Two surprise announcements at yesterday’s Oculus Rift press conference raised eyebrows among the video game industry players. Not only would Oculus Rift ship with an Xbox One controller and wireless adapter but Microsoft was actually partnering with Oculus Rift and one result of this alliance is the ability to stream Xbox One games to the virtual reality headset.
There was quite a bit of discussion about this among the staff here at The Inner Circle. My own perusal of similar discussions on Twitter and NeoGAF have shown me that a lot of gamers have questions that are similar to what we have been asking ourselves. Will Xbox One games have virtual reality features? Is Microsoft going to devote part of their press conference to Oculus Rift? What does all of this mean for Microsoft’s Augmented Reality device, Hololens? I normally do not like to write opinion pieces; in fact, I began this article intending to write a straight news piece but I do think these are good questions worthy of discussion and I certainly won’t have a chance to do this next week while E3 is happening. Let’s begin, shall we?
Will Xbox One Games Have Virtual Reality Features?
Well, I am not involved with any of Microsoft’s internal game studios but I doubt it. The main reason I do not expect to see a game like a possible sequel to Sunset Overdrive offer a VR mode is frame rate. The required PC specifications for Oculus Rift are insanely high and no console currently on the market is even close to being powerful enough to match even the minimum system requirements. I believe that most console games attempting a VR experience on a console will have frame rates that chug so badly our biggest achievement from playing will be a massive headache.
Will Microsoft Show Oculus Rift During Their Xbox Press Conference At E3?
Again, I doubt it. There might be a mention of their partnership or the ability to stream Xbox One games to the headset. Phil Spencer or other Microsoft personnel might even show up at the Oculus Rift space at E3 but I do not think Microsoft is going to show a VR headset made by another company at the Xbox conference. As far as we know nobody at Microsoft is even making any games for Oculus Rift so it is unlikely it will have a major presence during the E3 press conference, if any appearance at all.
Will This Impact The Microsoft Hololens?
According to Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s partnership with Oculus Rift lets them focus on Hololens. I agree with him for a number of reasons. For one thing, this partnership frees Microsoft from having to focus on PC games, Xbox One games, Windows 10 mobile games and of course, Hololens software. There is always the danger of being spread too thin; even for a company as massive as Microsoft. Now Hololens will have its proper place in the spotlight with continual support from Microsoft without a VR headset overshadowing it and confusing consumers.
It is also important to remember that Microsoft is a company that thinks in the long term. They are more than willing to take a financial beating today in order to have something of value a year from now, or five years from now or even twenty years into the future. You may recall that many were mystified about Microsoft’s purchase of Minecraft for a mind-boggling $2.5 billion dollars. That was before we learned of Hololens and we have also learned since then that Microsoft is using the property to learn about how gamers play across multiple platforms including consoles and mobile devices.
I would argue that Microsoft is indeed working on a virtual reality system but they are not currently interested in bringing any such product to market. However, the partnership with Oculus Rift will let Microsoft study all manner of input from users and gain a better understanding of what works and perhaps more importantly- what doesn’t work in contemporary VR hardware. Even better for Microsoft is the fact they do not have to suffer the costs of manufacturing and distributing Oculus Rift hardware.
Finally, I want to call your attention to a quote from Phil Spencer, “[I]f people can play Xbox games in more places, we think that’s good for everyone.” Some may question the appeal of streaming a game from Xbox One to a VR headset that has to be worn in the same house but certainly having one more option to play games must count as a good thing.