. Software support has never been more important.

The hardware will be useless without a thriving marketplace of games and ideas

Developers will be the canary in this particular coal mine: If they can make money, it means the players are buying games, which means the hardware is selling, which means the market will expand, and then suddenly we have widespread adoption. I don't really care if Oculus makes money; the Facebook acquisition means that VR adoption could be a decade-long process and they'll be fine. I want to make sure the smaller developers who bet their livelihoods on the technology do well, because that means everything is going well.

Easing the path to multiplatform support, making the path to development kits transparent and simple for promising teams and thinking about promotion and visibility aren't nice things to hope for, they are essential if VR is going to take off. The hardware will be useless without a thriving marketplace of games and ideas, and that will only happen if developers can make money creating VR content.