For Ted Price, CEO of Ratchet & Clank studio Insomniac Games, the move into VR is one fraught with challenges, but the payoff could be considerable.
“Being an early developer in VR gives us a chance to develop skills that our competitors may not be developing now,” he said in an interview at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas.
“We’re placing a bet on the fact that VR will continue to grow,” he said. “And when the market becomes larger, we will have established IP, we’ll have a skillset that’s hard to compete with, and access to VR players who are interested in the newest games from us.”
The VR industry in its current form only properly launched about a year-and-a-half ago, Price noted, with major players including Valve, Google, Oculus (owned by Facebook), Sony, and Samsung. There's still time to grow.
But even with all that support from gigantic companies with huge financial resources, VR is still in a precarious position.
"Answer the question 'Why VR?' when coming up with the game design. If you don't know why your game could only exist in VR, then you’re probably making the wrong game."
“We’re all interested in seeing the VR adoption rate grow,” said Price when asked about conversations happening in the VR community.
Managing expectations of potential customers remains a major focus for not just Insomniac, but the VR industry at large. Price says game devs are still figuring out how to meet these high expectations, and sorting out how to use VR in the most effective way – there has been a lot of progress, but the learning curve today is still ever-present.
Insomniac has a well-received VR game called The Unspoken, in which players cast spells as a wizard in modern society. There was also Edge of Nowhere and Feral Rites, two games that tried to take Insomniac's years of knowledge in game-making in traditional formats and apply that know-how almost directly to VR. Developers are finding out that VR is a new beast, and that past knowledge is many times not a one-to-one fit for VR.
It's all part of the learning process. But while game devs and hardware makers are busy solving problems and figuring out what makes a compelling experience, is there a risk that the market is too impatient? That consumers will move on before the medium is mature?
“That’s a risk that’s discussed pretty openly, in the press,” Price said. But he said Insomniac is confident in the new generation of VR because, for one, it offers a unique experience different from other forms of entertainment. Secondly, major players like Facebook and Google are backing VR. And finally, he said, VR’s use is beyond games, making it fit for a true mass market.
Price also said right now there is a chance to be a “big fish in a pond that’s growing.” But he warned that developers need to be careful about scope – to not create games so large and expensive as to tank a studio. He also stressed that games need to play to VR's strengths.
For game devs who’re just now getting into VR, Price had straightforward advice: “Answer the question ‘Why VR?’ when coming up with the game design. If you don’t know why your game could only exist in VR, then you’re probably making the wrong game.”