Ok, I feel compelled to apologise in advance for what will be – even by my standards – an epic rant.
Recently I found myself wandering the halls of a game conference. 2018 is the BREAK OUT YEAR for VR, people with a vested interest in VR had enthusiastically told me. So, here I was, expecting to see a plethora of headsets hooked up to bewildered VRgins enjoying their first time surfing through the metaverse. But as I wandered past the avenues of pop-up indie developer booths with introverted developers shuffling nervously as they failed to entice people in – there was not a VR headset was in sight.
Slightly dejected, I accompanied my children as they feigning interest in yet-another 2d platformer with steampunk artwork in an attempt to swindle free stickers and badges. As they mugged another socially awkward genius, in an adjacent booth I glimpsed a genuinely innovative first-person perspective title, the developer was looking around for someone to talk to, so – press card clutched tightly in front of me, badge of honour, hard-earned – I introduced myself. “I know you”, he said. Trust me loyal reader, this is not something that happens even within our niche community. More than slightly flattered, ego inflating, I enquired as to how? It transpired that he had asked me to review a VR title previously, embarrassingly it was still in my very long “to do” queue, I apologised and promised to bump it up the list. I asked him about his game and slipped in the obvious question, “So, why don’t you develop this for VR?”. Again – I am not exaggerating when I say it was just about the most perfect concept for a VR game I have seen and – believe it or not – nothing has been done like it yet, I won’t betray trust by revealing it here. He sighed and shrugged, “I already have ported it into VR, it took me no time, it is so much better, but I am not releasing it”. Incredulous, I asked him why on earth not!
It is at this point, dear reader, that I must ask you to keep an open mind. Don’t get upset. Consider this an ever-so-popular trigger warning.
He told me that porting to VR has one major problem – YOU. Yes, you.
OK, maybe not “you” you, but “you” – the consumers of VR – are in a very real sense ruining VR. He went on to explain; “It’s the reviews VR games receive, some people get sick, they give you one star, once you get a couple of bad reviews your sales plummet. You don’t get that with monitor games”. He looked genuinely upset. The VR title he had developed previously, and I have since tried, was actually beautiful. Here is a man who wants to bring his new and innovative vision to the VR community but he is prevented by – you guessed it – the same VR community. He might consider bringing it to VR in the future when sales drop a bit, with the imminent release of “The Forest” this sounded like an oddly familiar strategy.
We talked more about this, but my mind was elsewhere, in fact already on writing this article which I started on the train home. I had to tell people. I had to warn them. They don’t mean it. People who love VR would not knowingly hurt VR! Would they? But then it started to make sense, I had already been told this before; Crytek developers had hinted at the same thing when I asked about the training wheels in “The Climb” and when they planned to port Crysis.
I did more research, contacted some other developers with titles that are ripe for a VR make-over. The same story was repeated again and again. Then I started to read the reviews. You don’t have to look for long, many negative comments are not touching on gameplay, immersion, presence, no – they are complaining that it made them feel “a bit ill”. After the forth or fifth review discovered in as many minutes I honestly almost punched a hole through my monitor.
It would be an incorrect and sweeping statement to suggest that this is the only blocker to a developer considering producing a VR title. There are many reasons, access to hardware, the (incorrect) perception that VR is still niche, the many different and ever changing software development kits depending on what day it is. But this problem you can do something about.
I strongly believe that you – dear reader – are not one of these cretinous miscreants. No, YOU have been in this for the long-haul, you have suffered the development kit years, grasped greedily at every tech-demo you could find. You have hacked around with software, evangelised, promoted, adopted and ultimately assisted in growing this industry. Now you can do something simple to help – tell a VR developer you love their game – it will make their day and it will help them pay the bills. It will encourage others to write a review. It will help developers see the wonderful VR community an ally, as it was, in the before times. As for the lily-livered, weak-stomached, easily triggered, VR as a gift from mom, morons that are skulking among us, biting the hand that feeds, those guys can put the HMD in the box and go back to calling people “Noobs” in Roblox.