Gabe Newell on VR exclusives: They're bad for everyone

There was a small digital dust-up earlier this week when Croteam developer Mario Kotlar said on Reddit (via UploadVR) that Oculus VR had offered it “a shitton of money” to make Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope an Oculus Rift exclusive. Croteam declined the offer, he said, because they "believe that truly good games will sell by themselves and make profit in the long run regardless" and they "hate exclusives as much as you do.”   

Kotlar's description of the situation wasn't exactly pinpoint-precise, as Croteam CTO Alen Ladavac clarified in a follow-up. “Oculus did approach us with an offer to help fund the completion of Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope in exchange for launching first on the Oculus Store and keeping it time-limited exclusive. Their offer was to help us accelerate development of our game, with the expectation that it would eventually support all PC VR platforms," he wrote. "We looked at the offer and decided it wasn’t right for our team. At no time did Oculus ask for, or did we discuss total exclusivity or buyout of support from Vive.” 

Oculus itself said much the same thing, telling Kotaku, “We regularly offer developers financial grants to help fund early development of new titles to accelerate development or expand the scope of the game. In some cases, we exchange funding in return for launching on the Oculus Store first, with the expectation that the game will go on to launch on other platforms. In the case of Croteam, at no time did we request that they stop development for other platforms, and we look forward to seeing Serious Sam be successful across the entire VR ecosystem.” 

The whole back-and-forth was inspired by an expression of consumer dissatisfaction on Reddit over Oculus' apparent practice of funding new VR games in exchange for making them exclusive to its platform. (I won't use the title of the original thread, but three of its five words begin with “f” and only one of them is Facebook.) It's not an unusual practice, but complaints about it go back at least as far as last summer, when Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey took to Reddit himself to deny that the Rift was becoming a “closed ecosystem.” 

Now Valve frontman Gabe Newell has weighed in on the matter through an email posted to the the Vive subreddit, in which he was asked whether Valve ever considered doing the same thing for its Vive headset. (Newell confirmed with us that he did in fact send this email.)

“We don't think exclusives are a good idea for consumers or developers. There's a separate issue which is risk. On any given project, you need to think about how much risk to take on. There are a lot of different forms of risk—financial risk, design risk, schedule risk, organizational risk, IP risk, etc... A lot of the interesting VR work is being done by new developers. That is a triple-risk whammy—a new developer creating new game mechanics on a new platform. We're in a much better position to absorb financial risk than a new VR developer, so we are happy to offset that giving developers development funds (essentially pre-paid Steam revenue). However there are no strings attached to those funds—they can develop for the Rift or PlayStation VR or whatever the developer thinks are the right target VR systems. Our hope is that by providing that funding that developers will be less likely to take on deals that require them to be exclusive. 

Make sense?” 

Some of the commenters in the thread don't seem to think so; several responses express concern that developers will take Valve's money and then, as one put it, “just turn around and make a deal with Facebook anyway.” I'm more inclined to give Valve the benefit of the doubt, however. It has a pretty good track record of getting things right, for one thing, but more importantly, it brings the power of Steam to the table. How much money is it worth to keep your new game off of Steam, even temporarily? I have no idea how much cash is in a “shitton,” but it would have to be a pretty big pile to justify avoiding a distribution channel with that kind of reach. 

Plus, let's face it: When Gaben does you a solid, it's probably not in your best interest to mess around.