Valve: "The idea that VR must get you sick is bullshit"

Chet Faliszek told the EGX crowd that the developer, not the hardware, is responsible for creating feelings of nausea

Valve's Chet Faliszek has advised gamers not to tolerate VR experiences that induce nausea, and he left no room for doubt about where they should place the blame: not the hardware, but the developer.

Speaking at EGX last week, Faliszek was bracingly forthright about the view that virtual reality games have an inherent capacity to make the player feel sick.

"The idea that VR must get you sick is [bullshit]," he said. "We have people come in who don't want to do demos. In a party of ten people there will be someone who says, 'I'm gonna be sick, I'm gonna be sick, I can't do this.'

"That expectation is based on either what they've seen before or what they've heard."

Valve claimed to have eradicated motion sickness with the Vive headset, which was co-developed with HTC, back in March. In his EGX developer session, to an audience composed almost entirely of consumers, Faliszek pushed the point further still. If the hardware no longer causes nausea, but experiences that do still exist, then the developer should be held responsible.

"As consumers and people in the community, hold developers to it," he said to the audience. "They shouldn't be making you sick. It's no longer the hardware's fault any more. It's the developers making choices that are making you sick. Tell them that you don't want that."

Faliszek highlighted another potential problem that cannot be attributed to poor design so easily. Conventional input methods, and particularly those associated with movement - like pushing on a thumb-stick or pressing a 'W' key - are, "the easiest way to get somebody sick."

This is partly why Vive uses technologies like its "Lighthouse" system, which allows the user to move within a 5 metre by 5 metre space, and its trackable controllers, which decrease the abstraction involved when the player interacts with the virtual world. The latter, Faliszek said, made the VR experience "exponentially better" when compared to gamepads, keyboards and more traditional input devices.

"When you reach in and can interact with the world your brain's buying into the system grows that much stronger," he added.

However, while Faliszek pointed out that Valve, Sony and Oculus have all ended up making relatively similar tracked hand inputs to complement their respective headsets, he didn't address the fact that, in the case of Sony and Oculus, those hand inputs will be sold separately. For what will likely be the majority of people buying into VR, the experience available out of the box will be one with a gamepad as its primary input, and all of the problematic abstractions that brings.

Developers attempting to pioneer VR games will design based on the assumption of thumbsticks and buttons; not because they believe a gamepad is perfect for VR, but because they will have little other choice if they want to reach the largest number of potential customers. If by doing so they cause feelings of nausea in some players, it is perhaps because an "exponentially better" VR experience is regarded as optional by those at the summit of the VR market.

This article initially suggested that Vive's controllers were likely to ship separately. A representative from Valve has corrected this point, reiterating the company's belief in the importance of tracked inputs to VR.

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Latest comments (14)

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
I think that the hardware still has a long way to go. Having experienced all three over the weekend I bumped into a piece of tech which I think needs to be put into this hardware as soon as possible: eye tracking.

The SpecialEffect stand had a prototype Oculus that was using this tech inside the headset. You were able to focus the in game cursor on object that you were looking at with your eyes rather than something in the centre of the headset's vision. It allowed much more natural movement of focus and greatly reduced the need for full head movement.

Saying this, I understand what Faliszek is getting at. Natively, I do think it's the designed experience that leads you to feeling sick with the current generation of the tech but there is still more that the tech can do.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 6 years ago
Eye-tracking (along with audio, which I think is being neglected in online discussions) were also mentioned in his EGX talk... I can't remember off-hand what was said, but there's a video of the whole thing up on Youtube, and it's well worth watching.

Valve: The Year Ahead In VR

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 28th September 2015 4:02pm

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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
Ah brilliant, thanks Morville.
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Show all comments (14)
There seems to have been three approaches being employed by the latest generation of VR corporations to address the concerns voiced about ‘sim-sickness’!

The first is the ignoring and down playing of all comments and questions regarding this issue – we have seen some executives claiming that this is not an issue. The second attempt is to claim success in removing the issue and creating a perfect system with zero problems – finally the latest attempt is to ‘pass the buck’ and blame the user or developer for these issues!

As one that has spent a long time evaluating and reporting the issues of sim-sickness and the symptoms and elevations, (long before it became the zeitgeist again), I am sickened by these hyperbole-laden sweeping statement – especially when they are aimed at creating a smoke-screen against a serious issue.

