nDreams VP of publishing David Corless on the best ways to get your game noticed

The reality of marketing a VR game in a 2D world

It’s hard to escape the hype: virtual reality is here and they tell us it’s going to be huge. Oculus, Sony, Valve along with HTC and many others are betting big on this new technology and the hardware they’ve created is undeniably impressive, exciting and, for those who have already had a go, a jaw-dropping experience. In the next few months they’ll start to market their headsets and will undoubtedly go on to sell gazillions and take over the world! Thank you, and goodnight…

Actually, hang on a moment. Therein lies the problem: Virtual reality is undoubtedly OMG if you already understand what it does or, if you’re lucky, you’ve had hands-on (or should that be “head-on”?!) – but if you haven’t tried it then all this talk of “immersion”, “presence” and “360-degree entertainment” means nothing.

It’s probably just hype and, in all probability, typical marketing nonsense. How then are we able to show off VR content when a 2D trailer on a flat-screen can’t capture that immersive, all-encompassing presence of VR? Especially to those not yet in-the-know?

Experiential is obviously the way to go? Well yes, and now that we’re fast approaching launch expect the major headset players to attend the main consumer shows such as EGX or Paris Games Week in a big way, or set up their own hands-on events, such as HTC’s current tour of the Vive in North America. These experiential opportunities will be the key focus for the hardware manufacturers to get headsets on as many heads as possible, and create the evangelists and desire for their product.

However experiential isn’t going to be an available option for everyone, especially your smaller studios. For starters, it’s not the cheapest way to promote your product – unless your game is chosen to be included by a headset manufacturer. And it’s hard to achieve wide coverage, given these events are generally in one location with a limited amount of people able to attend.

So how else can studios best show off their VR products?

Firstly, back to the point that a 2D-trailer on a flat screen won’t be able to capture the immersive, all-encompassing nature of VR. Well, yes, that’s right… but does it need to? The majority of virtual reality early adopters will be well versed in the tech and more than likely will have already had a go.

So for them it’ll be more about the actual content or gameplay and whether is it something they want to play. Yes, perhaps show off head movement in the trailer to give viewers the sense of the player using VR to look around and explore the world, otherwise let the product speak for itself.

The problems about marketing virtual reality will be more prevalent when we want to start targeting a wider audience and need to get across how it works and what it offers versus a typical gaming platform.

The simple solution for trailers would be picture-in-picture that shows what somebody wearing the headset looks like in concert with in-game video to demonstrate head-tracking and user reaction. It’s not rocket science, but it is an effective way of showing off how virtual reality works with the player’s head tracking within the game and it’s easy to understand.

But is this solution too simple given VR is such an interactive medium? And one that surrounds the player within the universe they’re inhabiting? Shouldn’t marketing assets try and reflect this too and, in some way, try to mimic the effects of virtual reality? It’s certainly possible.

YouTube has begun supporting 360-degree video allowing mobile users to tilt their device around to adjust the point of view (mirroring a typical VR experience), while on desktop, viewers use their mouse to drag the video and see different angles.

The simple solution for trailers would be picture-in-picture that shows what somebody wearing the headset looks like in concert with in-game video to demonstrate head-tracking and user reaction.

The recent Nike Hypervenom II campaign used the platform to great success, allowing viewers to become Neymar as he bears down on goal, defenders beaten left and right, before scoring a cracker, all in front of a stadium full of adoring fans. It worked very well and feels, well, very “VR-y”. Screenshots could also be upgraded to panoramic style images that allow the viewer to move the image around 360-degrees, mimicking the feeling of being surrounded by the game.

Both of these options offer an effective representation of VR’s key selling points – immersion, presence and 360-degree entertainment – and there are probably other clever ways to present your VR content out there too.

However they’re not as simple or as cheap to produce as creating a 2D trailer from captured game footage, or taking a screen grab for your latest screenshot and your typical small indie won’t have the resources to create such assets. Perhaps such marketing will become standard once virtual reality has truly hit mass market, but in the short-term, whilst the medium is still establishing itself, they’re not cost-effective solutions for the most of us.

In reality, once VR has become a part of all our lives and everyone is interacting with content on a daily basis, much of the marketing will be done within the headset where it’ll be at its most effective and where viewers can interact with what you’re selling to them. Technology will have figured out a way to do this cheaply and effectively – as we do now with our 2D assets – and the next thing you know we are all Wade Watts living in a virtual world…

In the meantime: Stick to your 2D trailers, maybe do a bit of picture-in-picture if it works for your product and you have the resource. Otherwise, don’t worry, the VR early adopters will get it and it’ll come down to how good your content looks, not how fancy the marketing is. Then cross your fingers that the first parties do a great job with their experiential events and come this time next year everyone is a virtual reality expert.

nDreams is a UK developer that focuses on virtual worlds and virtual reality. You can find out more about the studio at www.ndreams.com

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