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Interview: VR Is Levelling The Playing Field

Interview: VR Is Levelling The Playing Field

Our recent visit to Colombia revealed a wealth of studios working on mobile games, but very few exploring the possibilities of VR. One notable exception is Teravision, whose upcoming Neon Fury is a frantic first-person VR game with a distinct sci-fi style, due later this year for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR.

With more than 70 games to its name, Teravision has over 10 years of experience working on its own IP and undertaking high-profile work-for-hire projects (clients include Disney, Nickelodeon and Atari). And now they're betting on VR being the direction the company should take.

Enrique Fuentes is CEO and Co-Founder of Teravision and he took the time to answer our questions about Neon Fury, the Latin American market, and the future of VR as a games platform.

 

TheVirtualReport.biz: Teravision has a background in mobile games. What attracted you to make the move to VR?

The rise of VR is a playing-field-leveling event; it's the iPhone in 2007.

Enrique Fuentes: We see the rise of VR as a playing-field-leveling event, as everybody is relatively new to the platform and there's everything still to be done. It's the iPhone in 2007.

The bigger companies are hesitant to get on board because the install base is still pretty small, so we see this as an opportunity for indies and small studios like ours to hit the market early while it’s not saturated. Additionally, producing ROI-positive games is very possible for us given our size and cost structure and we will acquire an expertise that will be very valuable in two or three years when VR becomes a several billion dollar market.

 

What are the biggest challenges of developing a VR game?

The obvious one is funding, since the install base is not large enough to attract publishers yet (i.e. not enough devices have been sold, which means that the number of people who can buy content is still relatively small). Some investors ARE placing interesting bets already - like Survios' 50 million-dollar investment  - however these are very rare cases which require a long-term strategy. Therefore, the funding alternatives facing studios are:

  1. Getting money from first parties like Oculus, HTC, Sony or Google
  2. Finding one of those rare investors that are willing to place a long-term bet on VR
  3. Self-funding the project

Survios 50m USD funding is the exception, not the norm.

The other big challenge we have experienced when developing for VR is getting the UX right. This has proven to be especially challenging because developers don't know what the player is going to be looking at, and we can't force the camera to aim in a specific direction because it would completely break the experience for the player. In addition, there is the issue of motion sickness, so it becomes pretty tricky to guide the player throughout the experience. Furthermore, having too many UI elements will break the immersive experience, so displaying information also becomes a challenge.

Finally, optimization is also a concern. VR games have to run at 90 frames per second on most devices, and 120 fps in PS VR; add to that the fact that the headset has to render everything twice simultaneously (once for each eye), and you have yourself an optimization challenge!

 

What sort of game is Neon Fury and what are its most interesting features?

Neon Fury is a first-person tower defense game set in a retro-futuristic world featuring cyberpunks, lots of neon, and giant T-Rex armed with machine guns... in VR! Two huge references have been Blade Runner and Far Cry Blood Dragon, but we are also carefully studying every major VR game out there to understand what they are doing right and what can be improved, especially from a UX standpoint.

Doesn't every game need a giant T-Rex armed with machine guns?

What makes Neon Fury stand out from the rest is the fact that we are not creating another ‘tech demo’ that shows a bunch of toys to interact with on VR, we're actually building a game here. Using such a strategic genre like tower defense (a genre which we love dearly at the studio) and bring it to a first-person view poses a very fun challenge. It has been a brain-tickler figuring out how to maintain the strategic aspects and pacing which make a tower defense fun to play in the first place, but with the immersion of a first-person shooter.

Our opinion is that having an aerial view in VR is not as fun as actually being the character inside the game, that's what we believe most players are looking for at this point. We learned this in an experiment using Gear VR in which we created a kind of puzzle game; the aerial view worked well to avoid motion sickness, but players didn't feel the immersion they were expecting from VR. We took this into account in creating Neon Fury.

 

Will you publish it yourselves? If not, who are you hoping to work with?

Our primary focus is creating a game that resonates well with players.

According to our experience so far, we believe that the size of the market is not yet attractive to publishers. At this point, we're developing our relationships with first parties and aiming to get our game featured on the main platforms' virtual stores, which is the best kind of exposure anyone selling a VR game can have in the current market context.

However, our primary focus is creating a game that resonates well with players. As expressed by Patrick Walker from EEDAR at the VRDC back in Nov 2016, the number one factor driving VR games sales is its User Rating score, so that's where our focus is right now: creating a great game.

The plan is to release in Q4 2017 for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PS VR.

 

What sort of feedback are you getting?

We brought an early demo to VR Connects London and to be honest, we didn't expect much in terms of reaction - but the players really liked it! Such positive feedback was a big motivation for us to keep moving forward. Here's a video showing some of our experience there: 

The most recurrent feedback we’ve received so far is that although the game is super fun and that the art is really good, it needs more content. That is the best news we could ask for because we were able to validate that the core of the game is fun and that we are onto something people really enjoy. So now we are working on polishing the UX aspects and adding more content.

