Valve? More like VRlve. Hm, that doesn’t really work.
Valve isn’t super big into dishing on whether they still make games these days, but they’ll talk your ear off about VR. Despite an overt effort to usher in The VR Age, it’s still kinda shocking to hear just how much of a concerted push Valve is putting into their slightly clunky gizmo.
While discussing the past and present of VR on Reddit, Valve’s Alan Yates dropped in this tidbit:
“I was super fortunate to start at Valve right around the time Michael Abrash had begun the AR/VR research team. It was a much smaller team then than it is now, it has since grown to encompass about a third of the company, but the key individuals that solved most of the really hard technological problems and facilitated this generation of consumer headsets are still here working on the next generation.”
Estimates have placed Valve’s employee count between 300-350. That would mean upwards of 100 people are behind Valve’s VR effort.
Elsewhere in the thread, Yates shared other interesting insights into what it’s like working on VR at Valve and how it’s got employees stretching their skillsets to slowly improve the experience:
“It is really exciting solving these very fundamental deeply-technical problems every day. VR is by far the most interesting and challenging field I have ever worked in. The team is very multidisciplinary, you never really do stuff that is officially in your wheelhouse, and that is fricking awesome!”
“For example for the majority of my professional life I was a web developer, but here I do mostly analogue and digital circuit design, firmware programming and realtime control systems, plus I get to do stuff I am even more utterly unqualified to do, but simultaneously get the opportunity to learn from the elite in their fields, like mechanical engineering, geometrical and Fourier optics, state estimation, 3D graphics, UX, physiology and human factors.”
So far, Valve’s VR effort has produced everything from The Vive (in conjunction with HTC), to a proof-of-concept minigame collection, The Lab, to numerous tools to aid in the creation of VR experiences.
They are probably also working on something that’s more of a video game. It is probably not Half-Life 3.
Regardless, Valve is clearly putting a lot of eggs in the VR basket. Hopefully it’s not like the VR basket I tried to put my Vive controller in the other night—which is to say non-existent, causing my controllers to clatter to unceremoniously to the ground. Right now, VR is only just beginning to become A Thing. People with a lot of money have headsets (most other people do not), and the game selection is slim at best. There are social tools, too. I tried bridging the gap of a long-distance relationship in it. It sorta worked? I guess?
There’s also an exclusivity controversy brewing. Oculus reportedly is in the business of locking down big games for a limited time, while Valve seems content to fund development sans exclusivity agreements in an effort to keep the VR ecosystem open.
All that is to say, things are only just beginning to heat up. It’ll be a while yet before we know if the VR experiment—and Valve’s investment in it—paid off. It’s certainly a gamble, though. I’ll confess that I don’t use my Vive all that often these days. After launch, there haven’t been many compelling reasons to break it out. Here’s hoping Valve is busting its collective ass (100 asses, working in perfect unison!) to change that.