There’s next to no money to be made in virtual reality.
That’s the reality of the situation. There hasn’t been enough hardware sold yet to create an ecosystem where large teams can spend large amounts of time creating large games and then expect to turn a profit — or even break even — just by software sales.
Luckily, there are a lot of companies out there that are spending an unholy amount of money to try to jumpstart the VR market. I’m appreciative of them all, because I want to see VR succeed.
But many players are very, very angry at the situation.
You want games to exist, right?
I’m happy Intel spent money to help fund the creation of Arizona Sunshine, because it’s a good game. It has a finished single-player campaign that can also be played all the way through with a friend online. It had a co-operative Horde mode out of the box, and now everyone has access to the single-player Horde mode.
I’m not mad that the developer wanted to give a bit back to owners of Intel hardware by releasing game modes that people didn’t even know existed to those owners first.
I’m happy the developers took the complaints seriously and made that content available to everyone within a day. Everyone wins. But there are still VR fans who want to see Vertigo Games burnt to the ground because they took on Intel as a promotional and financial partner. I don’t understand VR enthusiasts who have high demands for games while also punishing developers for receiving funds to make those games.
This attitude that funding games is killing VR is common in article comments, virtual reality subreddits and Steam reviews. It’s baffling.
I’m happy Oculus Studios invested in the concepts behind the Bullet Train demo so Robo Recall could exist. I’m happy everyone with Touch controllers is getting it for free. Oculus funded the creation of a great game.
And VR enthusiasts are furious, because they imagine there’s a world where Epic would have created a game with that level of polish and sophistication for a tiny market without funding from an external partner to mitigate the risk.
That world doesn’t exist.
I’m not going to punish the developers of Superhot VR for making the best game possible, which involved receiving funding from Oculus. But plenty of people wanted to.
“The budget was waaaay too scary for our indie studio’s thirst for survival. We wouldn’t be able to make it without diverting resources from all the other crazy stuff we’re creating in the Superhot universe,” the Superhot team wrote. “We also needed some serious VR design chops or we’d get ourselves bogged in R&D. But hey, we’re engineers and problem solvers, and we happen to be friends with the only company on the market that fits the bill.”
It’s not always even Oculus who suggests these arrangements.
“Towards the end of last year, we rang up Oculus and pitched to team up — to pool together enough resources and VR design knowhow; to give us a shot at fleshing out a fully fledged, no-compromise Superhot VR,” the post continued. “A couple of weeks later, we already had our first full time VR dev happily coding away, and we had enough runway in the budget to keep us from having to cut the project short.”
The entire blog post lists all the ways Oculus helped the Superhot team during the development of the original game, the funding of the VR version and even publicity and press demos during the Kickstarter. Would Superhot or Superhot VR have existed without Oculus’ help? Probably, in some form. The game that exists now, and it’s an amazing game, exists because the company did receive funding and support.
I don’t understand people who would rather a piece of art not exist at all, or exist in a reduced state, rather than deal with the idea that exclusives — either timed or not — exist because game development is a business.
Out of Ammo developer Dean Hall, who also designed DayZ, wrote a long Reddit post about the reality of VR development, and it’s worth reading.
“There is no money in [VR development],” he stated. “I don't mean ‘money to go buy a Ferrari.’ I mean ‘money to make payroll.’ People talk about developers who have taken Oculus/Facebook/Intel money like they've sold out and gone off to buy an island somewhere. The reality is these developers made these deals because it is the only way their games could come out.”
Hall and his company haven’t taken any money for Out of Ammo, but that was a decision based on a number of factors, and Hall isn’t exactly in the same financial situation as many smaller developers.
“What I don't do is go out and personally attack the developers, like has happened with Superhot or Arizona Sunshine,” he wrote. “So many assumptions, attacks, bordering on abuse in the comments for their posts and in the reviews. I honestly feel very sorry for the Superhot developers.”
Those attacks may continue even if the company rethinks its position.
“And then, as happened with Arizona Sunshine, when the developers reverse an unpopular decision immediately — people suggest their mistake was unforgivable,” Hall wrote. “This makes me very embarrassed to be part of this community.”
I don’t understand getting mad at Oculus for funding VR games, nor do I understand getting mad at anyone who would dare accept a technological, promotional and monetary relationship with an ally as powerful as Intel. There’s likely no part of the game that wasn’t improved by having development help from engineers from Intel, not to mention the promotion, which is nearly priceless for smaller developers.
There ended up being zero downside for players, but they’re still mad. Because a company dared to fund some good VR.
There are a lot of ways companies help smaller VR developers, for differing levels of cooperation. It could be funding. It could be technological help during development or optimization. It could be a spot at a booth at E3.
Sony also spends a lot of money on VR content that will only appear on PlayStation VR, and they’ve offered developers technical help getting the game running well on the platform. Somehow they’re exempted from this criticism, even though they pay developers in exchange for exclusivity. I’m thankful they do, because it’s led to the creation of many great VR games.
VR enthusiasts who think many of these games would have existed at all, or in the state we enjoy them, without this help are hard to take seriously. Everyone wants games that perform well, have high production values while offering any number of features, and they don’t want to pay much for them. And then they get mad when a developer accepts funding or support?
There’s also the very real fact that each of these funded games was made by a team of people who learned how to do VR well in the process of developing and shipping a game. That design knowledge is going to spread as those developers move to future projects or start their own company. And also, you know. This meant they could afford to eat.
I’m thankful for it. The VR industry all but requires it at this stage. I’m glad it exists, and a big hug to everyone who gives financial, technical or even just emotional support to the teams making these games. It’s going to mean the difference between an industry and a fad.