Everyone these days is focused on the trial Oculus vs Zenimax (if you don’t know what I’m talking about… you can start getting an idea looking at good articles like this one). I think that it’s something interesting, but it’s nothing more than VR gossip, something that I like to read while grabbing popcorns. Honestly I don’t think Zenimax will win this trial (just a gut feeling eh, I don’t have any evidence or such) and from a technical standpoint I don’t find this battle interesting.

I think that focusing on that stuff, lot of people lost the focus on the most important virtual reality thing of the day: the AMA of Gabe Newell on reddit. The fat copy of Harry Potter and other Valve employees stood there on /r/The_Gaben to answer all questions. Some were just random curiosity questions like “Have you ever been to Amsterdam?”, others were focused on Steam (someone asked about seeing pornography games on Steam… and no, guys, it won’t happen, sorry), others on games like Half Life 3 (he answered “The number 3 must not be said” ahahhahaha), then, of course, there have been questions about virtual reality. You can read all the AMA here or you can get an extract of most valuable Q&A here on Kotaku. Here I just want to comment two key posts.

First answer I want to comment is this one from Joe Ludwig (a guy from Valve):

500 companies have signed up to use Lighthouse and some of them are making HMDs. A few of them have talked about that, but a bunch more will announce when they’re ready.

As far as we know, everything is in place for any store to support the Vive. As part of your initial setup you would still install Steam to get the drivers, but Steam doesn’t need to be running for the Vive to work.

The controller production line is still going strong and churning out controllers. The next line we’re building is for the base stations we talked about at Dev Days. They’ll start showing up later this year.

Using automation allows us to keep production local, which means our employees can be much more hands-on with the manufacturing process. That works a lot better with how Valve works, so we’ll probably keep doing that going forward.

Let’s start from the first sentence that IMHO is pure dynamite! 500 companies are working on Lighthouse-compatible devices… and some of them are making headsets! Wow! This means lots of accessories and new (presumably cheaper) headsets for Steam VR! Lighthouse is an open standard, but for now, the only available headset is the Vive. If new headsets start approaching the SteamVR support, this will mean that we’ll start having lots of headsets for Lighthouse/SteamVR and only one for Oculus constellation (that is, the Rift). This new headsets will be of every kind and prices and we’ll start confirming the duality Vive/Oculus as being like Android/Apple is for smartphone world. Lighthouse is proving to be a great tracking system for room-scale for now: Oculus solution seems like a workaround they found to compensate for this cool feature introduced by HTC & Steam, like this great article by McGregor points out… in fact it has some problems. Furthermore Vive tracking is completely open and now with Vive Tracker you can also use it even to track objects, while Oculus architecture is all closed, so you can use it only for the Rift. SteamVR seems to have all the right cards to succeed in this battle: the best games store in the world (Steam), a runtime that supports out-of-the-box lots of devices (Oculus, Vive, OSVR, but also Leap Motion, Razer Hydra and all these controllers through SteamVR drivers), a fully working solution for room-scale, an open infrastructure and 500 partners! Oculus has still Touch as a great advantage point over Vive, but upcoming Vive Knuckles controllers will fill this gap, too. Oculus to compensate all this should be at the cutting edge, always: like Apple has been the one innovating the most at the beginning in the smartphone market, Oculus should do the same.

New steam vr controllers
Prototype of the Knuckle controllers (credit of this image to UploadVR)

The second sentence seems a point about upcoming Windows cheap headsets: if Vive is ok with all the stores, a Microsoft store based on Windows Holographic does not scare Valve. Furthermore I think that if some of their partners are producing cheap SteamVR headsets, Valve ecosystem can fight Microsoft headsets on the price field, too.

Third sentence reminds us that they’re working on more efficient and cheaper base stations and new controllers. This means: guys, be patient, that Vive 2 will come. About when… he says later this year and that confirms my suspects that we’ll see a Vive 2 in Q3 2017.

A remarkable comment of Gabe Newell says this, instead:

The big thing right now is broadening the range of options we have in creating experiences. We think investing in hardware will give us those options. The knuckles controller is being designed at the same time as we’re designing our own VR games.

Much more narrowly, some of us are thinking about some of the AI work that is being hyped right now. Simplistically we have lots of data and compute capability that looks like the kinds of areas where machine learning should work well.

Personally I’m looking at research in brain-computer interfaces.

The first part has been interpreted by all journalists as “Valve is creating their own games“! This has perfectly sense, since Oculus too is making content (or paying studios for it), because the VR ecosystem has to be fueled with great content to become mainstream. Valve makes games and this is great (wait a moment… are we sure that in these games there is not Half Life 3 in VR??)… but as a developer of an SDK, I understand one important part: “we are making games while we make controllers, so we can shape the controllers so that they’re optimal for the kind of games we envision for VR“. That’s exactly how things have to be made.

Second part talks about the mixing of AI with VR and we all know that this mix will be explosive in the metaverse. And I also think about using machine learning on all data that you can gather from people playing with VR.

Last part has made me smile: he’s researching about brain-computer interfaces. It’s one of topics that fascinate me the most since when I started working in VR and I’m sure this is the future of VR. Imagine a VR experience that can understand your emotions and change the environment accordingly, for example: for horror games it would be awesome. Recently I also read about very simple experiments TO INJECT infos into the brain… we are at the beginning, but the true metaverse could become real. I love this idea. Difference between me and Gabe Newell is some billions of dollars, but these are only details. Anyway Valve is experimenting on this and this shows us how they’re years ahead current technology…

And you? What’s your opinion about this AMA news? Do you find them very interesting, too?

 (Header Image by JohnSnow999, Wikipedia)