Develop VR is a conference run by Develop, the major UK games industry conference. It includes an expo of up coming games and tech as well as a number of talks from industry specialists.
So at a risk of using a cheesy format, we’d like to share 10 interesting themes from the conference.
1 Quality recruitment is hard
Daniel Colaianni of VR Bound said that one of the biggest challenges for VR at the moment was recruiting good developers to work on projects. He said that we need good VR education to solve this problem. That is certainly what we are trying to do and I think it is good news for our learners who want to get into the VR industry because there is a demand there.
2 Poor quality first experiences can put people off
Daniel Colaianni also noted that the a lot of people are being put off by poor quality first experiences made by developers who don’t understand VR. That shows that a good understanding of the medium is really important. He said the biggest issue was nausea, and you need to use techniques to avoid it. He also said that it is important to use an appropriate art style. VR doesn’t need to be photorealistic. In fact, unless you have a lot of resources, a simpler, more abstract style is likely to look a lot better.
3 VR is intense, give breaks
Andrew Williams, lead designer on EVE: Valkyrie said that VR is a very intense experience and people need breaks. He advises limiting play time and providing natural breaks between bouts of play (or other interaction), for example checking stats, upgrading etc.
4 Experienced players will tell you nothing about VR comfort.
Andrew also said that it is important to know that experienced VR players will tell you [nothing] about VR comfort (what he actually said was less polite….). People who are very used to VR are likely to be both resistent to simulator sickeness and also very used to typical VR interfaces. That makes them very bad people to test VR apps on. You should make sure you get more casual players in from the beginning.
He advises engaging with your community as soon as you can and get early feedback, particularly on comfort. He also advises doing A/B testing and analytics on play data to really understand what is happening, not just listening those who comment (“he who shouts loudest isn’t always right”). You need to understand your community and build features for the community you have, not the one you would like.
5 VR arcades are the way to get new people into VR
There are a number of themes coming out of talks, for example Courell Watson talked about VR arcades, which will play an important part in developing the mass market in VR. While VR hardware is still pretty expensive for consumers, an arcade is a good way to try out VR content on high end hardware. Even people who own VR hardware often go to arcades to have social VR experiences with their friends, who may not have HMDs. Arcades can be a really good opportunity for developers to licence their games and get them in the hands of people without HMDs.
5 VR can mess with your brain
Faviana Vangelius founder of SVRVIVE studios talked about the capacity of VR for changing people’s behaviour, creating empathy and generally “messing with our brain”. She stressed the importance of doing this responsibly. She is currently working with neuroscientists to create VR experiences for positive behaviour change and particular an increase compassion and helping behaviour. (Citing the man who lost 50lb playing VR games).
6 The bar of shame
Getting a good framerate is very important, particularly on mobile VR where it can be very hard. If the game isn’t fast enough and it drops frames, this can be a major source of nausea. James Horn lead artist on Drop Dead said that his team had a “Bar of Shame” that would appear in front of the game whenever it’s framerate dropped and forced the developers to fix the problem before doing anything else.
7 if you want empathy, create empathy
VR is often called an empathy machine, as it allows you to view life from another person’s perspective. But Katie Grayson was critical of this idea. She says it is too easy to just use this type of work as a form of tourism in which people cannot truly empathise because there are no real consequences of the situation, you can be immersed in a refugee camp, but you don’t have any of the consequences of being a refugee. She urged us to look instead to fiction and literature, which have been creating empathy for centuries. Empathy should not be seen as an automatic result of the technology but as the result of an artistic process.
8 Where the money is
VR is still developing and, while I believe there will be a big market for high end VR in the future, the number of people with headsets is still pretty small. That means that developing consumer high end VR isn’t the best way to make money in VR right now (late 2017). Daniel Colaianni said that VR for business can be a good option and James Horn said that there were at least 10 times the number of players on the GearVR version of their game as there were on the Rift version. Though you should bear in mind that things are likely to change quickly.
9 Microsoft is pushing Mixed Reality
Pete Daukintis and Mike Taulty of Microsoft gave the closing keynote about their new Windows Mixed Reality platform that I’ve featured in a previous post. Mixed reality is a general term that includes any combination of the real world and virtual content ranging from Augmented Reality to full VR (and includes Augmented Virtuality, which is VR with some real world content). A lot has been said about AR vs VR but I think that they are not antagonistic but part of a spectrum (while at the same time being very different experiences as Pete and Mike noted, something I’ll try to talk about in a future post).
Windows Mixed Reality is a general platform that is integrated into windows and that supports a range of headsets including Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset but also a range of more VR based 3rd party headsets. Microsoft is aiming to be the software platform rather than the hardware vendor (which it is, after all, with windows) and is hoping to be a general standard that all headsets conform to. This would be a good thing for developers as it would make it easier to develop for multiple headsets (but bad for anyone hoping for more Mac-based VR).
Pete and Mike did a really nice HoloLens demo and then finished with showing how to develop a simple app for Windows MR using Unity. Since it works with Unity, most of what we have taught in the specialisation will apply to Windows MR, but if you want to learn more they have a lot of tutorial materials. I hope to have an interview with Pete or Mike in the future to help you learn more about Windows MR.
10 Developers need to take responsibility for their players
Andrew Williams, lead designer on EVE: Valkyrie said that “we have to be responsible for our players”. Virtual reality is a very power, emotionally intense medium that can have a deep impact on players. Developers have a responsibility to protect players from excessive experiences. He was particularly talking about the impact of violence, since EVE is a combat game. How to handle violence and death in a medium that is much more powerful than screen based computer games? I’m really glad that people are talking about this, particularly as many VR games do involve violence (for example the shooter Blood and Truth, which was being shown at the conference).
Andrew wasn’t the only person raising this issue. As I said further up Faviana Vangelius stressed the need to use the power of VR responsibly. Catherine Allen in a great talk about Moral Panics, channeled Uncle Ben saying “With Great Opportunity comes Great Responsibility". She talked about how VR is very likely to be the subjects of press driven moral panics, which are likely to be excessive but will also be based on real concerns that we should take serious. Catherine has written this up much better than I could in a Wired article, but I will just say that she recommends trying to capture the criticism while it is still constructive by engaging early with people who are very far from your target market/early VR adopters.
I’m really glad these issues are being raised as they are very important given the power of VR as a medium. I hope to discuss them more in a future post.