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SillyCow

Trying to understand the VR ecosystem

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Playing around with the occulus touch, I am trying to understand the type of ecosystem that the VR market is trying to build.  I am especially bewildered at the prices things cost:

The Oculus Rift and PS VR have gone significant price cuts which would have me think they are not selling for a profit. Or at least not a reasonable one considering the risk. This is understandable with Sony, as console H/W has traditionally been sold at a loss. But what are Oculus/Facebook's motives here? It should be clear to FB by now that VR is not the next social platform. Or at least I don't see any convincing attempt by FB to write apps for VR (The videos app is worse than Youtube 360 on google cardboard...). So what's with the price cuts?

Aside from that, the game authors have me bewildered: So far, I have tried only 2 "AAA" single player experiences. AAA is a relative term, because the VR market is smaller.

I have tried "RoboRecall" by Epic, and "Archangel".

Both games have high production values, are professionally made, and are fun to play.

However both games have very repetitive content and short play times: Around 4 hours of play, and assets, and mechanics are repeated heavily. The lack of versatile mechanics and repetetive 3D models  leads me to think that relatively not alot of work has been put into their game design and art department (Relative to a AAA game).

However both games are selling for over 30$, and the common launch price for a AAA VR game is 40$. Yet the content is parallel to a (very good) mobile game.

Knowing Epic, I wasn't expecting them to try and earn money with their game, but rather use it to showcase their engine.

My personal thoughts are that it takes less effort to make a VR game. They tend to have smaller worlds (because it's hard to move), and less versatile game-play mechanics. The only thing more expensive is the risk factor. Although the current "AAA" VR library is so small, that you don't have alot of competition. So that partly makes up for the risk. VR integration comes built in with game engines with some very easy to use APIs. So the tech side of VR for a software dev is laughably easy. The challenge is in designing the game mechanics.

So what's going on here? Both Facebook and Epic are big companies with well established revenue streams and business plans. What's the big idea? How are they expecting to make a profit by selling a VR helmet with 2 controllers for $400? Are they expecting the masses to buy 4 hour games for 40$?

I am not writing this cynically. I am both a VR enthusiast and a hobby VR developer. I desperately want  VR to succeed, even if it never becomes mainstream. I am also aware that VR has all of the chances of being a passing fad (like 3D TVs).  But the way this is being approached by these big companies makes me feel that the bigger players are going to ditch this due to lack of profits. Or maybe this is the just the "launch" business model, and it will evolve...

Afterthought: Multiplayer games are awesome in VR. Standing next to someone in VR and giving them "high fives", turning your head to talk to them, gives a whole new sense of presence to "multiplayer". Maybe this is really the next big thing in social networking. But I exepcted FB to have made a "FB hangouts" app like "Rec-room" by now...

Edited by SillyCow

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13 hours ago, SillyCow said:

It should be clear to FB by now that VR is not the next social platform. Or at least I don't see any convincing attempt by FB to write apps for VR (The videos app is worse than Youtube 360 on google cardboard...). So what's with the price cuts

VR in 2017 is not what VR will be forever. Oculus has started with getting three fingers into VR, but the goal is your whole body. FB will jump into it for holographic hangouts when the technology is capable of that. In the meantime they want to maintain market share and a position as a market leader. 

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How far away do you think that will be? I haven't seen any mainstream reports of trying to capture full body VR.

The one thing I've heard which made sense was the wireless room tracking proposed with Daydream Standalone. But that got cancelled by HTC, with no release date from lenovo from over a year. Not to mention that google Daydream isn't exactly taking off.

Oculus said they'd have their own wireless headset. But then they also said it would cost $199 next summer. This, again, sounds illogical to me. How are they expecting to make any money? This isn't a Kindle Fire... They don't have a steady stream of people purchasing stuff through the device.

A decent mobile VR set is going to need:

1. A res IPS screen (hi res for phones)

2. High powered mobile CPU

3. A BIG battery

All of which are very expensive. (Not to mention the regular stuff: Headphones, Lenses, Plastic, handheld control...). We can estimate that other stuff at ~100$ because that's what the GearVR is selling for, And I have a feeling the GearVR is a promotional for Samsung , a device only meant to sell more Samsung flagship phones.

Which makes the 199$ price sound unreal. Either that, or they're planning on losing money. Which makes little sense to me, because they don't have the same ulterior motives as Samsung, Amazon, and Playstation, which can all sell at a loss or at cost value.

 

 

Edited by SillyCow

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14 hours ago, SillyCow said:

Oculus said they'd have their own wireless headset. But then they also said it would cost $199 next summer. This, again, sounds illogical to me. How are they expecting to make any money?

