With vast sums of money being poured into VR around the world, the virtual reality development scene has never been healthier. In a recent GDC survey, for instance, there were more developers making games for VR (24 per cent) than there were for the Xbox One and Project Scorpio (22 per cent), showing a growth of 50 per cent compared to the GDC's 2015 survey.
It's a trend that's set to continue as well, with 23 per cent saying their next game will come to VR headsets, versus 22 per cent for Xbox One and Scorpio. Among them are UK studios nDreams and Climax, who now have multiple VR games under their belt with more to come over the next year.
We're confident and committed as a studio in the future of VR,” nDreams' CEO and founder Patrick O'Luanaigh (pictured above, left) tells MCV.
Any emerging technology could be perceived as risky. However with major companies investing in the hardware and so many studios developing high-quality titles, I'm certain it's here to stay. But like almost every other new technology, it'll take several years before it makes a huge mass-market impact.”
The same goes for Climax Studios, whose most recent title, Lola and the Giant, marks its tenth VR venture: As a studio, we want to make sure that we futureproof ourselves as much as possible, which is why we have a good mixed portfolio currently in development which focuses on VR, AR, PC/console and port/support work,” says Climax's CEO Simon Gardner (pictured above, right).
We are using these early days of the multiple VR platforms to learn and help grow our IP which means we look at all platforms and will be releasing on new stores and headsets in the future.”
Of course, in the console space, it's common to judge a platform by the strength of its exclusives. For Gardner and O'Luanaigh, however, having multiple headsets available has proven to be quite beneficial.
We enjoy developing for different platforms, as this gives us the opportunity to try out different game styles and genres which play to the strength of each platform,” says O'Luanaigh. We've had a great experience with all of them.”
Gardner agrees: Our most successful VR titles, Bandit Six and Hunters Gate, are established gaming genres which the audience has responded to. Mobile users want immediacy and, possibly, limited interactions. This is something we're experimenting with now with a title from our Auckland studio, so it will be interesting to see how they perform when they launch later this year.”
Climax has also used this time to experiment with different pricing structures: We recently updated Bandit Six: Salvo to ‘free to try', which allows you to play the first three missions before hitting the paywall. It's led to a massive increase in downloads, and conversions are as expected for the mobile market.
"We have other titles in development, which will allow the base game to be free but DLC will be available – along with the more traditional premium titles. For us, it is all about experiment, experiment, experiment.”
As the VR scene matures, O'Luanaigh expects mobile VR to become much more sophisticated, with Gardner predicting it will eventually match its PC counterparts.
Now that the first wave of VR headsets has been released, we'll see a wide range of experiences available across all platforms, including mobile VR, over time,” O'Luanaigh explains.
Both VR experiences will continue to complement each other and grow together. The technology will become smaller, more affordable, more powerful and with more advanced functionality across the board. I think it's perfectly okay for mobile VR to be largely populated by shorter experiences at the moment, as it's an accessible introduction to VR and well-suited to a shorter length.”
Gardner concurs: I think they'll all meet somewhere in the middle in a few years. Control schemes are currently holding mobile VR back, but when that's been nailed it will become an ecosystem where one game can live on every headset. Since we launched Bandit Six, mobile hardware has moved on so much. With the Daydream controller and the new Gear VR controller, this gives us more functionality, which leads to more creative games. For VR to succeed in the next five years, we need to hit a mass market price point, and mobile VR feels like it has the biggest opportunity to do that.”
Gardner and O'Luanaigh are also confident about the current state of each headset's user base: We're at the beginning of its success,” says O'Luanaigh.
Hardware sales have hit our expectation and wider recognition continues to grow within the mainstream media which is great. We've also seen the number of companies working in VR increase, and this bodes well for the next few crucial years. With [millions of headsets already sold], plus price drops that are making high-end VR more affordable, we're confident of significant VR growth this year.”
Gardner adds: We're in year four of VR and the market goes from strength to strength. We're launching our first PS VR title in May, which we're very excited about as they have such a great platform. The recent price drop for the Rift is a great step, and the content pipeline for all platforms looks promising.”
That said, both studio heads think there's still some way to go before the higher-end headsets reach mass market appeal. I don't think those iterations of headsets were ever meant to be mass market,” says Gardner, and O'Luanaigh agrees:
PS VR was unique in the sense that all a consumer needed to do was buy a headset and plug it into their PS4. The same applies for mobile VR – everyone has a smartphone, and mobile VR headsets are very affordable. That meant these headsets would naturally have a lead to start off with, but it doesn't mean that other platforms will be prevented from gaining mass market adoption over the next few years. Something we're confident will happen.”
When we asked what hurdles VR needs to overcome in the next year, Gardner was straight to the point: Price and content. Easy, really.” For O'Luanaigh, however, it's a bit more complicated:
Mobile VR is still imperfect – headsets currently lack features like hand and positional tracking, which are key to great VR in my view,” he says. So I think you'll see the technology behind mobile VR accelerate very fast as these elements are addressed. VR is very much a ‘try me' technology, so hardware companies need to accelerate the opportunities for people to try high quality VR.”
As for whether more could be done to help entice developers into VR, there are already plenty of trailblazers out there, but adverse publishing conditions certainly aren't helping.
It will happen in time,” says Gardner. We're starting to see it on PS VR with Batman and Resident Evil 7 and Ubisoft's effo