Why are VR games short?

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VR games seem like it’s a demo of PC or console games. First of all, we have a limited number of VR games; secondly, those are short compared to PC games.

So, why are VR games short? We found that VR games are short because of the niche VR market, limited profit potential, a small VR team in big studios or small game studios with budget constraints, and VR hardware limitations. 

Let us clarify.

Niche Market, Budget Constraint:

Games are costly to design and develop irrespective of whether it is a PC, console, or VR games. For example, the budget of Fortnite was $12 million (source), and Grand Theft Auto V was $265 million (source). Game studios have to have an assurance that they will recoup their initial investment. 

A game’s revenue is directly related to its price, the number of users, and the playing medium. 

According to a 2018 study by the entertainment software association, there are 164 million video game players in the US alone (source).

According to a Statista report, in 2019, Sony, Oculus, HTC, and others sold 6 million VR consoles worldwide (source). On the other hand, in 2019, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo sold 40 million standalone consoles (source). But game players don’t buy consoles each year. They use their old console for a couple of years. Therefore, the number of consoles in the hand of gamers is more than 100 million. Whereas, VR consoles are new in the market. Thus, it does not have that many active users.

If a company makes a flat-screen (both PC and console) games, it can reach more gamers. So, there’s more probability of financial success for the game developer studio. However, if a company invests the same amount of time and money in developing VR games, there’s zero chance to recoup this investment. It’s because the VR game is a niche market. It is why all the big game studios are not investing in long VR games.

Currently, only small studios are developing VR games. These studios don’t have the budget and time to design and develop a long VR game.

Most of the big studios spend years before publishing a game. They create a storyboard of the game, design all the artworks, produce music, 3D objects, make a 3D world, program all the interaction in that 3D world, test the games, fix bugs, and then release the game. It’s a massive undertaking. 

would you buy another VR game if the VR device gives you a headache?

Moreover, a game has to be visually and auditorily appealing, persuasive, must keep you engaged. A game can’t be boring; otherwise, it will fail to succeed. Due to decades of experience, game studios have already figured out all the flat-screen game development intricacies and gamer psychology. However, the VR game is different.

The perception and controls of VR games are different. Therefore, a game studio can’t merely port flat-screen PC and console games to VR. Here’s an example. It does not matter how long you play a PC or console games; there is no motion sickness and nausea. However, VR games, if not designed correctly, will induce severe motion sickness. 

We know that VR induced motion sickness depends on the user. Some people don’t feel it; others can’t even use VR. Therefore, a game company has to develop VR games in such a way not to make the majority of gamer motion sick. It’s not that easy.

Moreover, a video game player can sit in front of his console or PC and play games all day without physical exhaustion. VR games are different. Even if a VR game is engaging but requires a lot of muscle activity, a VR gamer will feel muscle fatigue. Moreover, the screen on the VR console seat inches away from our eyes, which causes eye strain to a VR gamer. These problems have adverse effects on the VR game industry.

Many gamers still prefer console or PC games due to eye strain, nausea, and disorientation caused by the VR devices. It affects not only current VR game sales but also future sales of VR consoles and VR games. For example, would you buy another VR game if the VR device gives you a headache?

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Fragmentation of VR platform:

There are three types of VR devices — standalone VR devices, VR powered by a smartphone, and PC or console connected VR headset.

  • A standalone VR device contains everything to operate independently, such as lenses, screen, battery, CPU, GPU, etc. For example, Oculus Quest 2. 
  • Google’s Cardboard VR is an example of smartphone-powered VR devices. This type of VR only comes with a headset and lenses and depends on a smartphone screen and its processing power.
  • The third type of VR device is a PC or console dependent. For example, PlayStation VR. It depends on the PlayStation console. The VR headset, in this case, works merely as a monitor.

All these three types of headset have problems and are directly related to why VR games are short.

A standalone VR headset has limited storage, battery, and CPU, GPU processing power. Therefore, a VR game for a standalone VR headset has to be short. Otherwise, it can’t fit in the limited storage. The same is true for a smartphone-powered VR device.

Though a console or PC powered VR device has no limitation on storage capacity or processing power, a wire connects the VR headset with the console or PC. Therefore, a VR game developer can’t implement all the 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) on their console VR game. 

Moreover, VR game controllers vary vastly. For example, controlling a Google VR game differs from the Oculus Quest controller or PlayStation VR controller. 

Therefore, a cell phone VR experience will vary from the Oculus Rift experience. Hence, a VR game developer has to choose which platform they should focus on. It reduces their revenue potential. 

Due to this low earnings potential, big studios are not eager to develop VR games, or even if they do, they have a small team. It is why these teams don’t make bigger VR games.

Standalone and smartphone VR games have another constraint. They should not consume too much processing power. It will make the VR headset too hot and drain the battery charge, negatively affecting the VR user experience. Therefore occasionally, these VR games are short and toned-down. As a result, many hardcore gamers prefer PC or console games. Without a lot of potential customers, developing VR games is not lucrative.

A VR headset has stereo cameras, motion tracking, and other advanced technologies. If we take a PC or console game and convert it into a VR game without taking advantage of these VR technologies, it’s a waste of technology. And most of the time, this type of port makes a game unappealing. A VR game has to be as good as a console counterpart; otherwise, it will tarnish a game studios’ name. 

VR Fatigue:

VR headset causes motion sickness, disorientation, and eye strain. Furthermore, it will cause physical exhaustion if the game requires frequent hand, leg, or head movement. These are called VR fatigue. 

If a game is short, it may not induce VR fatigue. It’s another reason why VR game developers are inclined to develop short VR games.  

Conclusion:

VR is a new technology, and companies are still not sure whether VR games will be a profitable niche market or not. PC and console game developers have already established best practices for games in each genre. However, for VR games, best practices still have not been established. 

So, game studios will not make long VR games until the VR market becomes considerably bigger and profitable.