This Tuesday, March 31, was the first Tuesday of VIVE’s ongoing series of “GDC replacement” webinars.
The series is being offered as a digital alternative for content that otherwise would have been shown at this year’s Game Developers Conference. That event is one of many canceled around the world due to fear of coronavirus.
“This is the GDC Replacement Seminar that we’re holding. Thanks to coronavirus we obviously can’t meet at GDC as we usually would every year,” Bjorn Book-Larsson, President of VIVEPORT, said introducing the seminar. “So here at HTC and at VIVEPORT we have decided to share some of the insights that we would normally share at GDC in a series of relatively short, concentrated web sessions.”
Book-Larsson, presented “A Step Ahead of the Curve: Using Data Trends to Build a Successful VR Experience.” A recording of the webinar was posted online after the live broadcast and we have the highlights right here.
A Note on VIVEPORT
In case you aren’t intimately familiar with VIVE, VIVEPORT is their VR content platform. It’s based on subscriptions and obviously works with VIVE products. However, users can also use VIVEPORT with PC based, and even Oculus headsets via transfer cables.
“VIVEPORT is really focused on bringing the best quality experiences that we can across any set of hardware,” said Book-Larsson. “Specifically what we’re trying to get to is to be a relatively agnostic Netflix of VR.”
This means a number of things to the reader. For one thing, VR developers don’t need to be specifically interested in working with VIVE to have an interest in having their content on VIVEPORT. It also means that the information and insights that Book-Larsson presented aren’t of interest exclusively to VIVEPORT-centric VR developers.
“We have some insights into how users use our platform that are clearly not available to the individual game developers,” said Book-Larsson. “There’s clearly some sensitivities around actual data or real sales numbers or certain types of activities like that which we can’t share so I’m going to be using as much data as we feel comfortable sharing.”
The Average VIVEPORT User
The first insights that Book-Larson presented had to do with users. The average VIVEPORT user spends six hours per month using VR experiences. Some dedicated gamers use VR experiences far more than that, while casual users don’t use them nearly as much.
“VR is a relatively high-resistance medium. It has a pretty high barrier to entry,” said Book-Larsson. These include the initial barrier of buying a headset. They also include smaller barriers every time, like physically putting on the headset. While this isn’t a great deal of work, it becomes one when compared to other gaming experiences.
Book-Larsson also pointed out that some users do still have problems when using VR experiences for extended periods. “VR sessions tend to be relatively short. They don’t tend to be like a PC experience where you can open up, let’s say Microsoft Word, and leave it up for hours.”
Further, VIVEPORT isn’t only for games. People who use VR experiences professionally may do so for a significant period of time fairly regularly. Others may only use these experiences for the occasional remote conference.
Marketing and Pricing VR Experiences
When it comes to games in particular, but practical applications as well, Book-Larsson had some additional insights for VR developers. These touched on why being on a marketplace is important for new and independent VR developers and how to price these VR experiences.
Some of the most popular VR experiences on VIVEPORT, specifically among new users, are titles that they are familiar with from other platforms. Because there isn’t a great deal of these available, many first-time users have a “moment of exploration” when they first open VIVEPORT. Further, VIVEPORT recommends additional games based on play and purchase history.
Similarly, Book-Larsson said that VIVEPORT users are more likely to pay top-dollar for games that they are familiar with or specifically looking for. Book-Larsson also debunked the rumor that people naturally spend more time on titles that they spent more money on, saying “It’s not always a 1:1 ratio.”
For the VR developer, this means a number of things regarding pricing your VR experiences. For one, putting a high-price on an unknown title probably won’t mean more money. It also probably won’t mean that people spend more time on your VR experience.
Designing Successful VR Experiences
Book-Larsson’s webinar also had some practical advice for designing VR experiences. Some of these insights returned to barriers to adoption. Major considerations should be the difficulty level and the amount of physical energy required.
“People don’t really want to sweat, especially not people who are in the casual category. Or, if you sweat, you want to sweat just enough,” said Book-Larsson. “The more you add to a user interface where you have to work harder and harder, the more likely it is that that user is going to be less and less likely to return. So there’s a fine tradeoff between trying to make an interesting control system and then not make it so invigorating or so complicated or so difficult to use that basically it’s too strenuous.”
Similarly, players with advanced gaming systems who put more time and money into VR experiences and games are typically more interested in more highly developed and complex games. Targeting this type of audience means high competition but a chance for higher revenue. Targeting more casual gamers with less costly games means a bigger market with less potential reward per purchase. That’s with VR developers on VIVEPORT getting 80% revenue share.
Four User Personas
On a related note, Book-Larson laid out four basic user personas compiled from VIVEPORT’s proprietary statistics. While these user personas aren’t perfect – in real life there’s some overlap and some people that don’t neatly fit any of these – they can be a handy tool for the VR developer to keep in mind.
The Demo Guy
The first persona is the “Demo Guy” making up around 20% of the market.
The Demo guy has a higher-end machine and logs a significant number of hours each month on repeat experiences. Usually, these are simpler but better-known VR experiences like Richie’s Plank Experience. Incidentally, Richie’s Plank was literally made to demo VR.
The Casual Gamer
The “Casual Gamer” also makes up around 20% of the market. They usually have a mid-spec machine and spend most of their time on, you guessed it, casual games like VR sports games.
The “Creator/Explorer” makes up around 10% of the market.
This user may have a high-end station and show significant repeat use of a number of specific VR experiences. These may be tools that they use professionally like Tilt Brush or may be educational programs, etc.
Hardcore gamers usually have the best consumer systems and make up around a quarter of the market. These users often have a lot of repeat usage but also on a smaller number of VR experiences.
Remember that while this is the single largest single fraction of the market with the most coin, it’s also where the steepest competition and the highest risk are.
Headsets, Arcades, and Adoption
A lot of Book-Larsson’s talk was on adoption. He both predicted that lighter and more affordable headsets would increase adoption in the future, and credited VR arcades with driving new adoption.
“A lot of people still haven’t seen VR yet and very often the first place that they come across VR is in the mall or in sort of a location and then they go home and continue using VR,” said Book-Larsson.
As a result, during the question-and-answer period, one user asked whether these views weren’t mutually exclusive. Specifically, whether lighter and more affordable headsets would make VR arcades obsolete. However, Book-Larsson doesn’t think so. He specifically mentioned VR arcades that allow users to play coop games together or that take advantage of hardware that is prohibitively expensive for most casual users.
“There are things you can do in an arcade setting that you really can’t do at home,” said Book-Larsson. “It’s hard to have four headsets at your house to do a four-person co-op, it’s hard to have a motion chair or a racing car or kind of a motion platform, some of those systems can cost five, ten, twenty thousand dollars depending on what you’re doing, so I think – for a fully immersed experience – arcades are really fantastic.”
VIVE Will Be Back Next Week…
Next week’s talk on April 7 will feature Senior Developer Evangelist Dario Laverde presenting “Build for Tomorrow: VIVE Hand Tracking SDK.” Registration is open and we plan to have more highlight coverage here at ARPost.