I’m going to say something and it might make you mad. Take a deep breath and let’s get through this together. I promise I’m not being hurtful. Are you sitting down? Ok, here goes…
Hardcore gamers don’t drive the gaming industry.
Search your feelings. You know it to be true. I consider myself, if not a hardcore gamer, an extremely enthusiastic and opinionated gamer. I also consider myself reasonably well-informed. That’s why I love games like Mortal Online and don’t so-much get into games like Black Ops 2.
You and I are part of a group who hold our favorite game developers to a high standard. We expect a lot from them and when they let us down, we’re vocal about it. Somehow, though, companies like EA still drive the industry.
VR Is Hardcore
The average person still thinks it’s unbearably nerdy to wear a smartwatch, despite Apple and Google’s best efforts to make them attractive, easy to use, and practical. I still get shameful looks when I talk to my watch. VR is making leaps and bounds toward usability, but ultimately you still have to strap a big goofy mask on and walk around like an idiot to use it.
It’s a particular hurdle because you can’t even get the experience of VR without using it. You can watch YouTube videos all you want, but let’s be real: press like this isn’t doing anyone any favors.
There’s clearly still a problem with VR being taken seriously.
VR is Awesome
Here’s where I still have hope: VR is amazing. It definitely didn’t used to be. Nobody was getting “immersed” in VirtualBoy (which coincidentally was released 20 years ago this week). In the last few years, though, it’s as though the gaming industry went “hold up, we have ultra-hi-res tiny-screens now, incredible audio quality from headphones, live motion capture and huge computing power. Let’s give that VR stuff another shot.” Things went well, and now, when you put on the goggles and the outside world disappears, you (probably) stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and just immerse.
It’s getting better too. The guys at Tested recently played around with a multiplayer demo where they were able to see and interact with each other inside the VR world. They even tossed a torch to each other and caught it successfully. The tech is really moving.
So what needs to happen? Where is the bridge between standard-adoption and niche-nerd-culture?
I’m coining that term. It’s going to be a thing.
Arcade-style gaming has always had a major effect on the industry. In the 80’s, actual arcades were huge and drew crowds enough that it became a staple of that culture. Then again, so was Howard the Duck, so…
The Nintendo Wii, which came from a company with serious business-plan fatigue, was (I would argue) a very “arcade” style console. It drew in non-gamers and encouraged socializing while gaming, just like arcades. It also sold over 100 million consoles, outselling the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to-date (source) and I contend that it was in no small part due to the real-world social interaction combined with games that were simple but not shallow, easy to play, and easy to jump in on without much training.
VR needs an “arcade moment.” We need games that anyone can jump in and just play. I’m not talking Roller Coaster demos, but games that are simple but not shallow, easy to play, and easy to jump in on without much training.
Gunjack, developed by CCP, the Icelandic company behind EVE Online and DUST514, is a VR turret-shooter for Samsung Gear VR. It’s basically Tempest, Centipede, Missile Command, and Asteroid rolled into one.
CCP has been playing with VR for a while now. Back in 2013 they announced EVE: Valkyrie, a tech-demo of the Oculus Rift using the EVE Online universe as a backdrop. It was simply a space-flight-sim and combat game, and it knocked people’s socks off hard enough as a demo that CCP turned it into a full game.
In fact, it’s going to be one of the launch-titles for the Oculus Rift.
The problem with Valkyrie, as amazing of a game as it seems to be, is that it’s still a flight sim. It’s not something an average non-gamer will be able to play and feel rewarded and excited about. Flight controls are inherently complex and even confusing. In fact, it might even be seriously disorienting if you’ve never even played a flight sim.
Gunjack is different enough that it gives me hope. It’s point-and-shoot. It’s an arcade game in 3D. It even looks like an arcade game in the way the enemies move around, swarming in patterns and making a generally beautiful battle scene. Also, the nature of a turret-gunner is that you’re stuck on a ship and you can only spin in circles, which hopefully removes a bit of the motion-sickness inherent to new players of VR.
Gunjack may be the best VR game idea I’ve seen yet.