It’s kind of a puzzling occurrence. Why would a developer/publisher not want to sell their game to end users, instead only making them available under these commercial licenses? I had a few theories, but I spoke to Valve’s VP of Marketing, Doug Lombardi, to get an explanation for why this is happening. He told me:
We strongly recommend that developers make their applications available to individual customers, not just commercial (e.g., café) licensees. However, some VR apps are specifically designed for arcades or commercial venues and only work well there – that’s when we’ve made exceptions. Commercial-only titles will be visible to licensees of the Steam PC Café program only and so will have much lower visibility on Steam.
Sounds like it is not something that currently represents a radical departure for Valve, they are not embarking on a mission to push commercial exclusive licensing as an option for developers, and are indeed strongly recommending against it. But in these minority of cases where a publisher/developer specifically wants to opt-out of making their game available under standard consumer licenses, Valve will allow it.
It’s not entirely clear what factors have made these developers and publishers opt to go for this model. In the case of Predator VR, it might be that they only have the rights to use the Predator IP in these scenarios (possibly to avoid stepping on the toes of Predator: Hunting Grounds?). It also could be that these games are designed around not just a PC with a VR headset, but also specific props, location layouts, the involvement of actors, or other factors that would require the controlled environment of a commercial setting like a VR Arcade, rather than simply being able to work anywhere. This is just speculation though, so I have reached out to these developers to see if they can explain what’s going on, and I’ll let you know what I hear.
It’s only happening with these games as exceptions, and I imagine that for many games it would not be commercially viable to drop support entirely for consumer licenses, but depending on the specific circumstances around a given game, perhaps if these games are able to find success, it is something we might see more of. Although given the current state of lock down of non-essential public venues going on across many parts of the world, it’s not hard to imagine some of these developers may reconsider their approach. If players can’t get to VR Arcades and Internet Cafés then this licensing model might break down.
For now though, if you are interested in playing Predator VR when it comes out, or any of these other titles only available under commercial licenses, I suggest crossing your fingers that there is a VR Arcade or similar near you because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to play them.