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Tim Sweeney: Oculus VR's 'walled garden' approach gives HTC Vive an advantage

Epic games co-founder and Unreal Engine creator Tim Sweeney recently said in an interview that the HTC Vive virtual reality headset is outselling the Oculus Rift by 2-to-1 worldwide. Why? Because Oculus VR is following Apple’s software distribution model that many describe as a walled garden, which means the company’s device supports software sold through a proprietary store by default. By contrast, HTC doesn’t use that method for the Vive, providing a completely open platform where owners can purchase games and experiences from many different online markets.

“When you install the Oculus drivers, by default you can only use the Oculus store,” he said. “You have to rummage through the menu and turn that off if you want to run Steam. Which everybody does. It’s just alienating and sends the wrong message to developers.”

More: Microsoft responds to Tim Sweeney’s latest Universal Windows Platform rant

Sweeney believes that an open platform will always win because customers have a bigger, better selection of software. As long as the Oculus Rift continues to rely on a closed software system, the HTC Vive will continue to outsell it, he said.

The HTC Vive is powered by Valve Software’s SteamVR platform. The Steam platform just surpassed 14 million simultaneous users, making it the most-used PC gaming platform to date.

“Any software that requires human communication is completely dysfunctional if it’s locked to a platform. And everything in VR and AR will be socially centric,” he added. “Communicating with other people is an integral part of the experience.”

Sweeney isn’t exactly quiet when it comes to closed marketplaces. He’s very vocal about the Windows Store and Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform app setup, which is designed to provide apps and games across multiple Windows 10 devices. Like Apple’s App Store,  software sold in the Windows Store cannot be sold anywhere else. Even more, software must meet specific requirements before it can be sold in Microsoft’s marketplace.

Sweeney brought up the iPhone as an example. Apple created a great chat platform, he said, but it didn’t succeed because it was only offered on iOS-based devices. Despite the iPhone’s popularity, by the third quarter of 2016, Android dominated the mobile operating system market with an 87.8 percent share, followed by iOS with 11.5 percent. The top mobile communication apps like Facebook and Twitter are multiplatform because they’re not locked to one specific marketplace.

Despite Sweeney’s argument about Oculus VR’s closed platform, Epic Games is currently developing a game specifically for the Oculus Rift. He indicated that the studio likely wouldn’t have started on Robo Recall had Oculus VR (which is owned by Facebook) not stepped in to fund the game’s development. Still, he has no problems stating that the Oculus Store should be offered on PC and other VR devices.

“Oculus would do best if they tried to bring users into their store by supporting HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and any other PC hardware that comes out,” he said. “I think if they don’t do that, they’re going to pretty quickly fail, because you’re not going to want to buy a multiplayer game that you can’t play with half of your VR friends.”

The allure of “walled” marketplaces is that store owners like Microsoft, Apple, and Oculus VR can offer exclusive titles not found anywhere else. These closed stores also offer a sense of security in that store owners scrutinize every submitted piece of software. Google does this, too, but Google Play is known for housing malware-infested apps from time to time, and the problem is even worse on third-party Android storefronts.