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“VR shooters are the lowest common denominator - we need to move on”

Virtual reality experts discuss the next step for the technology, encourage developers to explore “deeper games”

The key to driving virtual reality forward will be to step away from the wave-based shooters that currently dominate the marketplace.

That's according to this morning's opening panel at the VRX conference in London, where it was agreed that the "perceived challenges" of overcoming motion sickness, working out how to convey information to players and creating a comfortable locomotion system are increasingly outdated discussions.

"At this point in the VR game space, we need to move past that," said Callum Underwood, who handles senior developer strategy at Oculus. "It's been three and a half years, plus the 20-plus year history of trying to figure that out. When I talk about design for VR games now, I'm thinking less about what the UI is, what the movement's like, and whether there's motion sickness - because I assume that if you're building a VR game, that should just be second nature. You should have solved that already.

"When I look at a VR game's design, I'm actually looking at how deep a game is. Does it have narrative? Does it have a game design document? Does it have a plan for post-launch success?"

However, Underwood added that a unique, compelling gameplay mechanic or loop can go a long way to differentiating a VR title from the other releases on the market.

"You take everything I just said and just discount it if you have a game that just focuses on a good mechanic. The best examples are things like Space Pirate Trainer, Superhot - these are games that have very simple mechanics, but they've iterated on their design over and over again. Superhot, for instance, took the simple mechanic of essentially being Neo in The Matrix, created a puzzle format in the form of a first-person shooter and just iterated on that.

"Right now in VR design, we need to move past the perceived challenges. [The companies that have released multiple titles] no longer have to concern themselves with UI, motion sickness and so on. Those are talks from three years ago - now it's about how you make a game that has a design you would expect from the better PC titles."

Supermassive Games' executive producer Simon Harris observed that both of Underwood's examples were shooters, a genre that already dominates the VR space. The aforementioned design challenges might have been solved for this form of gameplay, but what about others?

"Everyone knows how to [let players] pick up a gun," said Harris. "What we do need to solve is where we go next with the shooter. People have done on-rails shooters, statics shooters - if all you're doing is that, then the problem is how many times can you just put a new wrapper on it?"

"My heart sinks when someone brings me something that's a shooter. If you're going to build one, it has to have something different"

Callum Underwood, Oculus

Underwood agreed: "It's a good point. Part of my job involves funding content and my heart sinks when someone brings me something that's a shooter, because a shooter is almost the lowest common denominator at this point. As you say, it's quite easy to get to that point. If you're going to build a shooter, it has to have something different - which is what those examples have.

"What I am looking to focus on is things that don't just happen to have a gun in it. What else can we do with VR? I'm kinda done with guns. They will always be a success, there is definitely a market for people who want to go into VR and build shorter experiences, but if you want to build something meaningful, a long-term experience that will be remembered, we need to move on and look at what you might be able to do with VR."

nDreams' VP of publishing David Corless agreed, adding the caveat that it depends which audience developers are talking to. He observed that there is a very "VR-savvy" audience, particularly on PC, that are "more open to different types of experiences", but this is not true across the board.

"You look at the PSVR, that audience is very different," he said. "They already bring in some game knowledge, they like the Call of Dutys and Uncharteds - and they want to play Call of Duty in VR. They want to run around, do that sort of experience.

"There are still a number of skillsets we need to learn as a development crowd in terms of locomotion and things like that. I agree there are already a set of established rules, and we do now need to move beyond what are effectively 30-minute tech demos that are easy to make. We need to think about bigger experiences, more fulfilling games that are based on game design documents and try to take the medium forward.

"I don't think we'll ever fully solve all of the problems because the technology is rapidly evolving and there's always going to be a new challenge for us to overcome."

He added that, out of nDreams' various VR releases, the best response the studio saw actually stemmed from Perfect, a virtual reality experience that simply place users in a relaxing environment.

"[Through Perfect], we're finding a new audience that just wants to experience what VR is in its purest form," he said. "And that's interesting, because if you make a game where you just sit on a beach and do nothing else, and you put it on PlayStation 4 - people just wouldn't get it. It's almost like there are new genres, although maybe that's not the word... new experiences that you can think about. As our audience grows and diversifies, it's a whole new area for us to look at as developers."

Ozwe Games CEO Stéphane Intissar said he believed single-player experiences will become less important to the rise of VR over time.

"I think we're getting to the point where are enough headsets in the wild that we can really focus on multiplayer," he said. "That's still something we need to explore."

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