Gear VR is a closed system, but the Oculus Rift will (likely) remain open

One of the best aspects of the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 is the fact that it’s completely open. Anyone can download the SDK and get to work creating games and experiences, and the community of underground virtual reality developers making crazy, unlicensed demos has been amazing.

Unfortunately for the just-released Gear VR, you have to release games through Oculus Home, the proprietary storefront controlled by Oculus itself. It’s a closed system.

During a recent talk with Oculus VR I asked if the Rift itself would remain open. “That’s currently the plan,” Oculus’ Nate Mitchell said.

“A lot of the reasons that Gear VR is, I guess you can say closed, is not because it was a strategic decision that we needed to have a closed store. There are a lot of actual technical reasons to do it, and it’s not our device,” Oculus founder Palmer Luckey explained. “All these applications have very deep, deep-level access to the hardware itself.”

This lines up with what Luckey has told us in the past about the amount of work Oculus put into the design of Gear VR, and the amount of control Samsung was willing to give up to allow high-quality VR to work on the Galaxy Note 4, the phone that powers the device.

“[Oculus chief technology officer John] Carmack has also done a lot of work with them on the phone layer, on the OS side. Being able to prioritize VR processes so it always gives the full CPU to VR,” Luckey said in a previous interview. “If you get an email or notification or a call, it can never prioritize over the VR thread that’s running. It has to wait until the CPU is doing whatever it needs to be doing for VR, which is very nice.”

“It’s also the kind of low-level access you have to be careful about granting,” Luckey continued.

Most developers aren’t able to play this close to the OS, and it’s very possible that Samsung, the company that controls the product itself, was uncomfortable with allowing anyone to release games or demos that have such low-level access to the hardware and firmware of the Galaxy Note 4.

That’s the Gear VR, though, and as Mitchell pointed out Oculus has no plans to restrict access to the PC and Mac-based Oculus Rift.

“What we do in Gear VR does not necessarily drive what we do on PC,” Luckey said.