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Unity drops official support for OpenVR, Valve working on replacement

Unity, Valve Index, and SteamVR logos
Unity, Valve Index, and SteamVR logos (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Unity is officially dropping support for GearVR, Google VR, and OpenVR beginning with Unity version 2020.1.
  • Valve is working on developing its own XR plugin for Unity, which is scheduled for release before Unity 2020.1 releases.
  • This move is not expected to affect consumers in any way, but developers will likely have to report SteamVR/OpenVR bugs to Valve itself instead of Unity.

In a bit of a surprise move, Unity took to its developer blog to announce that it would no longer be officially supporting GearVR, Google VR (Daydream), or OpenVR moving forward. While the first two platforms were expected to happen in the near future, given both platforms have reached end of life (EoL) from their respective companies, Valve's OpenVR, the API that runs SteamVR, is very much unexpected and certainly feels like a strange move from the outset.

But the reality is that Unity has moved toward a new plugin system for XR headsets as a whole, and instead of Unity developing the plugin for OpenVR, its going to have Valve develop the plugin for its own API. That means the onus of official support for developers of Unity projects running on SteamVR-powered hardware will fall to Valve. This implementation isn't going to happen until the next release of Unity (version 2020.1), which is expected sometime later this year and will likely not affect end-users in any meaningful way.

Windows Mixed Reality: the ultimate guide

That means consumers who just spent $1,000 on a Valve Index headset (or any other SteamVR-powered VR HMD) can rest assured that their investment isn't going to be useless going forward, especially considering the popularity of the Unity engine throughout the gaming industry. Developers, too, can rest assured that their current projects aren't going to somehow be nullified by this change in management. In fact, there's a slight chance that something might even be better under Valve's new plugin, given that Valve will be developing a specific Unity implementation on its own platform.

To a lesser degree, this marks the official end of life for the GearVR and Google VR (Daydream) ecosystems. That signal that Daydream would be EoL began when the Pixel 4 launched a few months back and means there's likely no coming back for this particular VR platform. Surprisingly, Google is developing its own Cardboard Open Source XR Plugin for Unity. GearVR has been on its way out for a while, replaced by Oculus Go initially, and now the Oculus Quest for the foreseeable future.

Moving forward, the list of officially supported Unity platforms is as follows:

  • ARKit
  • ARCore
  • Microsoft HoloLens
  • Magic Leap
  • Oculus
  • Windows Mixed Reality
  • PlayStation VR

Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu

3 Comments
  • This isn't terrible news, but interesting nonetheless. This affects the HTC Vive products too as they run on SteamVR. I will say I hope Valve's direct implementation will be far better than the current SteamVR that is available. I run into way more problems with SteamVR just working in my projects than actually using it to do live tests. I just hope Valve has been on top of this and will be ready once the official release of 2020.1 hits.
  • I wonder if this will ultimately be seen as the first crack in the VR wall. VR has still not managed to capture mainstream support, similar to 3D in TVs. I wonder how long companies will continue to spend money supporting the ecosystem that isn't winning. Hell, Microsoft will try anything and even they have avoided it.
  • VR products did incredibly well over the holidays, with both Oculus and Valve selling out completely, so if anything the VR space is still growing rather than shrinking. More likely this is an attempt by Unity to get Valve to support their own platform to save on development resources.