A few months back, I decided that I would be attending the "Seattle VR" conference. It was hosted in Bellevue. I didn't want to just be an attendee, I wanted to show people the VR game I've been working on and see what people thought about it. Two weeks before the event, I decided to demo my game there. Here I am standing behind my table.
The business part of me is still wondering, "Was it worth it?"
The cost break down is as follows:
$100 - my own ticket
$500 - booth fee + 2 guest passes
$192 - employee wages
$26 - Parking
Somehow, I need to recoup $818 in value from attending this event. My objective was to either get a journalist to see my game and love it enough to write an article about it and indirectly give my game the much needed marketing and press it needs in order to sell well, or to have a representative from a large organization (oculus, htc, investor, etc) come by and see my game and want to sponsor our development, or to attend a bunch of lectures by other people in the industry.
None of that happened.
What did happen is that about 50 people came by and played our game. I got better at pitching it to people and explaining how to play. I learned where people commonly got stuck and confused. I learned that it is really satisfying to see things I created actually working the way they were designed to work and people getting the reactions I wanted them to experience -- I was cheering when players got their heads bitten off by this hulking demon I added in the day before. Who else would cheer for that, aside from the developer?!
I also got to see what everyone else in the VR scene is working on and where they're at relative to us. I was very interested to see how people solved some of the VR design problems we've been running into. I would tentatively say that we are ahead of the average curve. A lot of the VR experiences so far have been tech demos, incomplete games, or just "hey, let's enable VR in our game!". A lot of studios seem to be solving the locomotion and motion sickness problem with a teleportation mechanic. I personally don't like that. I think it breaks immersion too much and limits game design mechanics. To me, it's a hackish solution to fixing a bigger unsolved problem in VR. I don't know what the solution is yet, but one thing I do know is that you have to watch your frame rates and design your levels in ways which minimize unintended acceleration. When it comes to UI, we also want to be minimalist. Our goal is to communicate to the player through audio cues and visual clues rather than blatant non-natural objects floating in world space (such as text or arrows). Anyways, I suspect that we're already a lot further along than most other games.
As far as conferences go, I really need to have a large screen which shows our game play in action. This is the draw which brings people in, causes them to be curious and wanting to know more. Then, we need to make it as plainly obvious as possible what the game is about. Preferably it should be obvious from watching the recorded game play video. I shouldn't have to go up to people and say, "Hey, this is a game where you play as a wizard who can throw fireballs at zombies. Wanna play?"
I should have also brought a video camera to capture natural game play responses. I love it when people yell in panic because they're getting chased by zombies. Other people see and hear that and want to experience the same thing. I'm planning to include a lot of that in our game trailer.
Overall, every person who played our game said that they loved it. Yesterday, a friend tried out our game for the first time. After playing it, he said, "If there is a right track to be on, you're doubly on the right track. This game is awesome!"
That's encouraging. There's still a lot of work we have to do to polish things up and some wrinkles to smooth out, but I think we'll be ready to release when VR headsets hit the consumer market. We might just be able to be a solid release title. The dream is for gamers to say to each other, "Your VR game collection isn't complete without Spellbound in it."