nDreams: We want to be the Ubisoft of VR publishing

At the start of the year, nDreams announced that it was going to be publishing third-party virtual reality games.

Now it has announced its first partner in this new venture – Paw Print Games and its currently-unnamed VR title.We talk to nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh about this new deal, as well as the company’s ambitions in the new VR space

Why partner up with Paw Print as your first third-party publishing deal?

We’ve been looking for a while now at a number of indie developers who are making some really interesting VR games. We’re focused on VR and trying to find the best VR demos and prototypes and early game play out there to try and help. We saw Paw Print and were able to play the game that they are doing and kind of fell in love with it to be honest. It’s just so much fun, it does VR really well. It’s a really exciting game. We fell in love with that, we met the team and got to know them. They have a great track record, it’s a really good fit with us and what we are trying to do. For the first third-party title that we are going to be publishing, they’re a really good fit. They’re UK-based, which makes sense for our first title. Everything fell into place for us. The most important thing was that we love the game.

I see that you are offer sales, marketing, PR and development support for Paw Print. Are you looking to fund games going forwards?

We are co-funding this game. We are putting some money into Paw Print alongside Creative England. Between the three of us we are funding it together. We are offering development finance. The three things we are looking to offer developers are access to funding, development assistance and a PR and marketing team – that’s an area we are constantly growing. It’s any of those three things depending on what a game needs.

What are you looking for in VR games to sign?

We are looking for something playable and early. It’s unlikely we’d sign a game from a concept on a piece of paper. Ideally we are looking for a team that gets VR, who have been playing around and have some up with some gameplay mechanic, some early prototype that just works and is fun. That’s the most important thing. Ideally we want a team that are really passionate, committed and excited about the game. In the case of Paw Print, it has come up with the IP for this game and love it. That’s great and really important that it is going to be championing it and driving it forwards as much as we are.

How many games are you looking to sign in the next twelve months?

We are going to try and do two or three external titles a year. There is the possibility for us to ramp that up over time. Over the next twelve months, possibly two, possibly three. Then the year after, maybe four. And we’ll see where we go from there. We’re trying to be sensible. We’re not crazy – we’re not going to dive in and sign lots of games up. Our approach is to try and pick the very best. There are a lot of great developers out there and we’re trying to find those one or two excellent projects.

What’s your ambition as a third-party publisher?

We’re very ambitious. We want to be the leading VR publisher with our own development capacity as well as working with third-parties. We are about 40 people at the moment and we’re growing quite fast. Where would we like to be? Ultimately, I don’t see why we can’t aim for being the Ubisoft of VR – a really sizeable publisher doing internal and external publishing of really high-quality games in the future. That’s the kind of company I’d love to get to. We’re miles away from that at the moment, but that’s where the ambition is.

That’s a bit of a growth in ambition there – when I spoke to you in January, you said you wanted to be the Curve or Team17 of VR publishing.

Curve and Team17 are great examples of UK companies that have started off as developers and moved into third-party publishing and are doing a really good job. We also love what Devolver is doing in publishing as well – there are some great examples out there of fantastic companies doing this kind of thing from a British point of view. We used to be amazing at games publishing and then pretty much all of our big companies were sold or went under. I really do think you’re seeing a revival with companies like Team17 and Curve and hopefully us as well. It’s an exciting time.

Oculus and HTC have released their VR headsets this year. How would you assess the performance of VR so far?

They’re tracking pretty much with what we forecast. We were lucky in that we had a very close relationship with the first-parties, we had a good idea of what was likely to happen. I’ve been pleased with the quality of the headsets – they’re fantastic, with some great software out there. The install base is growing slowly but surely. It’s fairly obvious that neither the Vive nor the Oculus have hit the ground with huge numbers of hardware on Day One, but they were never going to do that. You may see the PlayStation VR launch in October be a very big event with a lot of hardware sold on Day One. But we have been really impressed with what they are doing and how they are growing it. For us, VR is a five year thing. It was never going to be huge numbers this year, it’s all about growing steadily and surely over the next few years. We’ve had our forecast and plans based around that and have been pleasantly impressed with what we have seen. It’s tracking as we expected to be honest.

VR is a brand new sector, and one that may take longer to get off the ground than anticipated. As such, many companies have thrown huge amounts of cash into making software for the sector when there isn’t a huge market for VR software, thus making it a very risky business for them. Is this risk something you are worried about?

They are certainly a few indie developers over there who got into VR early and if they don’t have a lot of cash or funding, then the fact that some of the VR headsets are later than originally planned and the fact that the roll out has been – in some cases – a little bit later and slower than expected. But things are picking up, particularly in mobile VR. But it’s been a little bit later than people originally thought. I can imagine that it’s a difficult position to be in. And also there are developers who didn’t do their homework and assumed that VR was going to be massive and pumped everything into a single platform and that’s a scary place to be. One of the nice things we have got here is that we are doing mobile VR and high-end VR and we’re across platforms – we’re doing Vive, Oculus, PlayStation VR, Gear VR and Google Cardboard. We’re working across a lot of different headsets which helps. I’m worried that there may be a few indie VR developers who will struggle, but that’ll be because they bought into the hype a little bit too much and saw the figures saying: ‘VR will be worth $25bn in the next few years’ and assumed that would happen really fast. You just have to be prepared for the fact that this is a slow and steady five-year journey to the mass market. It’s not going to all happen in the first month.

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