As a developer we are continually tracking trends in the VR ecosystem, and one of the trends we keep our eye on is something I like to call “X” in VR. This is taking a simple concept or mechanic from traditional gaming or real life and slapping into the Virtual Reality space.
Why This Used To Work
Virtual Reality in 2016 finally broke through the technical barriers to offer incredibly immersive experiences to a widespread audience. Early adopters spent a small fortune on high powered rigs and high powered headsets. When these headsets launched the excitement was at a fever pitch with the ability to shoot zombies, smack baseballs, throw darts, swing swords, and engage in a host of other simple, but immersive experiences in this new medium. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever done before. Very simple games brought in a huge amount of sales and positivity because they were the first to offer the ability to do “X” in VR.
Why This Doesn’t Work Anymore
So you bought your headset, and you experienced bowling, skiing, snowball fights, monster slaying, boxing, drumming, and more. But you’ve hesitated to put your headset on recently, because behind that facade of novelty, there wasn’t any depth to sustain it. These “X” in VR games will always impress people who have never experienced this medium before, however offering the ability to try something in VR is no longer going to capture the interest of those that have pushed past that initial “wow!” moment.
If many of the games that launched within the first few months to heavy sales and great reviews had only recently been released, they wouldn’t even be a blip on the VR radar these days. We track most releases, and we do an analysis of how well the game was received and our thoughts as to why. In any given week we still see many of these low content “X” in VR titles that fluctuate between hammered in reviews and no traction at all. In some weeks, this can reach over 90% of the releases.
Don’t Bank On Novelty
A game is more than a simple concept. The developer needs to think about gameplay, challenge, artistic quality, overall design, engagement, progression, goals, feedback, and many other critical areas that support the game in it’s entirety. Banking your game solely on the core tenet of novelty is going to result in a lack of depth that will ultimately lead to poor sales, poor engagement with your audience, or another developer taking the concept and creating the game with a stronger vision. If your game does just one thing, it takes almost no effort for someone else to take that one thing and add one, or two, or three to it.
Conceptually, “X” in VR is a powerful tool for developers to leverage when they’re designing their projects. But here’s the kicker, you can’t just ride on the novelty wave, you need to add quality and depth. Wrap that concept around an actual game. Design an experience that will keep the player truly engaged past the initial “wow, this is cool” moment.
How Can Developers Move The Needle?
Virtual Reality is still in its infancy, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that any new experience will succeed. The trends are very clear, and the games making waves these days are polished, content-rich experiences. Don’t just think “what if I made Lawnmower VR? Nobody’s done that before”, and don’t look at a launch title 6 months back with it’s 1000 reviews and say “I can make that game too”. Chances are it won’t succeed. I would even hesitate to look at what’s popular today. Try to think about where the scene will be when your game is actually going to get released. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’d wager it won’t be “Weightlifting Simulator” or “Broom Sweeper VR”. My apologies to any developers that may currently be working on those titles.