Why I quit my job to persue Virtual Reality

I had the job I dreamed of during my studies. I worked in the games industry. The company was small enough to feel like my individual input mattered, yet big enough to have opportunities to work on things I could never do alone. It also was a big part of my social circle. Why did I leave all that for Virtual Reality, an unproven technology that makes me sick to my stomach almost every time I use it.

The short answer is that I had to. I was simply bursting with excitement to make content for VR with no time to pursue it.

The only moment that I made time for it was August 2013 when I made Don’t let Go! for the VR Jam. Which in hindsight was a mistake because that is when my health issues related to computer usage came back. Since that time I have been dying to create more content and explore the possibilities but it was just not physically possible. So I kept that excitement bottled in me for months. I hardly used my DK1 at that time, seeing if I would get over. Guess what? It didn’t work.

So what was is about Don’t let Go! that made me so excited about making VR content? It is the reactions of people playing it. Every time I see a reaction video on YouTube it makes my day.  And there are now more then a hundred videos with over 10 million combined views.

For people unfamiliar with the demo. In Don’t let Go! the player has to hold buttons on the keyboard. Scary events will happen in the virtual world that make you want to let go of the buttons. To win the game you simply hold the buttons and don’t let go.

The fact that people actually lose at Don’t let Go! still blows my mind. Normal adult people, knowing full well that everything they are experiencing is not real, are so tricked by the experience they have to let go.

This simple demo which took me less then 100 hours and 200$ of assets created the type of reactions a game developer can only dream of. Now compare that to mobile games where you have to practically beg and extort your players into even playing your game. Let alone sell them something. That is what excites me about VR and I hope it will keep me excited for a long time.

Now I can’t end my post there because then I would be guilty of feeding the hype train. And if there is one thing that scares the bejeebus out of me, it is the hype that Oculus is generating.

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The videos of people who don’t react all freaked out are rarely uploaded to youtube, and they definitely don’t get the views. That makes sense of course, but it severely skews the reality of what it’s like to wear a HMD for the majority of users.

For example, if I look at Don’t let GO! and I put 10 people in the DK1:

– 2 of them just quit instantly because they find it disorienting and uncomfortable.

– 4 of them hardly react at all to any of the events.

– 3 have physical reactions and start sweating and cursing.

– 2 lose the game because of a phobia or jump scare.

I’ve not tested on as many people with the DK2 version but so far the numbers have not changed much.So more then half of the reactions you get are simply not that enthusiastic. Sure they might enjoy the experience, but they are not even close to spending a couple hundred bucks to buy the headset.

Now I don’t blame youtubers and media companies that are focusing on the extreme reactions, heck I do that myself. But the consequence is that the expectations of users end up being highly unrealistic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m onboard with the VR revolution. I believe in it so much that I’m putting my savings into it. But in the back of my mind there is a fear that the hype that the Oculus Rift is generating is going to be impossible to live up to as a developer.

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