They've got billions of dollars behind them. They don't need to make money. They're trying to define and capture a market that doesn't yet exist, but they speculate will exist in the future. If, in the future billions of people are going to own VR devices, then having 50% market share at that point will make up for their current losses. 

Also look at companies like Amazon who consistently make massive losses, yet continue to consistently expand. 

As for the plan to get the whole body into VR - I don't have a handy link for that, but heard it first hand at a developer presentation back when they launched the CV1 and Touch engineering samples. 

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The VR ecosystem is still in infancy, but there is noticeable growth and improvement.

It's a pipeline that goes like this:

1.) Hardware manufacturers release VR headsets with (hopefully) friendly APIs

2.) Engine developers implement abstractions for those VR headsets

3.) Game developers use the engines to build VR games

If one part of the pipeline is problematic, the whole thing crumbles. That's why hardware manufactures generally sell at a loss in the beginning.

Games sell hardware. Zelda sold the Nintendo. Grand Theft Auto sold the Playstation. Halo sold the Xbox. VR will only explode once the library of games starts to include amazing exclusive titles. In order for that to happen, Facebook/Oculus has to practically give away their headsets. The PSVR gives console gamers a taste. With Microsoft jumping into the game, it's going to further increase adoption. Once Apple jumps in, consider it mainstream- but they're most certainly going to be last.

The VR industry isn't a money-maker yet. Adoption needs to grow for the market to grow. Nonetheless, we're now at a point where the hardware is decent enough and the game engine support is pretty good. In 2017, Unity and Unreal Engine have really pushed harder for better VR support and performance. 2018 is the year that we'll start seeing a spike in VR game releases. By 2020, I think we'll see some spectacular VR titles.

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Adoption is growing, but you are right about the chicken-and-egg problem.  There need to be games to push hardware, there needs to be hardware to push games.

 

Many companies have adopted it because it is an emerging market. The barriers are the lowest they will ever be.  Think back to Apple's AppStore where apps like a drink simulator had 100 million downloads before settling down. The early programs have an enormous 'long tail' and mediocre games are still well received as there are few major games.

While it currently doesn't make much sense to develop an enormous AAA game costing $50M+ exclusively for the platforms, it makes a lot of sense to add $500K or $1M to an already in-progress $50M+ game to add VR support.  Even if the VR support does not recover the full cost immediately, the company will build a library of valuable tools while the market is forgiving of mistakes. And they'll get some recognition as a brand helping the platform.  The catalog has a long list of games and grows daily.

 

This is the era for VR to take off. There have been attempts at commercial stereoscopic games for 30 years. They ran the gambit for reasons they failed. The few remaining reasons for failing are vanishing. Among the biggest remaining are being tethered to a computer but wireless adapters and new hardware is removing that; cost has been big needing expensive VR gear plus a high-end PC, but now most game PCs exceed VR specs and the hardware is $350 and dropping.

Even the latest round of smart phones are able to handle VR. Not just the Google Cardboard from 3 years back (that you can get for $5 or less), Samsung has been touting Samsung VR for their latest round of phones. Throw it in a GearVR headset with a controller and they have an untethered VR system with both tracked hands for about $100. Both Samsung and Oculus are funding developers to build games for the platforms, in an effort to help break through the chicken-and-egg problem.

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Here's a few things I see happening in the VR ecosystem:

-Facebook bought out Oculus because they saw the future of VR and they want to have a big part of it. They released Oculus Rift and created the Oculus Store. Facebook has billions of dollars piled up, so they have the patience and ability to play the long game. They're looking at a 10-15 year outlook for their investment to grow and mature. Their money maker is NOT to sell VR headsets -- that's not their play. They want to make money by controlling the marketplace for VR content and by creating and controlling social VR. Facebook wants to make sure that wherever social media goes, it's on a platform owned by the facebook company. That's why you see Oculus Store and Facebook Spaces today. With that in mind, Facebook can actually afford to sell their hardware at cost or below cost because it helps slant the market share into their favor.

-Valve is not really a hardware company with the capability to mass produce hardware. So, they partnered up with a company like HTC to take care of the hardware production and manufacture. Valve wants to create an open and accessible VR ecosystem. It's a good philosophy which follows free market principles. They already have Steam, so they don't need to worry about controlling market share for a digital store. They already have it. So, they can focus on connecting customers with content from VR developers. I think Valve is more driven by a vision for what they think VR needs to be rather than being profit motivated, so you see them taking gambles and embracing open source ideals.

