Monument Valley Designer Ken Wong on the Future of Mobile VR Games
October 26, 2015
Virtual reality is finally going mainstream, and it's starting on mobile.Mark Zuckerberg donned the cover of this month's ?Vanity Fair ?claiming his plan to change the world (again) will rely heavily on Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of VR gaming company Oculus last year. Next month, Zuckerberg's predictions may start to come true when Samsung's $99 GearVR headset hits the consumer market, allowing Galaxy Note 4, S6, and S6 Edge smartphone owners to experience virtual reality wherever, whenever.[caption id="attachment_10899" align="aligncenter" width="800"]
Vanity Fair October 2015[/caption]UsTwo, the London-based studio behind award-winning mobile puzzler Monument Valley, is one of the companies heading the mobile VR charge. It's already collaborated with Google to create instructional app Cardboard Design Lab for VR enthusiasts, and is now bringing its beautiful VR adventure game Land's End to GearVR. We spoke to UsTwo's lead designer Ken Wong to get his thoughts on what makes a great mobile VR game and what the future holds for the emerging technology.
As an indie developer, you know how tough it is to make an impact in the crowded mobile gaming market. You managed to make it with Monument Valley, but a lot of games sink without trace. Is now a good time for developers to stand out in the smaller niche of mobile VR?That really depends on what kind of impact [developers] want to make. We're very happy with the success of Monument Valley, but it reached a tiny fraction of the audience and profit of a mid-tier freemium game. Mobile VR is quite a small audience for now, so developers should temper their expectations for profit. The impact that can be made now is in pioneering new genres, finding solutions to the unique challenges of VR and helping to expand the audience for VR.What type of gaming experiences do you think will rise to the top in these early days of mobile VR?Super Mario 64 really showed what a 3D game could be, and games like Angry Birds, Flight Controller and Cut The Rope used touch control to its full advantage. By the same notion, we think the best VR experiences are going to be those that are custom-designed for this new medium. These experiences will need to prioritize comfort and visuals more than narrative.[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="2000"]
Image via UsTwo[/caption]What's the ideal control system for a mobile VR game? Is it best to rely on gaze alone, as you're doing with Land's End, or should developers also be thinking about inputs like a phone or other remote controller?It's too early to identify a single best option. We decided to try to future-proof Land's End by going totally hands-free. This really constrains our game design, but it also means players can relax their hands and just relax in the immersion.How long do you think a mobile VR game should be? Is it best if it's playable in short bursts?There are many reasons why short experiences are smart right now. Even people who don't initially feel nauseous in VR can feel ill or tired over a prolonged period. Mobile VR isolates you from the real world, which for many people isn't ideal for long periods.[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]
Image via UsTwo[/caption]I've actually struggled with motion sickness across a number of VR demos. Have you had any problems with this while making Land's End? Are there any clever ways you've discovered of getting around it?We think of it less as a problem, but as a design constraint. We made comfort the highest priority from the beginning, and have kept it in mind as we've developed mechanics and designed levels. The most important principle is that the player's movement throughout the world needs to be discreet and predictable. The player moves from point to point in straight lines with a subtle arc, and very small amounts of noticeable acceleration and deceleration. This cable car-like movement tends to make people less sick than realistic walking or flying.And how important is audio to mobile VR? Should we be insisting that players use headphones to get the most out of their experience?Audio is an area that is often overlooked ? even in traditional games. We think it's even more important to creating an immersive experience in VR. We try to demonstrate with the best headphones we can.The consumer version of GearVR, due out this November, will only support the current generation of Samsung smartphones. Is that limited range a positive thing for developers, or does it restrict the potential market?It's definitely a positive thing as we only need to cater to a small range of devices. This small range of devices still comprises some of the most popular and powerful Android handsets. As many mobile developers will attest, supporting thousands of Android configurations is a huge headache.[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="2000"]
Image via UsTwo[/caption]At this early stage, how should developers be looking to monetize their mobile VR games? Is charging up front the only viable option?It's too early to tell. The market is sure to change rapidly as consumers adopt and as the first VR blockbusters emerge. Charging up front tends to be supportive of creative works ? as opposed to freemium, which tends to support service-based and 'game-like' experiences. Avoiding a 'race to the bottom' as we saw in mobile is likely to be beneficial for VR developers as a whole.