At the recent Unity Vision VR/AR Summit in Los Angeles, the majority of virtual reality game demonstrations were showcased on the HTC Vive. Valve used that event to give away HTC Vive Pre development kits to every attendee, which will only help HTC’s marketing of the $799 virtual reality platform that ships April 5.
That’s because developers are actively selling the system for HTC.
And they’re often using the Vive to demonstrate games instead of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, when titles are cross-platform (as many early experiences are).
“We’re completely open in that we do not control or tell our development partners when and where they can show their experiences,” says Dan O’Brien, vice president of planning and product management for HTC Vive. “We let the development community get out there with the hardware, so they’re expanding the footprint. We want them to show their content and share their ideas.”
There were zero HTC Vive demos at CES 2015, O’Brien says. CES 2016 featured over 55. And only 18 of them were set up by HTC or its partner, Valve. Companies that showcased Vive included Audi, which had a future showroom set up, and Dassault Systèmes, which showed a more affordable solution to the multiuser CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment).
“We more than doubled our footprint just through partners,” O’Brien says. “We’re seeing the same excitement with upcoming shows like PAX East and E3, where partners want to show their games and demos to the public.”
O’Brien says GDC, the upcoming Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, will be “crazy” for the HTC Vive. He says in addition to official HTC and Valve demos, a large number of partners will be showcasing everything from launch games to enterprise virtual reality experiences.
Valve hosted a content showcase for the HTC Vive in Seattle last month, where a dozen games were playable and developers were on hand to discuss the Vive. O’Brien says these developers weren’t coached or required to relay talking points about the Vive. They were allowed to speak freely with attending media about their games and development experience.
“In a traditional consumer electronics company when you have a new phone or TV you pay for digital media and advertising and scream as loud as you can,” O’Brien says. “But for virtual reality, developers have a much more powerful voice than us. The showcase was a real win-win for us because we have some great developers for the Vive platform that understand the value of the platform. They can tell the story through their own content. What we’re seeing with virtual reality companies is a lot of startups founded by seasoned veterans, so the messaging really came through.”
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The other approach HTC and Valve have stuck with across the ongoing HTC Vive World Tour and all of the trade shows and public events, O’Brien says, is providing a full demonstration of the platform.
“We don’t do a three-minute demo and then rush you out of the way,” O’Brien says. “We give a full 10- to 15-minute and let users try painting and shooting in a game and going underwater. We have a wide variety of content in a demo experience because something different resonates with people.…
“Ideas start flowing even if they’re not a developer because they can think about how VR can be used to prepare for surgery or teach math or design a car.”
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O’Brien says the challenge of marketing virtual reality is getting people to try it out. HTC (HTC) has spent the past year and a half getting developers to experience Vive, and now it’s transitioning to consumers. In addition to demos at retail locations, O’Brien believes early adopters will help sell the product.
“I can stand on a stage with a 200-foot screen behind me and tell the story, but it’s nothing compared to putting somebody in that headset,” O’Brien says. “I’m really excited to get more hardware into people’s homes. I’ve already seen just with my own home, our kids’ friends coming over to play, and then the friends’ parents wanting to try it out.”
HTC presold over 15,000 Vives in the first 10 minutes the platform was available, so there will be a growing base of hardware to start this type of viral marketing for the platform.