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The baffling, missing features of the Oculus Rift

How did a social media company help launch such an isolating product?

The Oculus Rift is an amazing piece of technology with an already robust selection of games and experiences. But the included software is missing some fundamental features that have only become more noticeable, and frankly baffling, as we spend more time with the system after our review.

The Rift may still be the most polished and user-friendly of the desktop virtual reality systems to date, but there are a number of issues that need to be addressed in terms of software and usability before it's truly mature. Here are our issues with the hardware and its software after more use, and in comparison to the retail version of the HTC Vive.

You have to install games on your computer's C drive

Video games are only getting larger, and forcing users to install their games to one specific location on their system is bonkers in 2016.

Your system's C drive, in a modern gaming rig, is likely your SSD, and of course you want your game to load quickly. But my C drive is already completely filled with other games and files and, unlike Steam, there's no way to point Oculus titles to another place to install these games.

Don't have room on your C drive? Better re-arrange your files or delete some stuff. I can't think of any other platform that serves its users large, downloadable files that doesn't allow you to specify where they land, but here we are.

There are people posting workarounds such as the following I found on Reddit:

In this example, we'll assume we are moving the folder "C:\Program Files (x86)\Oculus" to instead be stored at "X:\My Storage\Oculus."

  • Move your existing folder "C:\Program Files (x86)\Oculus" to the location you actually want it stored at "X:\My Storage\Oculus".
  • Click Start > Run then type cmd into the box and hit enter to open the Windows command prompt.
  • Type the following line into the prompt, ADJUSTING THE FOLDER LOCATIONS AS NEEDED: mklink /J "C:\Program Files (x86)\Oculus" "X:\My Storage\Oculus

That's it! From now on when ever anything tries to access a file inside of "C:\Program Files (x86)\Oculus", Windows will automatically grab the file from "X:\My Storage\Oculus" instead. This means your HDD space on your C drive is safe! Woo hoo!

That's hardly a "simple" or consumer-friendly solution for what should be a drop-down menu.

If you're the sort of power gamer that likely has a high-end system and is interested in VR, it's very possible you have a specific drive just for your games. Better hope it's your C drive, because Oculus won't let you put games anywhere else.

There are no cloud saves

Did you just buy a new gaming PC or laptop to replace the system you've been using with your Oculus Rift? Grabbing your games is pretty simple; just log into your account and re-download everything you've purchased. It's great!

Your save files are gone, though.

Oculus Home has zero support for cloud saves, which means your progress is locked to your PC unless you're playing a game with its own client such as Elite: Dangerous.

You can manually copy and move all the files if you'd like, but that's a pain in the ass, and there is no reason a modern digital distribution platform shouldn't have support for saving your game to the cloud so you can pick up where you left off on the system of your choosing.

This isn't a luxury, this is something offered by every major gaming platform except Oculus. You want to play with the big kids? Well, these are the pockets of your big kid pants. Put them on.

There is no way to reach the player

There is no way to get the attention of someone inside the Oculus Rift without yelling to be heard over the built-in audio or perhaps touching their shoulder. One option is annoying and the other can be temporarily terrifying for the player. You shouldn't have to risk a jump scare in order to tell people dinner is ready.

The HTC Vive gets around this in a variety of ways. You can double-tap the menu button to open a camera that sees around you. You can connect a phone app that allows you to receive calls and quickly respond. You're not locked away inside the headset.

This isn't something that happens on a game-per-game basis, these are features baked into Steam VR that are accessible to anyone, at any time.

Oculus doesn't offer a single feature to compete in this area. People inside the Rift are unreachable, and that's a problem. Even the Gear VR shows you Facebook messages while you're inside a game, making it easy for people to reach you. The Oculus Rift — which is owned by Facebook — doesn't. At the time of writing, it is the most isolating of all virtual reality options.

Which brings us to the fact that:

There are no social features ... at all

Oculus Home has a friends list, but right now it's a list of friends. I can see what people are playing, but I can't invite them to a game. Nor can I send them a message. Or set up a party. Or hang out with them in any way. Or speak with them.

It's good to know they're there, I guess?

This is basic stuff, and again we're talking about a company owned by Facebook. Oculus currently cuts you off completely from other players and people in your physical space. If Facebook wants to bring people together, its company's first pass at virtual reality does everything it can to keep them apart.

Why do I need a monitor?

Gaming in virtual reality is one of the best uses of the technology, but really exciting things begin to happen when you imagine what the technology can do as a monitor replacement.

Heck, one of the best-selling virtual reality programs on both the Rift and the Vive is Virtual Desktop, which gives you a number of neat options for computing in virtual reality. It's a must-buy if you have a VR headset, in my opinion.

But the Rift is a monitor, or could be one with the proper software. Why do I need to have a monitor hooked up just to launch the program?

Why can't the Rift do everything a basic monitor can do out of the box, instead of requiring a large, quickly unnecessary piece of equipment once the program is running? Why do I need to pack a monitor up that's only used to launch a program that then replaces my monitor?

I would love to ditch my monitor completely and turn my gaming tower and Rift into a VR only workstation, but neither Windows nor Oculus offer a way to use the headset as a simple monitor before launch a VR application. Which means if you want to use VR, you also need to carry around a monitor.

The Oculus software will of course be improved and adapt to what customers want, but here's why these missing features are so disappointing:

The Vive already does all this stuff, and more

You may still need a monitor to launch the Vive, but Valve's menus system for HTC Vive is a VR version of Steam's Big Picture Mode. Valve has had a lot of time to get Steam right, and Vive has access to every social feature, not to mention the ability to save games in the cloud and to install games to whatever drive you'd like, out of the box.

The Vive offers a passthrough camera to talk to people around you and a phone app so people can talk to you while you're in VR. The Vive has a built-in desktop mode even if you don't want to buy a superior standalone, third-party product. It also has a theater mode so you can play any existing games in VR on a large, virtual screen.

Oculus offers none of this.

The very basic features that Oculus seems to be struggling with are offered by the Vive like they're no big deal, and honestly these things shouldn't be a big deal for a product that's supposed to be at the bleeding edge of technology.

You could argue that this comparison isn't fair, that Valve had years to perfect its social features and are benefitting from that work and an existing platform that links millions of people together. But that ignores the fact that Oculus is owned by Facebook, the company that offers the biggest and best-supported network of people in the world.

And the result is a platform that fails to offer the most basic networking support between players and the outside world, while locking your saved game files to a single computer. This isn't stuff Oculus needs to start work on, these are features already being offered by its competition.

The Vive's most defining trait may not even be its motion controls. It's that, at launch, it doesn't force you to be alone.