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Oculus' Bernard Yee: "Everything we've done to date is the warm-up for VR"

Executive producer posits that VR is about 'the fantasy of the small space' during View Conference talk

While virtual reality development has come on in leaps and bounds since Oculus' first dev kit was released, the industry has still yet to discover its true potential when it comes to video games.

That's according to the firm's executive producer Bernard Yee, who delivered a talk at last week's View Conference in Italy about the crucial differences between traditional video game experiences and those that work well in virtual reality.

"Everything we've done to date is the warm-up for VR," he told attendees. "It's a whole new frontier, so the question of what video games do well in VR - that's an important question, but a more important question is: what does VR do well that everything else doesn't? This is where you should build. Build a non-obvious thing.

"Video games are a fantasy of power. When we talk about games as verbs, what can you do in them? Run, jump, shoot, climb, cast, swing. You think of Halo, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto where your actions are hyperbolic, they're larger than life.

"It turns out those verbs or run, jump, fly - not so good in VR. Our fantasy of VR is something like Snow Crash or Ready Player One. It drives me crazy when people talk about those because they're books, they're not real guideposts for what we should be building. They're narrative contrivances.

"Think of the verb 'run'. You can't run in VR. I mean, I guess you could if you use the thumbstick, but I would never use the thumbstick because people get motion sickness. Why would you exclude a large chunk of your audience? So what do you do? Teleport - but that is literally a crutch to support the fact that you cannot run in VR."

He reiterated that identifying what virtual reality can do better than any other medium "is the fundamental question", and one he's not convinced the industry has answered yet.

The answer, he posits, may well lie in VR being "the fantasy of the small space" - as opposed to the power fantasy traditional video games offer. Throughout his talk he offered examples like Oculus' First Contact title, which sees players exploring a space around them while stationary. Similarly, games like Job Simulator have proven to be most popular in VR.

"[It's about] the intimate things, the things within arm's reach," said Yee. "I don't know if you know this, but your personal space is largely defined by your arm's reach. Your brain interprets things within arm's reach differently than every other thing in the world. So games like Gone Home, where you're exploring a house, games that are small intimate experiences in VR can have the impact that Call of Duty has on consoles."

However, he warns that play spaces that may sound large on paper, such as 15 feet by 15 feet, actually feel smaller when you're in VR.

"We're not sure why yet," he said. "Maybe it's because you can't see your feet and you don't have a good micro relationship with the space. If it sounds big in real life... I mean, who has a six metre by six metre living room to play in. Six by six metres in VR doesn't feel that big."

The discussion around virtual reality has ramped up this week, with the surprise closure of CCP's VR studio leading many to predict a downturn of interest in the space. However, Oculus boss Jason Rubin insisted to GamesIndustry.biz that the potential for the technology is still "literally infinite."

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