Anna Sweet is the Head of Developer Strategy for Oculus VR, and she’s got $10 million to help developers make VR games. That’s the good news for indie devs who want to jump into the VR market. The bad news is that the industry is just getting started and it’s hard to know what kinds of experiences are going to appeal to the potentially huge market for VR.
Sweet appeared Friday at a panel at The Power of Play, a conference produced by Washington Interactive Network at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center.
She gave her audience, which was packed with game developers, lots of advice for breaking into VR. The key for developers, says Sweet, is not to try to port a video game from current platforms to VR, but to think through what’s actually going to work in VR. For instance, real-time strategy is not going to work in VR, according to Sweet, but a tabletop RTS experience in VR will work beautifully. “Teams are just taking a step back and saying, I don’t know anything about this genre anymore. I just want to take a step back and rethink how I want to play this game now that a user can really be in the environment…” All this is leading to “new genres that we’ve never even thought of before.”
While moving around in large spaces isn’t really available in VR yet, there are creative ways to make that limitation work. One example is Perilous Orbit, a game that lets you play a virtual game of pool. Another is The Climb, a game that puts you on a virtual mountainside and lets you climb it.
“I think it’s all about building out the world around the gamer,” says Sweet.
Another game Sweet is excited about is Job Simulator, a game that’s been called “absurdly fun.” The job simulator genre didn’t really exist before VR, according to Sweet. “It’s something completely new and completely different. Fantastic Contraption is another one…Watching people play that game is just as fun as playing it.”
So what should VR devs be doing right now? “Take a step back and think about what is the experience you want to create…it could be games or not games….What is the experience you’ve always wanted someone else to have, and then just start building something.” Oculus VR does technical help and funding to help projects get off the ground. But they almost always start at the prototype stage, not at the idea stage.
Sweet is careful to point out that VR is not just about games—not at all. She believes that interactive VR experiences are a huge part of the future of VR. “That interactive VR experience that takes you to Macchu Pichu or trains a doctor to do a certain type of surgery…These are all experiences that need to be built…”
She’s particularly excited about the potential of VR to help people understand other people, so she started an effort at Oculus called VR for Good. “One word we don’t say nearly enough is ‘empathy’…VR has the ability to drive empathy like no other medium has before.” VR for Good gives 360-degree cameras to student filmmakers and pairs them with nonprofits to tell compelling stories.
While many fear that VR will isolate people, Sweet thinks VR will be highly social. This social potential is proven by an Oculus Rift experience called Toybox. Players appear only as generic faces and hands, but people who know each other instinctively recognize their friends from the way they tilt their heads and use their hands. It all adds up to an extremely social experience. According to Sweet, people who worried about the social aspects of VR find that “Toybox was their aha moment.”
And what does Anna Sweet personally want to see in the VR gaming space? “I am secretly addicted to farming games like Harvest Moon, so if someone could possibly build one of those in VR, I’d be extremely happy.”