The Virtual Reality Content Drought

I recently perused a thread on the Oculus subreddit that made a cheeky joke as to the Oculus store being the absolute same now as it will be in 2028. Check the post here:

A number of users pointed out multiple reasons for this content drought, ranging from limited developer support, high cost of porting / content hours, and risk adverse developers. I addressed a few of the concerns on that post, but I’d like to go into more depth about some of these reasons and explain what we are doing with FromLight.

Limited Developer Support

Developing for VR has all sorts of intrinsic difficulties that must be addressed to create a successful game. From dealing with motion sickness, preparing for unconventional player actions, to optimizing the game, these challenges must be surmounted in order to ship. Developers are hamstrung by platform requirements, incompatibilities, and issues with developing on the headsets themselves. I attended a recent QA session with John Carmack where he mentioned that the Oculus logs themselves were causing issues with developers, as the spam of device logs made it difficult to get any valuable information from the device. Other issues include the speed at which the various AAA game engines are being developed, meaning a developer on one version may miss a critical feature or lack support due to using one source build versus another.

Documentation is another key issue, which is exacerbated by the combination of game engine, VR platform, and Android operating system. The amount of time it took to get the proper settings (through trial and error) was obnoxious, and it limits us wanting to try other settings due to having it “just right” at the moment.

This is all coming at a time when the entirety of the tech industry is experiencing massive layoffs, meaning the individual or account rep you work with on Tuesday may not be employed come Friday. Developers, and particularly indie developers are feeling this strain.

High cost of porting / content hours

One of the other comments was that the typical Quest game was roughly 4-5 hours and cost roughly $40, whereas a typical PC or console game may cost that much but provide at least 10x as much content. For some games, users have logged thousands of hours, something that doesn’t seem likely for most VR games.

This issue is understandable, because of the issues mentioned above development IS more expensive. Developers must add in-depth optimization passes to their content generation, including tooling and technical art passes designed to take advantage of esoteric concepts of computer science and graphical rendering to coerce every last bit of performance out of their hardware (though Application Spacewarp was a game changer, so thanks for that Meta).

The reality of content development for VR is that developers must focus on a paired track for development. One to create the actual game content, the other for tooling to enhance and automate aspect of the content generation to enable faster, more optimized content at a lower cost. These concepts take time and learning as the documentation for critical aspects of mobile VR performance optimization is generally tightly held in the community.

Risk Adverse Developers

With the ideas above, most developers and publishers simply steer away from VR. With the success of conventional games like Modern Warfare 2 and Eldenring, developers have a proven roadmap to contemporary gaming sales that doesn’t need much in the way of innovation. While development is truly a labor of love, developers also love to be able to afford rent, therefore they will tend to gravitate towards easier development cycles that are less risky.

Most developers also recognize the opportunities with VR, but are cognizant of the difficulties. Additionally, a key requirement for VR development is having a VR headset, which may be out of reach for many indie developers.

What are we doing here then?

With FromLight, we are hell-bent on creating an actual VR fantasy experience. What started as a side project turned into a single player minimum viable product, which turned into an Oculus Launchpad grant awardee. The gameplay concepts we presented then were compelling enough to garner a significant amount of support from anyone who has seen it, and we’ve only gone further since.

We’ve also spent a significant amount of time and effort both setting up our environments to handle Unreal 4, Android, and the Oculus platform. As we continue development, we are building more tools to assist with testing, debugging, and content generation. This will flow into our ability to produce episodic content with enough frequency to provide consistent gameplay value to players over time, as well as a recurring revenue stream for us. Combine free to play content with paid modules ensures players are able to get the most out of the game and when they do decide to pay for content, they are rewarded with actual content, not simply cosmetic items.

Furthermore, we’ve gone through and dramatically adjusted the forward rendering pipeline in Unreal, giving us access to post processing, dynamic sun and shadows, fog, and moveable lights. This all translates into a far more realistic experience than users of mobile VR are used to experiencing.

We are also leveraging some of the latest cloud technology from Amazon Web Services to provide maximum scalability and availability for our online dedicated servers, authentication, and player database. Through all of this, we come up with an ideal environment to reduce costs, reduce risks, and best of all, provide an outstanding user experience.