Valve has laid off 13 employees, including several reportedly from its hardware and VR divisions. The company claims that the move won’t impact any of its major initiatives or projects, but didn’t say exactly where they worked.
“Last month, 13 full time employees were let go and a portion of our contractor agreements were terminated,” Valve spokesperson Doug Lombardi said. “It’s an unfortunate part of business, but does not represent any major changes at the company. We thank those affected for their contribution and wish them well in future endeavors.”
One person confirmed to be out at Valve is Nat Brown, a VR engineer for the company since 2015 who confirmed he hasn’t been a Valve employee since February 7.
It’s not clear what Valve is working on in the first place, in terms of VR hardware. While it has played a role in working with HTC to create the VR ecosystem on Steam and co-developed the Vive VR headset, it hasn’t released any actual VR hardware of note. There have been rumors of a headset, supposedly in development, but no hint of a public demo or product launch. Its collaboration with LG on a headset that actually got publicly demoed never came to market.
Software support for VR from Valve is essential. The size and reach of Steam virtually require that the platform support VR if any PC VR is ever to succeed at all. The value of the company’s specific hardware efforts is less certain, however, particularly as tracking capabilities are integrated into the headset as opposed to base station sensors. It’s not surprising to see the company potentially refocusing its efforts, but it’d be nice to know it wasn’t planning to treat VR the way it treats virtually everything else: namely, as an interesting diversion for several years before mostly walking away from the idea. Right now, the only Valve hardware projects we know of are unreleased VR devices and the old Steam Controller. The company discontinued Steam Link last year, and its Steam Machines are a dead letter after debuting to much fanfare several years ago.
For all that Valve’s hardware efforts have mostly come to naught, VR does present a somewhat different issue. In this case, it’s important to maintain headset compatibility, particularly when providing support to devices like Oculus Rift, which run SteamVR on top of the Oculus service. Steam VR updates have improved the performance and quality of using Steam on Oculus over time (or at least they certainly seem to have, in the relatively few moments I can spare to play). In this case, keeping a hand in the development game has likely been essential to keeping Steam VR successful.
Hopefully, there’ll come a day when using a headset to play VR games across various clients won’t be any more of an issue than playing a modern title in Windows, but we’re not quite there yet. With a new Oculus Rift S rumored to be dropping soon, Valve’s continued support for VR is going to be essential to the success of the PC VR gaming market. If these cuts reflect trimming to Valve’s VR hardware plans, they may not matter much. If the company is culling its support for VR in software (or in hardware compatibility), they could have a more significant impact.