One of the columns I’ve been either meaning to or trying to write for some time has been one that takes on the topic of videogames franchises within virtual reality (VR) and this is probably as close as I’m going to get to doing so. We’ve been told, for what feels like forever at this point, that VR for videogames won’t truly be meaningful unless the big name players and big franchises get involved.
To be honest this idea has always been something of a nonsense. It works if it works. After all, perhaps the best-known VR title is Job Simulator and that’s got nothing to do with big franchises or non-VR.
Speaking of big names and original design let’s contrast two videogames: both using vastly popular brands that are being brought to the world of immersive technologies. The first is Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Here we have one of the most successful and popular action role-playing games in the history of the videogame industry. It is being brought to VR. Then we have Star Wars, one of the biggest and most profitable film and mixed media franchises in history. This is being brought to augmented reality (AR) thanks to the Lenovo Mirage AR head mounted display (HMD) and the experience Star Wars: Jedi Challenges.
Contrast that with Skyrim. An existing product that has already been repackaged and repackaged and repackaged at this point. People have also been very excited for it. It is however a conversion and the design has been twisted to fit VR – it has not been designed for it. The result is that Skyrim VR succeeds in the part that is ‘Skyrim’ but feels a bit disappointing in the actual ‘VR’ part. At least that’s how VRFocus has found it to be. Others were less generous, a headline from Kotaku being perhaps the most shared and discussed opinion – although said opinion was actually that of YouTube channel Super Bunnyhop via Twitter – that the project was a “complete dumpster fire”.
But oddly, in part of the Twitter thread not quoted in the article, summarise what I’ve previously said: “It’s a shallow complaint, but Skyrim‘s strengths are in immersion and environmental design. Their VR port job worsens both.”
It is designed as a VR game.
It plays like a VR game.
It succeeds as a VR game.
Now I’m not saying that success in VR is guaranteed by designing for VR, that’s not how it works. I am saying though that if you have an existing creative design it’ll only twist so far. VR and AR don’t need more square pegs in round holes. What it needs is designers to realise what shape their peg is in the first place.