The reality is that trying to blame the developer and wash your hands of responsibility won’t work – the same way that Nintendo failed to place all the blame on the user for the Wii accidents – or the photo-epilepsy sickness issues.

This is one of the two big elephants in the room regarding VR’s mainstream aspirations – don’t try and duck the issue!
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 6 years ago
@ Patrick

No probs. :)

@ Kevin

Well, obviously you're going to have three approaches to the "there is no nausea" issue - it's three different companies, creating three different (though similar) tech. :p

Valve have been the most outspoken with regards to (lack-of) nausea, and from everything I've read, their tech is far in-front of OR and Sony, which would account for their bluster. Multiple sources (press/dev/consumer) have said they have experienced no nausea using the Vive, and consumer reaction at EGX confirms this.

The Vive demos all seem to have been produced by (or with the aid of) Valve, which is why I presume Chet Faliszek is saying it's a dev issue - they have the best tech, they have nausea-free VR up-and-running now, and they also know how bad their initial efforts were with both hardware and software.

Edit: Though, obviously, Chet was speaking for and about the Vive, there's a lot in his talk which is relevant to all VR companies. But I do wonder if his "it's the dev's fault" is meant to be purely in-relation to the Vive, or whether the issues of nausea across all three machines can be solved by the software developer. Personally, I think it's relevant only to the Vive, but...

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 28th September 2015 5:59pm

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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 6 years ago
When it comes to Valve's Vive ... I would have to agree with his statement. The headset itself isn't causing nausea anymore. If a person is getting nauseous in a game, it's due to the experiences in the game. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, the very beginning scene when you have no control over your view coming out of the carriage, would get just about anyone nauseous regardless of hardware. That is the type of thing you can't do in VR.

Really, you need to go through a testing and trial and error to figure out what you should and shouldn't do. So .. I imagine in the future, testers will not just be looking for bugs, but also nausea points. Particular places where they felt nauseous.

However, something else I need to point out is that getting nauseous also can occur regardless of these factors. If you are in a roller coaster in a game, I imagine some people who get nauseous on real coasters might also get nauseous in VR ones. That has less to do with hardware and the game and more to do with the person as an individual.
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.6 years ago
I liked Chet's talk and agree when he says the public will decide what input device they prefer. Having tried all 3 HMDs I have to say that the HTC Vive is fantastic. What I'm less convinced by is the 5m2 play area. That will be perfect for some games but so many more require you to roam around freely. Last time I mentioned this I couldn't announce that Wells Fargo are touring the USA with WizDish ROVRs but I can now. You'll find lots of videos like this:

My point is that so many of the thousands who have tried this loved the experience so maybe the HMD makers don't need to keep saying that there isn't an answer to VR locomotion. We could be further along than they are.

If you're a University student in the UK you'll soon be able to try it as the British Army have based a recruitment VR experience around the WizDish that starts touring colleges at the end of this week. Look out for their F1 style converted juggernauts.
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Shawn Clapper Programmer 6 years ago
I'd rather not start getting too down on developers who make games where some people can get motion sickness. I don't want to go around teleporting in every first person game I play.

There is a demo for Oculus called "Windlands" which is in first person, requires both walking, grappling, and swinging. Even though much effort has gone into the game to prevent motion sickness some people are just going to get sick with these type of motions.

I still want devs creating these types of experiences and not getting thrown to the wolves because of it.
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@ Morville / @ Brook
I understand the point you both make, but as I stated above – I still spend a lot of time looking at sim-sickness issues, and to just right it off as one melody with one causal effect is a dangerous and somewhat blinkered approach. Sim-Sickness can extend from motion-sickness all the way to preexisting melody or just environmental disconnect (to be simplistic) – the very best computer and HMD cannot negate preexisting melody to spacial discrepancies – the same way some people get sick at 3D movies or in the back of cars. Though a layman would say that is just simple ‘motion sickness’ they would have to take into account what caused the symptoms – forcing a diagnose of sim-sickness!

Also assuming that sim-sickness only manifests itself as nausea is a dangerous construct – the symptoms vary as much as the duration of effect and the means to address the initial issue (from ginger, to Tylenol!) I understand that Valve are rightly pleased with the quality of the HTC ViVE and that in short duration they have seen very low disquiet reported (negligible), though it is only now that developers have got their hands on the system and I can report that the incidents have started to appear – leading possibly to the ‘Developers Fault’ comment to sidestep any accusations!

