The Race to Become Player One in VR
Here at Chetu Inc., we had lofty dreams for virtual reality gaming, and unfortunately, in 2017 we did not see any of those dreams come true. The Oculus release prompted a long period of buzz and left consumers with a burning curiosity for what could follow. VR tech opened eyes to a new world for the first time, allowing users to immerse themselves in a parallel universe. So what went wrong?
2017 was not virtual reality’s year; not because VR users look ridiculous using the headsets, but because VR technology comes with a long list of demands—system overhaul, hefty costs, brand abandonment, the perfect recipe for passive interest and a plateauing rate of adoption. The reality is, leading virtual reality games have miniscule followings in comparison to PC, Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo’s traditional gaming experiences, existing as a tiny fraction of the gaming community.
Just as game developers began dropping the VR pitch, Steven Spielberg announced a movie rendition of the widely popular novel, Ready Player One, a thriller set in the year 2045, where humans have turned to an intense and vivid virtual reconstruction as a form of escapism from their real world as society teeters on the edge of total chaos.
Media has shaped consumer trends since its inception, molding product expectations through subtle brand placement and implicit promotion. There is nothing subtle about this movie; the entire film is a brilliant opportunity to showcase virtual reality capabilities, reigniting the influx we saw following the Occulus release. If there is a time to kick VR development into gear, it’s now.
Make Last Year’s VR Mistakes This Year’s Gains
Understanding where VR went wrong last year allows us to conquer shortcoming before they flatline the Spielberg hype. Number one, before embarking on a VR venture, understand the scope of your resources and outline your expected gains, scaling your project intelligently.
Fundamentally, understand the market.
Let’s talk ROI. For you as a provider & for your consumer. Converting consumers from a state of passive wonder to active user is an uphill battle, and this is where virtual reality failed this past year, getting people to take the leap.
Occulus Rift sets users back $400, and this is just in terms of hardware. Other game systems sit in the nice, justifiable range of around $300, but with a quick Craigslist search consumers uncover systems at about half that cost. Yes, no one is listing Occulus Rift on Craigslist, but that is because not many people are buying it to begin with.
By asking customers to buy VR tech, you are asking them to abandon their reliable and consistent Xbox or Playstation system for a stranger. With the current price, 30% more than traditional systems, brand abandonment is hard sell. As Ready Player One produces VR buzz, the market will be easier to penetrate, and game developers can use the momentum to propel their products through a wider consumer base.
Spielberg has given VR the tools to build bridges over those adoption barriers, but in order to knock the barrier down, the price has to come down first. This is where we turn to initial investment costs and operational costs.
Gamasutra Salary Survey estimates that in-house programmers and engineers with 3-6 years of experience average $93,000 yearly, puts game designers at $74,000 a year, and graphic and animations specialists at $75K. All game development requires these elements, but VR immersion requires delicate code architecture and a skillset beyond the average (3-6 years of experience at least). Here is a rough breakdown of in-house VR development:
- 16 weeks (roughly 4 months) of development
- 3,200 hours of paid time from (3) specialists = 9,600 total hours of paid time
- Engineers, game designers, and animators average $40/hr
- 9,600 (total hours between 3 people) x 40 (hourly cost) = $384,000
VR gaming providers must cut this bottom line down significantly to see the gains they desire for 2018. One way to accomplish this is through outsourcing or staff augmentation, cutting initial costs by almost 50%. By outsourcing just one of those resources through augmentation, providers can reduce that bottom line by 60K while still doing most of the development in-house.
Let’s talk alternatives. Although the in-home VR systems have not experienced the widespread use many anticipated, consumers are still eager to engage with the tech. Where in-home sales are failing, out of home VR systems are picking up the slack.
Larger scale systems, such as arcade and amusement park establishments have embraced virtual reality games in ways the induvial consumer has not. Strategically introducing VR software as a pay per play opportunity gives the consumers to interact with VR without having to purchase their own hardware, and represents a fail proof way of bringing games to market.
Conveniently, selling VR games as a spectacle, rather than a commodity will play nicely with the media exposure coming with the Spielberg release. Pay per pay VR gaming embodies the ultimate marketing campaign, bringing business that brings you more business. Increasing visibility and awareness through amusement park-like VR experiences will lead to a greater number of in-house systems. Consumers feel compelled to purchase items they are familiar with or identify with.
Let’s talk hardware and development specs. To encourage stronger consumer interest, VR gaming cannot be limited to a single piece of hardware, especially one as clunky as this:
For VR to really take off, the hardware must integrate with preexisting systems. As sleeker hardware emerges with greater compatibility, the VR gaming movement will have no problem gaining the momentum it needs to snowball into something greater and far more profitable.
All industry leaders are producing their spin on VR viewing devices, Google, Samsung, Sony, HTC, with minor difference between them. Moving forward, adaptable development will be paramount to providers in the gaming industry. That is, engineering a VR world that all viewing devices can tap into without forfeiting quality or speed.
We know people are interested, but we need to keep them interested with evolving VR gaming content, striving to build more sophisticated framework. Spielberg has given the VR community a reset button, taking us back to the hype of two years ago and allowing us to try again. However, the PR from this movie is a double-edged sword.
The movie paints VR as alternative to real life, technology so advanced that players are unable to decide what is real and what is not. This portrayal translates into high expectations, and suspension of disbelief will not be an acceptable scapegoat for lackluster tech.
Using the same estimate outlined earlier, outsourcing lets you funnel the money you saved into more aggressive development—better graphics, better design, better back-end development, anything that will help make your VR game better than the rest.
Let Spielberg Market Your VR Game for You
On March 30th, millions will filter into movie theaters across the world to see the premier of Ready Player One. During this time of free VR press and growing anticipation, you can either capitalize or ride the wave without intent again.
Much as Star Trek predicted cell phones and Total Recall predicted self-driving cars, Spielberg’s latest sets the stage for VR. It would be extremely ill advised to let this VR promotion pass without aggressively pursuing VR game development.