Other feedback we have received has to do with UX. To avoid motion sickness, we use a teleportation mechanic in which the player travels from turret to turret without having to walk through the map. This mechanic works really well for many aspects of the game, but some people get very disoriented when landing after being teleported, so we have worked on adding more recognizable landmarks and other tweaks to the teleporting mechanics. We tested this again at GDC and had greatly improved results, so it seems like we're moving in the right direction.

 

What is the future of VR do you think? What more needs to be done before VR really gains mass market adoption?

We are starting to see signs of a very active and growing market.

My opinion is that VR is here to stay and that's what Teravision Games is betting on. There's a lot of skepticism and even disappointment around VR these days because the numbers are not what some people expected them to be at this point. I believe that we are just going through the ‘gap of disappointment’ that John Riccitiello (Unity's CEO) predicted a little more than a year ago at the Vision Summit, where he stated that expectations were too high for the initial years of VR, but that it would grow exponentially in subsequent years. "We've set up so much hype," he said. "The gap of disappointment will be real in 2016 and 2017."

We are starting to see signs of a very active and growing market; the biggest and most recent one was Sony not being able to meet the demand for its PS VR headsets. The demand is there, and I agree VR is not for everyone, but it is for a lot of people. I don't think that the VR market will be comparable to the mobile, PC or console markets anytime soon. However, for indie developers the opportunity is there while the ocean is still blue, then it will become like any other mature market where it's harder for the small/indie developers to make an impact.

That being said, the key aspects slowing down mass market adoption for VR are high prices, and not a lot of great content available. Oculus recently addressed the first one by cutting the Rift and Touch bundle price by 25% and giving Robo Recall away for free with the purchase of the Touch; that's a pretty sweet deal right there that I'm sure will give a boost to Oculus' adoption. I also know there's at least one device manufacturer in China that will release a high-end VR device for under $400 USD; this alone could add millions of users to the install base!

Free Robo Recall will boost Oculus adoption.

Addressing the lack of content is a little trickier because it's currently in a vicious circle: a small market translates into a lack of investment from publishers, which leads to not having enough content in the market to get people excited about getting a VR headset, which takes us back to a small market. Oculus and other first parties are trying to break that cycle by funding content themselves, and I personally believe that this will help a lot in accelerating growth.

Other factors affecting adoption include devices that are hard to set up, take up space, are tethered, and are clumsy in general. However, anyone that doubts that that will get much better in the follow years just hasn't been paying attention to the evolution process of every single technology in the world, and probably dismissed pocket size computers (smartphones) back in the 1980s because they were bricks that only worked for placing phone calls.

To give you some perspective, a VR HMD cost between $50K and $200K in 1991 and this is what it looked like:  

We’ve definitely come a long way, and I’m sure VR HMDs will keep getting better, fast.

 

What’s the VR scene like in Colombia and Latin America?

In LatAm it's close to impossible to get private investment for video game development, let alone for VR.

I haven’t seen many studios creating VR games for the consumer market in Colombia or LatAm, but there is a lot of activity from digital marketing agencies starting to offer business-to-business VR development services. My impression is that a lot of brands want to jump on the VR bandwagon because it's viewed as the next flashy thing, and some agencies are leveraging that demand.

That said, I haven't seen many companies in LatAm pushing the boundaries of VR and taking advantage of its capabilities to create unique gaming experiences, but I think it's not that different from other regions because achieving those results requires time and money and not everyone has access to it for VR projects.

What makes it more difficult in LatAm is that it's close to impossible to get private investment for video game development, let alone for VR. I think the main reason is because capital is in the hands of very conservative people that have made their money investing in conservative ventures (I always like to say that we need more millionaire geeks in the region), so a lot of startups that would otherwise have great potential have a hard time scaling up. You would never see a case like the Survios investment in LatAm!

In some cases though, the government has stepped in to fill that gap. One good example is the Conectando initiative from ICT Ministry in Colombia that provided about $500k in 2016 to fund videogame prototypes. We were one of the beneficiaries of that fund, which allowed us to create the first version of Neon Fury.

 

Do you have other VR projects in the pipeline? What will you work on next?

We’re focusing all of our VR energies on Neon Fury, but for us the next natural step after Neon Fury is to keep pushing the boundaries of VR and making bigger and deeper experiences. One area we're very excited to explore is real-time multiplayer experiences in VR, so who knows - probably the next title will be a co-op first person tower defense? That definitely sounds like a lot of fun!

Teravision demonstrated Neon Fury at VR Connects London in January 2017.
 

For more opportunities to see upcoming VR games, why not attend our next VR Connects event in San Francisco this June?

Operations Manager

Dave is Steel Media's operations manager. He gets involved in all areas of the business, from front page editorial to behind-the-scenes planning. He began his career in games and entertainment journalism back in the 1990s when Doom arrived on four floppy disks. Please contact him with any general queries about Pocket Gamer, The Virtual Report and Steel Media's other sites and events.

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