-AAA developers are getting into VR. Bethesda recently released Skyrim VR exclusively on Playstation VR, which caused PSVR to sell more units in the christmas season than the last 18 months combined. They also released Fallout 4 VR for PC on Steam. Bethesda and its parent company Zenimax are betting on VR, and SkyrimVR and FO4 VR was just the companies getting their feet wet before they dive in. AAA companies take 3-5 years and millions of dollars in budget to produce a game. If you put yourself into the shoes of a high budget game company and you're deciding on what projects to fund with millions, you have to look very carefully at your return on investment and whether the market will get you where you want to be. The VR market today is still very small. In todays market, you can't make a positive ROI on a $50m game, even with 100% market saturation. However, keep in mind that the development window is 3-5 years, so IF a triple-A company was going to make a VR game, they wouldn't be able to release it until 3-5 years from now. They actually have a much bigger game of risk to play with: Do they start funding a $50m VR project now, hoping that the market will be ready when they release in 3-5 years? Or do they sit, wait and see, and let another AAA company be first to market? Their best strategy right now is to modify existing AAA content to make it suitable for VR and release smaller projects, and let budgets scale with the market size.

-VR development is twice as hard as regular game development. On the performance side, you have to hit 90 frames per second all the time or else people start getting motion sick. AAA content can have variable frame rates and the average audience can't tell the difference between 30fps and 60fps. Hitting 90 fps 100% of the time is really hard and requires a lot of sacrifices to visual art quality. You can pretty much forget about dynamic point lights, dynamic shadows, lots of translucent materials, etc. For high end games like RoboRecall and Archangel to hit 90 FPS is a testament to the skills of the teams who worked on those games.
On the hardware side, you have to account for really weird stuff. How tall is the player? How do you calibrate for player height? What happens if they walk through a solid game object? How do you handle player movement within a room? How do you handle multiple input devices? How do you track changes in the players body position?
On the design side, there's even more tough challenges. How do you handle artificial locomotion? How do you design an experience so its not too emotionally intense? How do you make the best use of virtual realities unique capabilities? How do you design an experience which doesn't tire people out too fast? In skyrim, I can shoot a bow all day long with mouse clicks, but if I have to use motion controllers to draw and release an arrow, I can do about 10-15 minutes before my arms are dead. I think designing for VR is probably the biggest challenge right now because this is a new medium for experiencing content and nobody is an expert at it yet. We're all fumbling our way forward, big and small guys alike.

-The actual cost of a GearVR experience is $100 for the HMD + $700 for a Samsung phone, which puts you at a total of $800. If you already have a samsung S6, S7 or S8, the total cost is just an added $100. The problem with mobile VR is that you're severely limited by the capabilities of a phone and the lack of input devices. Oculus is releasing the Oculus Go for $200, which is supposed to be a big improvement because its a self contained mobile VR hardware platform. It's an upgrade to the GearVR hardware, but doesn't require an expensive android phone. The S6 has some major problems with overheating the battery, so I'm really hoping that the Oculus Go eliminates that problem. The other potentially cool thing about Oculus Go being a complete standalone hardware platform is that suddenly we know exactly what hardware the users will have, so we don't have to make that our VR app works on multiple hardware platforms. The Oculus Go is like a console platform for mobile VR. It makes QA so much easier.

-In the coming years, I would expect VR hardware to make some rapid advances. We'll get better hardware input devices. Better haptic feedback. Faster GPU's, dedicated to supporting VR, hopefully with hardware pipelines ready to support stereo cameras at the metal. We'll get ligher headsets, possibly without tethered cables, possibly with long battery lifespans.

I think if you really want to understand the ecosystem of VR, you should be asking the following questions: "Where will VR be in 10 years from now? Who is looking at that future and building for it today? What actions are they taking today, with the 10 year horizon in mind? What are their current business fortifications and what steps are they taking to enhance or protect them from competitors of the future?"

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On 23/12/2017 at 9:38 AM, SillyCow said:

So the tech side of VR for a software dev is laughably easy. The challenge is in designing the game mechanics.

look at some demo's of upcoming VR games. They are laughably shit compared to this and it isnt because they don't know how a gun feels or what it looks like.

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1 hour ago, RivieraKid said:

look at some demo's of upcoming VR games. They are laughably shit compared to this and it isnt because they don't know how a gun feels or what it looks like.

This is not really a problem for me. This is related to an "ancient" recurring debate which I experienced as a kid through flight games:
Do you want a realistic flight sim (with real delayed steering inertia, and lot's of stalling)?

Or do you want a arcade flight sim with controls that are just complex enough to allow you to fly in complex ways.

I personally enjoy the "arcady" types much more than then the real ones.

But neither genres are laughably !@#$ because of their control schemes.

I would argue the same for is true for VR: As long as your control is good for what it's trying to achieve, then it is a good control.

 

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