Launching a VR game these days is “A Perfect Storm of Shit”

With 2013’s Skulls of the Shogun and 2016’s Galak-Z, Kyoto-based 17-bit was establishing itself as a boutique studio for retro-inspired 2D games. But as development on Galak-Z declined, 17-bit CEO Jake Kazdal says GamesIndustry.biz he had developed a “burning passion to check out this new medium that was VR and see what it was all about.”

“I had long wanted something that was completely absorbing of all your senses, and I think in terms of interactive media, there is not much higher to shoot for than something that really engages in VR,” he says. . “It really is an incredible next step as a gaming medium.”

That’s how 17-bit started on Song in the Smoke, its third title and first VR game, which was launched last month. When we ask what it’s like to launch a VR game in late 2021, Kazdal is not pissed.

“It’s a perfect storm of shit, to be honest,” he admits. “As a studio, we are so focused on the gameplay and the experience as a whole. And a big part of that experience for us as developers is this overlap with the users and this communication with the outside world.

“Usually with Skulls of the Shogun and Galak-Z we show more PAX, TGS, E3 and all these shows. We get tons of feedback. We see 1,000 people play the first hour We get so much good feedback about where the game is is what we need to work on and the speed bumps that prevent people from really being able to understand the experience and digest it.

“With VR, it’s much harder on a good day because it’s such a lonely thing … And then you connect it with all this COVID bullshit and no fairs. And even if there were, it’s not like that. “People will be willing to put on a headset that has been on the faces of 1,000 others. We had so little user feedback on the way into this that it was really difficult for us.”

“Across the board, this has just been unfair, completely smashed-on-the-knees from day one”

Kazdal said the feedback the studio could get was good, but it came from a small group of hardcore players, so it offered a somewhat limited perspective compared to broader play testing. As a result, they held the game back to focus on tuning and polishing it.

The extra time seems to have paid off in terms of response, as Song in the Smokes Metacritic average and Steam user reviews and both are in line with 17-bit previous titles.

“In the 25 years or so I’ve been making this, this is easily the most challenging product I’ve ever made for all these reasons,” says Kazdal. “VR, new media, remote development, lack of consumer engagement … Across the board, this has just been unfair, completely smashed-on-the-knees from day one.”

As for the economic fate of Song in the Smokes, it’s too early when we talk about determining that. Fortunately, Kazdal’s expectations for the game were modest to begin with, and the 17-bit is built to withstand an occasional perfect storm of shit.

“One of our guiding principles as a studio is to try to raise enough funding to weather the storm and be able to commit to the quality of the product you promise publishers, and not really rely on outbound sales.” says Kazdal. “Because every single one of these games is a shitty shot. The dumbest, simplest, strangest thing can be the next marvel hit, and the most well-crafted, amazing, highly-respected indie-uber-hit can become a sales mistake. There’s no logic or real science to it. that which I can discern. “

For example, Song in the Smoke received funding support from both major VR platform holders, Oculus and Sony. Kazdal says the studio might not have been able to justify making the game otherwise.

“If you’re looking for the next gold rush, you should probably look elsewhere [than VR]”

“You can probably count with two hands how many VR games have broken through the barrier and made a lot of money,” he says. “So if you’re looking for the next gold rush, you should probably look elsewhere.

“But these platform holders need quality content, and they need people who can bring them quality games and quality content. And they’re willing to invest in that space to get that content. So whether you’re a big sales success or not. , is a bit out of the equation for us.It’s more like, who believes in you and your ability to bring a quality product to market? And who is willing to invest in you to make the ends meet enough to be able to invest in the right people and the right tools to make a kickass experience? “

On the PlayStation page, Kazdal says that the VR market is between phases where the interest in PSVR cooling and the PSVR2 hype has not fully reached. As for Oculus, while initially having a weak view of Quest due to his insistence on visual fidelity, he believes in hindsight that the lower barriers to access to the standalone VR system have been a more than worth balancing act.

VR is a challenging market right now

VR is a challenging market right now

Kazdal describes VR as a challenging market and – at the moment – a small one, but he is optimistic about the outlook.

“I can hardly believe how long it takes to get started,” he says. “Because as a user you get in there and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is a whole other dimension of fidelity with interaction, experience and immersion on all fronts. It’s amazing, and it surprised me that it did not take the world by storm the way I thought it would because I was so completely impressed with it on day one. “

As for the latest wave of companies positioning VR as a springboard to the metaverse, Kazdal completely agrees with them.

“Mobile phones will phase out, laptops will phase out. I think over the next decade, everything will no doubt move into the mixed reality space.”

“I think it will change the way we shop, how we experience entertainment, how we play,” he says. “It’s just a lot better. It’s too much better not to take it seriously. I think mobile phones will phase out, laptops will phase out. I think everything over the next decade will move into the mixed reality space, undoubtedly.And I think VR drives these interface designs, these interaction methods, this expectation of being able to experience something virtual, sitting in a car or looking at the clothes of someone your size.

“All of these things VR does so well and so powerfully are so much more than any flat screen monitor can offer you. And I think with the funding that goes into it, exploring the space and expanding it, it will be the ground floor of the next generation of everything in digital media.Shopping, gaming, passive media consumption … All of these things will change radically over the next decade and I think everyone involved in the space can really see it’s pretty clear at this point, although the market doesn’t quite support it yet. “

But while he’s optimistic about what’s coming around the corner for VR, it does not sound like 17-bit is going to be a part of it. Not right away, at least.

“I do not think we will explore VR in the short term again,” says Kazdal. “There is definitely some fatigue in the studio. The development in VR is very challenging, there are a lot of technical challenges that are constantly hanging over. It’s a lot of work just to have that thing on your head all day, to dive in and dive out, struggle with controllers that do not synchronize … It’s just a whole bunch of extra challenges to get started with this.

“We all love game development very much and we’m excited about the next project, but it’s a radical departure again. I think as I approach the age of 50, I realize I have a limited amount of titles left in my years and I really want to explore different genres and dive deep into these different types of games I grew up playing and loving. “

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