Valve To Put Steam Behind VR Efforts With New Headset

Valve on Monday announced that it’s getting into the virtual reality hardware business.

In a terse tease posted to the Web, the company trumpeted its intentions to reveal its SteamVR hardware system next week at the 2015 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Along with the SteamVR notice, Valve also announced that it is looking for developers and publishers to create content for its new VR hardware system.

Also to be demonstrated at next week’s GDC will be a refined version of the Steam Controller and a number of living room devices, noted Valve, which operates Steam, an online games platform attracting 75 million active users per month.

Competing for Oxygen

With SteamVR, Valve is joining the ranks of Sony, Oculus — and soon many others — in the virtual reality headset market. “There’s a lot of VR and [augmented reality] head mounted displays that are coming into market that have been announced, but there are very few available for purchase,” said Gartner Research Director Brian Blau.

“That situation is going to change dramatically this year,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Since Valve is in the game creation and distribution business, why should it want to get into the hardware? “It’s about keeping their users engaged in their service,” Blau said. “They’re not only going to make great content, but they’re going to deliver it to VR users through their own headgear.”

In addition to keeping their users engaged, Valve may also be trying to gouge a place for itself in a space that’s becoming dominated by large players. “Oculus and Sony are eating up the oxygen and Valve wants a piece of that,” Eric Smith, an analyst with the digital consumer practice at Strategy Analytics, told TechNewsWorld.

What’s more, Valve, which does most of its business in the Windows PC space, may see VR hardware as a hedge against being outflanked by Microsoft in the games market.

HoloLens Pressure

Microsoft has been dabbling in VR for its Xbox platform, but in the next version of its PC operating system, Windows 10, it’s supporting an augmented reality technology named HoloLens. It allows holographic images to be projected on anything. Valve looked into AR in the past, but tossed in the towel on the technology.

“Valve getting into VR is precipitated by Microsoft getting into this next generation of graphics display,” said Smith, of Strategy Analytics.

Although Valve will be demonstrating its VR hardware next week, it has shown in the past that it can jump the gun when it comes to new products. For example, Steam Controller — its gaming controller — has been plagued by delays, as have its Steam Machines entertainment PCs designed for the living room.

“You see Valve getting into VR, but I don’t know if they’re ready for it,” Smith observed. “When they came out with their plans for Steam Machine, they weren’t ready for it because it [was] still in the embryonic stages.”

Weak Track Record

More immediate competition to SteamVR may be posed by the Oculus headset, noted Ross Rubin, the principal analyst at Reticle Research. “We’ll have to see how much overlap there is between Oculus and the SteamVR platforms,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Certainly Steam has the ability to get the platform in front of a lot of game developers, and they have a more developed ecosystem,” he added.

Valve may also have an edge over Oculus in the game market in another way. “They’re laser focused on games,” Rubin said, “whereas Facebook, Oculus’s owner, has talked about a wide range of things they may want to do with the Oculus platform.”

On the other hand, Valve has yet to prove its hardware chops. “Their efforts to develop their own hardware haven’t transformed the industry,” Rubin observed. “They’ve gotten off to a slow start.”

Valve did not respond to our request for comment for this story.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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