So the Oculus Rift is finally a reality. After almost five years of development, VR is officially reborn. The first Rifts are just now being delivered to, first, the Kickstarter backers, and next, gamers who have pre-ordered them directly from Oculus. In the next weeks, a lot of unboxing porn will find its way onto the internet, posted by anxious gamers who will feel the need to pound their chests and let you know that THEY’ve finally received it.
What you won’t see in these videos, is the two games that come bundled with the Rift. One of them is Eve Valkyrie, a space dogfighting game for which the tech demo has been around for almost as long as the Rift has been in development. The other one is Lucky’s Tale.
At first glance, Lucky’s Tale looks like a very unoriginal and underwhelming way to showcase VR. When I saw its demo, my first thought was: “this is VR’s Mario”. And I didn’t mean it in a good way. I mean, here we are at the dawn of a groundbreaking technological advancement, a revolution in gaming, and they couldn’t find a better way to present it than by repeating what Nintendo had done thirty years ago? Every console has tried to create their Mario. Sega did Sonic. Sony did Crash Bandicoot and more recently, Ratchet & Clank. Isn’t there a new way to make the Rift shine and disrupt the gaming scene? One that takes full advantage of all of the particularities of VR?
The answer is yes. They could have gone with a really intense game with a very high “wow” factor, but they were smart enough to steer clear of it. Actually, scratch that. That part is pretty much covered by Eve Valkyrie. But someone at Oculus was smart enough to realize that something was missing from the launch bundle. Something that felt familiar and comfortable to casual gamers. Something that would make them think: “I know this game. But what is this VR thing?”
You see, by creating a game built on a tried and true recipe, one that every gamer on the planet has experienced, they can better isolate and showcase the one very important difference between flatscreen gaming and VR gaming. If they had chosen to introduce entirely new and different games, it becomes way more difficult for users to compare it with what they’ve played before and therefore identify the added value of VR. On the other hand, if you basically spend an hour with Oculus’ Mario, you can instantly understand how virtual reality is so much more immersive of an experience.
I firmly believe that the decision to bundle the Rift with Lucky’s Tale is not a technological move. It’s a marketing move, and a damn good one. You see, in this millenium, the odds of successfully introducing a new technology to mass market are close to none. VR isn’t just some small iteration of an already familiar way to interact with gadgets. There’s a definite learning curve here. Some people get sick from VR. Just let that sink in for a moment. You’re trying to convince people to spend 600+ dollars on a piece of tech that might make them nauseous from time to time, and for which they can’t really see the benefit without trying it on for a demo. Considering all those obstacles to mass adoption, it’s no wonder that they went down the safe path when selecting the game to bundle with the Rift.
The choice of a third-person POV game is probably not the first option that was considered, but I’m pretty sure that it is much less nauseating to the average gamer, therefore has a higher satisfaction percentage among first time users. If you’re targeting mass adoption, that is a wise decision. I haven’t had the chance to play Lucky’s Tale yet, but from what I’ve seen it masterfully uses the addictive elements of a Mario game (simplicity, fun and replayability) to introduce and highlight the possibilities that virtual reality opens up. We’ll just have to see if the guys at Playful Corp. will be creative enough to build it into a lasting new IP.