It was interesting to chart the increase in discomfort with the move from DK1 tracking to DK2 positional tracking caused in some cases. It is also interesting to chart the issue of ‘VR Sea-Legs’ and also how some are reporting their susceptibility to discomfort has increased over prolonged usage. Fundamentally, no one has ALL the answers – I had hoped with the DK1 that we would have seen serious research supported, but with the walled garden approach of all the parties an arms race in claiming to eradicate the effect out-weighed any serious discussion and research!

I think we are close to looking at a new level of immersion that can be used to beat the majority of symptomatic effects of sim-sickness, but sweeping assumptions and hyperbole is not the answer!
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 6 years ago
I really don't think it's assumptions. If one developer is capable of making a VR experience that does not cause motion sickness while using natural human like movements, and another developers game does cause motion sickness, it implies it's a developer problem and not a hardware problem.

If it was a hardware problem, you would expect the effects to be similar across the board. I do suppose it could also be a user problem. You could have two people playing the same game and one doesn't get sick, but the other does. Depends on how they play and the things they do. I think it becomes up to the developer to try and prevent user created sickness as much as they can. That is what testing is for. Obviously, you wouldn't be able to eliminate every instance of a game causing a little sickness at some point as sometimes players do things the developers never intended ... but with that said, that is on the user, not the developer, and it most certainly has nothing to do with hardware.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany6 years ago
I have friends that get motion sickness for playing any FPS. So I guess we'll also have that issue here; some people will simply suffer nausea not because of hardware/software, but because of how their own bodies react to it.
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Julian Williams Founder, WIZDISH Ltd.6 years ago
We are at the stage where VR is just possible so long as all the elements are right. Chet could equally well have said don't use the Vive on an underpowered PC. Hopefully hardware will soon become powerful enough so devs won't have to spend as much time optimising their code to prevent nausea. But as Alfonso says, nausea can already be an issue. I can get sick as hell playing a game on an XBone but bizarrely have no trouble playing the same game at about 6 fps on an old PC.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julian Williams on 29th September 2015 9:37am

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Jashan Chittesh Independent Game Developer 6 years ago
@Alfonso, in reply to: "I have friends that get motion sickness for playing any FPS. So I guess we'll also have that issue here; some people will simply suffer nausea not because of hardware/software, but because of how their own bodies react to it."

If you think about it, current FPS style games are actually quite a crazy thing: Your head and eyes are oriented forwards and usually you don't move a lot - but what you see moves as if your head and body are turning like crazy (and usually, you're staring and not paying attention to what's around you). Thinking about it, playing stuff like Counterstrike also always made me kind of sick and I guess I never really enjoyed playing FPS because of that.

With VR "done right" (tm) it's a completely different story: Any movement with your head or body will not result in any perceived movement of the game world. In other words: Unlike with traditional FPS where it actually looks like the world is moving around like crazy, the world in VR is static. So, VR "done right" will actually cause *less* sickness than any traditional FPS. The only thing with FPS is that most people playing those games either had a tolerance or eventually got used to it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jashan Chittesh on 30th September 2015 5:06pm

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Jashan Chittesh Independent Game Developer 6 years ago
Even with the correction that the Vive will actually come with controllers, I still find the last two paragraphs kind of misleading or at least making assumptions that really no one knows, yet. In particular this:

"Developers attempting to pioneer VR games will design based on the assumption of thumbsticks and buttons; not because they believe a gamepad is perfect for VR, but because they will have little other choice if they want to reach the largest number of potential customers."

There's actually quite a few developers already developing pretty awesome experiences that do require motion controllers. There's a whole category of games and tools that simply require that and there's no way around that. Think of Tilt Brush for a pretty obvious example.

So while Oculus users may have to wait a little until they can get their touch controllers, if the Vive is still first to market, the first commercially available HMD will actually have the controllers, and plenty of experiences designed for the controllers. Also, with Playstation.VR, it's very likely that a lot of people will either already have the Move Motion Controllers, or get them when they buy the HMD. In that case, the controllers are actually available before the headset.

So personally, I don't really see much sense in developing for "traditional" controllers or mouse / keyboard. Of course, there are games where that does make sense - but the difference of having a game designed for tracked controllers where you can interact with the world naturally compared to the weird abstraction that gamers are so used to is so huge that I find it pretty likely that Oculus will push Touch extremely to not lose too much market share to Valve / HTC and Playstation.VR.

Once people have tried VR with tracked controllers, they usually don't really want anything else anymore. So games designed for gamepads may actually end up doing not do that well.
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