Oculus founder Palmer Luckey confirmed yesterday that he’s donating money to a virtual reality project focused on letting the HTC Vive headset play games exclusive to the Oculus Rift. The project, called Revive, is currently live on crowdfunding site Patreon with a note thanking Luckey for his contribution.
Although the note now confirms the $2,000 pledge (it apparently did not originally contain the exact figure), Waypoint confirmed the donation with Luckey himself. There appeared at first to be a slight discrepancy in the numbers: the project has only $2,005 per month from 64 backers. That suggested Luckey’s donation could have been a one-time pledge and not a recurring one. But Luckey confirmed on Twitter today that he is in fact donating $2,000 per month to the project, but Patreon takes a 5 percent cut.
Regardless, the donation is a strange move for a number of reasons. Luckey is no longer part of Oculus. He departed the Facebook-owned VR company in March. This was after months of silence from Oculus leadership, and Luckey himself, regarding the founder’s financial support of a pro-Trump trolling group during the US election.(Luckey on Twitter contests the validity of calling the group, known as Nimble America, a trolling group.) However, Luckey was likely involved in helping Oculus hammer out exclusivity deals with VR game makers, which has been a large point of contention in the VR community.
Luckey wants to close the exclusivity rift
Luckey has commented on VR exclusivity in the past. In a Reddit thread last year, he insinuated that HTC and Valve were unwilling to work with the company to implement the Oculus software development kit. “We can only extend our SDK to work with other headsets if the manufacturer allows us to do so,” Luckey wrote. “It does not take very much imagination to come up with reasons why they might not be able or interested.”
There are other reasons why Oculus may rely on exclusivity deals. Facebook helped fund many early VR projects directly, using its deep pockets to ensure developers could create high-quality games to build out the Rift’s library and push the medium beyond its hodgepodge of tech demos and half-finished titles.
For instance, the creative first-person shooter Superhot was only remade in VR because Facebook and Oculus help fund the project. It remained an Oculus exclusive for months, until the exclusivity contract ended earlier this year and Sony announced the game would make its way to PSVR. It makes sense that Oculus wouldn’t be interested in funding development for games that could be bought from a competing digital game store and used on a competitor’s VR headset. (It should be noted that exclusivity is also a cornerstone of the gaming platform wars, and it’s still a prevalent business strategy for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.)
Luckey may never have supported VR exclusivity while working at Oculus
Revive has in fact been around for a while. Last year, the developers attempted to bridge the gap between the Vive and the Rift and successfully launched a tool to do so, yet Oculus then implemented a copy protection check that disabled the software. Though Oculus rightly framed it as an anti-piracy move — Revive’s developers responded initially by issuing a workaround that opened the door to pirate Rift games — the VR community was still up in arms. Oculus later backed down.
“We continually revise our entitlement and anti-piracy systems, and in the June update we've removed the check for Rift hardware from the entitlement check,” Oculus said in a statement back in June 2016. “We won't use hardware checks as part of [digital rights management] on PC in the future.”
All of this controversy makes Luckey’s donation to Revive that much more interesting. Though the Oculus founder may be restricted through legal means to speak openly about his time at the company, it appears he doesn’t favor Rift exclusivity all that much and perhaps never did. So while Luckey might not be able to speak his mind in words, he can certainly achieve the same effect by writing a check.
Update 2:45PM ET, 6/30: Clarified that Luckey is donating $2,000 per month, and the discrepancy in funding is due to Patreon’s 5 percent cut.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Luckey supported pro-Trump trolling groups. Luckey has since clarified that he supported a singular group, not multiple groups.