Valve is launching SteamVR in tandem with the beginning of the HTC Vive virtual reality headsets shipping arrivals, marking the start of an new VR gaming era.
The era of widespread virtual reality has begun. Oculus launched the Rift VR headset last week, but this week belongs to Valve and HTC. Today marks the start of shipping for the HTC Vive VR headset, as well as Valve's SteamVR, opening the way for dozens of virtual reality games to go live on the Steam platform. HTC and Valve are diving into the deep end of virtual reality straight away, dedicating themselves to room-scale experiences on day one.
Unlike the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive launch bundle includes with it two tracked motion controllers as well as two "Lighthouse" sensors. This allows, with a little set-up, a Vive owner to create an open space where both their VR headset and their controllers are tracked in virtual reality. Players will be able to turn, duck, lean and poke or pick up items at their leisure. A large majority of the Vive launch line-up focuses on this tech, though some controller and keyboard experiences are available as well.
Valve doesn't leave users hanging if the high initial cost of $799 has left wallets full of moths. In addition to the hardware, bundled with the Vive will be three complete VR experiences: games theBlu and Fantastic Contraption, as well as the VR painting software TiltBrush. Those each come free of charge with the bundle. That's just the beginning, however, as Valve has some additional free software available on Steam for all VR users – Vive agnostic (though Oculus users will have to wait for the Touch controllers to launch later this year). The Lab and Valve's previous VR demos are free and offer a variety of VR content for all those who download.
With the onset of virtual reality, early adopters and non-adopters alike are probably wondering just what SteamVR means in terms of change. Valve provided some perspective on what the addition of SteamVR to Steam means for its users:
"Similar to other areas of Steam, the SteamVR pages showcase dozens of titles and experiences for VR enthusiasts to check out. Some for sale, some free. Some are games, some are something new and totally different. Each has its own page to provide information on the title through images, trailers, and more."
That is to say that Steam won't really be changing at all. There's a new VR category, some new tags for VR headset support, and Valve will likely be advertising VR rather heavily with sales going forward. Some were hoping Valve would go the extra mile and offer what amounts to a brand new VR platform, similar to the television-like Big Picture Mode. That may not yet be a reality, but it's likely that Valve's working on something like that for release down the line.
For now Valve's entirely focused on making sure SteamVR works well on the Vive and that its users have easy access to the already substantial library of VR games on Steam. At last check, there were 134 games listed under the VR category with support for the HTC Vive, though not all of those are currently available. And virtually all of them cost less than $25 – with most below $10.
The first generation of modern VR has officially arrived with the launch of the HTC Vive, joining the Oculus Rift as the two major VR headsets going forward. For those interested in purchasing one, there's some bad news. While the $799 USD price tag for the HTC Vive is steep, there's also the issue of availability. Orders are backlogged several months out. VR, however, might just be worth the wait.