Why Oculus Rift launched with 30 games but no controller

Why VR doesn't have AAA games yet

About two years ago Jason Rubin joined Oculus VR to lead software development for the company's much talked about Oculus Rift. But there was one problem.

"There was no software, really, just VR," he said during an interview last week. "The dev kits were only 14 to 16 months old.

"It was always clear to me, coming from the console side, that you can't launch hardware without good games."

So over the next two years, Rubin, head of Oculus worldwide studios, worked with developers inside and outside the company to make sure that when Oculus Rift was ready to go on sale it would have a robust, eclectic mix of games to launch alongside it.

"My job is to find content that makes the Rift interesting to consumers," he said. "I have a budget and I went out and found people to makes the types of games that would fill the holes I saw we had in the launch lineup."

Last week's three-day San Francisco press event for the Oculus Rift, which ran across the beginning of the Game Developers Conference, was in many ways a sign of how far Rubin's efforts have gone to fix those launch holes.

The day-long events, set-up so that journalists could come in three waves to play through games on the headset, included more than 40 playable titles. Many of those games will launch on March 28 alongside the Rift.


Early on, one of the biggest holes Rubin found in the lineup for the virtual reality headset were games that played from a third-person perspective.

"The reason why third-person games were a hold was because of VR purists, researchers and university professors," Rubin said. "From their standpoint, VR means a very specific thing. That thing is a holodeck and the holodeck is not in third person.

"From their standpoint, third-person is somewhat of an abomination."

But Rubin saw the value and potential in third-person games.

While the game takes place in the third-person, with players controlling a character typically located on the landscape beneath or around them, the player still views the experience from a first-person perspective.

The player essentially become the camera, but in the case of VR, it feels like you still have a presence in the game, looming over the world in which you are controlling the game's character.

adventure time

That's in part because developers can tinker with the view, making the eyes further apart from each other, for instance, to tweak the scale and make the player feel like a giant.

That third-person perspective can also be used for tabletop gaming. Airmech, for instance, has you controlling the real-time strategy game from the view of someone standing in front of a big hologram table.

"It all just kind of works," Rubin said.

Airmech is also an example of the other sort of work Rubin and his team has been doing.

"Airmech was already working on Oculus," Rubin said. "The developers were going to make this small game and I said, 'Let's make this huge.'"

The end result is a full-blown VR game bigger than the original that grabbed a lot of buzz at last week's event.

In the case of Crytek's The Climb, Rubin suggested the opposite.

"Crytek had an idea for a massive game," he said. "They were showing me it and then said, 'Then you're going to be climbing up stuff.'

The Climb announcement screen 3

"I said, 'This is amazing, a cliff totally works. Let's make it a climbing game.'"

Initially, the developers were resistant to the idea, but Rubin convinced them.

"It was this hole," he said. "We're still not even scratching the surface of what can be done.

"But we do have enough variety and exciting content now so that everyone can say there's something for them."

Currently, Oculus Studios only owns the IP for two of the launch titles: Hero Bound and Dead and Buried.

"Those games wouldn't exist without Oculus Studios," Rubin said.

The Zelda-like Hero Bound was developed by Gunfire Games, a studio made up almost entirely of staff from Darksiders' developer Vigil Games. He said Gunfire was teetering on the edge of collapse when Oculus hired them to create the game.

"They probably would have gone under if Oculus hadn't stepped in," he said.

Now, that studio is working on Chronos, a darker, more zoomed-in third-person action game that Gunfire owns.


Unlike the HTC Vive VR headset, Oculus won't be launching with its controllers, instead it ships with an Xbox One wireless gamepad.

The Oculus Touch controller will hit in the second half of the year. That creates a sort of second launch for the platform and another wave of games for Rubin and his team to cultivate.

Rubin says he's not worried that the Rift will lose players to the Vive simply because it doesn't have its controller hitting with the headset.

"There may be some people who say, 'I want hand tracking controls today.' Here is what I would say," he said. "I can say with confidence that this is an amazing launch lineup. Someone who gets [the Oculus Rift] has an incredible amount of stuff to do this year and flowing into next year. If I was launching a Touch product this month I wouldn't feel that way.

"Those are games that need more time. These games are ready. I can look them in the eye and say this is a full launch lineup."

When the Oculus Touch controllers are released, Rubin said, the controllers will have a big event of their own.

Even at last week's event, there were a mix of early games that use the Touch.

Rubin's attention is already beginning to shift to Touch games, preparing those titles for a second launch window and looking for holes in that lineup.

"We are focused on having that volume at launch," he said. "And continuing to support innovation and the medium."

While a wave of Touch Controller supported games will hit alongside the controller, that doesn't mean that Oculus and Rift developers will turn their back on VR games that use the traditional gamepad controller.

"I don't think the gamepad is going anywhere," Rubin said. "You can play with it for hours. We will continue to support that."


As Rubin transitions from bolstering the launch lineup, to working with developers on the Touch Controller launch lineup, he's already thinking about what's next.

Even after those two launch windows, there's still plenty to do.

"In the perfect world there wouldn't be a need for me," he said. "In the real world, with a zero install base, that's not the case."

Rubin believes that the as more VR games are made and released, more lessons will be learned about what does and doesn't work.

Those lessons are applied in two main ways, he said.

Studios with their own game engines use their game development to improve the engines they license to other developers. So the lessons learned by Crytek while working on The Climb go back into the Crytek Engine. The same is true with Epic and the Unreal Engine.

Developers also learn a lot from each other's games.

Rubin said he spent a lot of those preview days last week bringing one developer over to see other developer's game.

He showed a lot of developers Ubisoft's Eagle Flight and how it minimized motion sickness during the weaving movement of flight by reducing the peripheral view in some moments. He pointed people to VR Sports and how it mastered the feel of a throw.

"This is the first time we have shown all of the content in one place," Rubin said. "Devs are seeing each other's games. The more content that is out there the faster developer improvement accelerates.

"It's good for everyone."

And that includes other VR headsets as well.

Rubin said he was particularly impressed with the PlayStation VR's The London Heist and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League.

Those lessons are vital to help virtual reality gaming grow and it still has lot of growing to do, Rubin said.

"Right now the scale of game we can do and the amount of game we can do is here," he said. "Over time, though, we need to get to triple, triple A games, like Call of Duty.

"We haven't had enough time to make a Call of Duty yet. Even if we started with the Devkit 2 (in 2014) launch.

"There just wasn't enough time, not to mention that we don't know how to make that sort of game in VR. Over time, my job will be moving up the ladder. Smaller indies will fund themselves and my job will be to move into larger and larger titles so probably working with fewer and fewer games."

As quality goes up, Rubin said, depth increases as well, as does development time and the need for experience.

"It wasn't a hole we could get to," he said of the big AAA game. "If you started developing Grand Theft Auto when we released the dev kits, you'd still be working on it."

Rubin, though, remains confident of the 30 titles that will be available to VR gamers on March 28.

"The most import thing in the launch of hardware is the content," he said. "The reason we're here today showing all of this stuff is that we have one of the strongest lineups of games."