Why Oculus partnered with Microsoft for its Rift virtual-reality headset

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey and chief executive Brendan Iribe shed light on why a Microsoft partnership made perfect sense.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

Oculus VR partnered with Microsoft to bring Xbox One controllers and Windows support to the Rift virtual-reality headset. James Martin/CNET

LOS ANGELES -- Oculus' reasoning for partnering with Microsoft for its Rift virtual-reality headset is a simple one: Windows 10.

Over the past couple years, when Oculus employees would run apps or games on a computer connected to a prototype of the company's virtual-reality headset, there was a problem. Microsoft's software that powered the computer was confused, thinking the headset was a computer monitor. Icons would move around and the computer would act funny.

That caused problems for Oculus developers and required extra work to ensure that entire imaginary worlds could be displayed in the goggles without issue.

"Windows wasn't built ever thinking there would be a VR headset," Brendan Iribe, Oculus' CEO, said here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game industry's biggest marketing extravaganza. The company had to "trick" Windows to make it work, using special code and changing computer settings in a way that would frustrate an average computer user.

That all changes July 29, when Microsoft will release the next version of its flagship computer software, Windows 10. In it will be programming that makes a computer work much better with VR goggles, like the Rift. That's thanks to a collaboration between the two companies that surprised the tech world last week.

Virtual reality is nearing its arrival on store shelves, planned for next year. Oculus, which is owned by Facebook, is one of the companies leading the charge. With its Rift headset, the company wants to change not just how we play video games and experience virtual worlds, but also how we interact and communicate.

Yet the company knows it can't do everything on its own.

So it's partnered with companies like Microsoft, hoping they can help with the finishing touches to make VR as good a product as possible.

Partnering with Microsoft has had other benefits. The Rift headset will come with a game controller designed by Microsoft for its Xbox One video game console. The device will also be able to play games streamed from the Xbox One as well.

The partnership helps both companies: Oculus gets a library of games that, while not optimized for VR, will give early adopters a large and growing library of games they can play in addition to the nine specialized games planned for launch. Microsoft, meanwhile, gets to dip its toes in the water of VR without committing to building its own headset or software platform.

The software maker has a separate but similar headset of its own -- the HoloLens -- that will bring 3D images to the real world instead of creating virtual worlds to inhabit. While Microsoft figures out how to bring that so-called augmented reality technology to market, it can rely on Oculus to bolster its Windows platform. Microsoft is partnering with game creator Valve, too, which is making its own virtual-reality headset called Vive with electronics maker HTC.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey doesn't expect many console games to translate over to VR. But he wants players to be able to play those titles with familiar controllers. Josh Miller/CNET

Palmer Luckey, Oculus' founder, said putting the Xbox controller in the box was a natural choice. "The Xbox One game pad is the best game pad," he said.

It may be, but it's not the only one. Luckey is also developing specialized controllers for the Rift, codenamed Half Moon, that allow players to control games with body movements, like the wave of an arm or the point of a finger. Despite these efforts, Luckey said traditional controllers like those created for video game consoles, will be used for many years to come.

Could this partnership one day mean titles like the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians shooter or the next Madden football game will have VR equivalents?

Luckey doesn't think so. "You'd have to reimagine Madden," Luckey said. It will also require more computing power as upgraded VR devices are released down the line.

"Five years from now, the Xbox One will still be selling with the same power," Luckey said. "VR will be many revisions down the line."

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