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HTC's new virtual reality headset.
HTC’s new virtual reality headset.

Valve will be giving away virtual reality headsets to developers to give them a head start on creating experiences for its hardware, which is slated for release by the end of this year.

Company spokesperson Doug Lombardi told Ars Technica that developers will be able to register for a chance to get a Developer Edition version of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset that “will be free, at least initially.” Valve will have a sign-up form available soon (the Bellevue-based gaming firm is aiming for next week) that will allow “developers big and small” access to the new hardware.

It’s not clear how Valve will be picking developers for the free kits, how many of them will be available, or how they compare to the final version of the Vive. It’s a marked difference from the strategy adopted by Oculus, which got its Rift VR hardware off the ground through Kickstarter. Even now, anyone can purchase a Rift development kit from Oculus for $350.

By offering free development kits, Valve can both restrict the reach of pre-release hardware to a select group of partners and also try and encourage the creation of experiences for the Vive ahead of its launch later in 2015. One of the biggest hurdles the company will have to clear is a paucity of content built for the Vive headset.

While developers may be getting the hardware gratis, consumers shouldn’t expect the same treatment. Jeff Gattis, executive director of global marketing for HTC’s Connected Products division, said that the Vive will have a “slightly higher price point” because it’s a premium product.

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