Friday 28 October 2016

Guest Blog - Notes from a Virtual Island.

The observant amongst you will have noticed that I have spent a fair chunk of my recent independent status travelling. The last 3 months have had at least one long haul trip per month plus a few local ones too. Aside from the jetlag and suitcase living, this has given me the opportunity to look beyond the confines of UK (and even European) dev scene to see the burgeoning industry of VR development. I have been to a number of international events, from EDEF, a new digital festival and part of the Edinburgh fringe to CEDEC, and Japanese game developers conference with a number of western and international speakers. And not forgetting the up and coming Develop VR in our very own London town. I have seen a number of trends over the last few months so I thought I would take this opportunity to relate a few here.

  • There is definitely a UK VR development scene. Two or three years ago, you would find myself, Patrick (nDreams) and a handful of other VR evangelists doing all we could to promote the idea of VR being a new medium. We would be met by enthusiastic amateurs & self-assured skeptics in equal measure. But this has changed. Last week at an in silicon valley I met with a number of global VR developers and there is definitely a UK VR dev scene. More than a handful of eccentric enthusiasts, these are real companies with anything up to 50 employees making significant sized VR games & content. And the skeptics have changed their tune slightly from “if” to “when”. Seeing Mark Zuckerberg handling the recent oculus social demos himself is a clear sign that smart money and smart thinking believe VR not just to be a new entertainment platform, but a new medium for interacting with computers and with other people.

  • As well as the developers mentioned above, I have seen a clear trend of media content companies emerging. These are smart people from established industries from music, TV, movies and education. A week does not go by without someone contacting me to “help” a new company hire a team to build their creative vision. Although this is great for freelance developers, there is a significant risk here: most of these new formed companies have a great understanding of content and audience, but lack the technical chops to pull it off. Believing, as most do outside traditional development, that lots of features they have experienced in demos, come for free. In short, they lack a CTO and a clear technological strategy. While we await the growth of the VR install base, this is a great opportunity for developers to earn some cash.

  • This leads to the big question: when will VR adoption become mainstream and what are the financial rewards. As yet, there are a few indies who have made back their dev costs quickly and are enjoying decent profit. To be honest, these are relatively few. Perhaps by choosing a cheap indie art style and being one of the early few “hits”. This does reinforce my opinion that VR warrants the chance for new IP to take on the big traditional games with experiences designed for VR. The recent release of Playstation VR is the first big test of consumer adoption with the google daydream following close behind.
  • Most recently, I have seen signs of the second wave of content. The first wave is cool, interesting games like unseen diplomacy, job simulator and universe sandbox squared. Although definitely engaging, these are pretty much one mechanic games appealing to the early adopters. I am sure we will see evolutions of these early games, but the second wave have deeper more complex mechanics. Take the recently announced Robo Recall, teleporting is becoming an established and comfortable form of navigation. In Robo Recall, this is designed into the game. You navigate by choosing a different Robot to take over. It’s a compelling game with a number of mechanics working together. Similarly, Lone Echo uses your arms to pull you around in space as a relatively new navigation mechanic.

That is all for now, I think the next big moment to take stock will be after the holiday season. We will be able see just how much demand there is for VR, what games people are really enjoying and how long they wish to play them for. I will keep on the look out and report back. In the meantime, good luck to all those launch titles for PSVR and google daydream.

Dave Ranyard

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