At SDC 2016, CEO of Sidekick VR Guy Bendov took the stage to discuss how his team successfully adapted their mobile game Romans from Mars to VR. In his presentation, Guy shared what he learned along the way.
With the number of total VR units sold expected to reach over 12 million in 2016 — a figure that will only increase in the years to come — it’s no wonder that game developers want to get in on developing for VR now while the market is relatively uncompetitive, given the low amount of high quality VR games. Of course, entering any platform at an early stage comes with a certain degree of risk, but it’s also the best time to establish yourself as a key player in the space. What’s more, that risk can be greatly reduced if you capitalize on the content that you already have.
By choosing to adapt an existing mobile game to VR, you can leverage the existing codebase and rich assets to save much more time and money than if you started from scratch. And, if your game has already received attention, you have the added bonus of name recognition and a built-in fanbase. But a successful VR game takes more than just producing a clone of what you’ve already made. With the highly personal, interactive and immersive experience that VR offers, you’ll need to make a number of tweaks and updates. Learn how you can optimize your mobile game for VR with these ten tips below.
1) Tone it Down
The immersive nature of VR makes any experience within the platform much more intense than it would be on a mobile device. As a result, it can get pretty overstimulating for users, both emotionally and experientially, if the content isn’t taken down a notch. To align more closely with real world experiences, Bendov recommends scaling down the size, reducing the speed of motion and even tempering characters’ emotional reactions.
2) Stick to 60 Frames per Second — Consistently
Repeated testing of Romans from Mars showed that anything less than 60 frames per second made users feel nauseous and uncomfortable. And just as important as the number of frames per second is to keep it consistent. There are several programs that can assist with this, Bendov says, and there are also fairly simple stylistic changes you can make as well, such as making shaders more mobile-friendly and reducing poly count.
3) Create a Fully Fleshed-Out Fantasy World
Again, due to the more intense nature of VR, photorealistic games are harder for users to digest. Bendov and his team found that when it came to graphics, the less realistic, the better. But keep in mind — just because users prefer a fantasy world doesn’t mean that you don’t need to pay attention to real-world details. Adding small touches like birds flying above or wind blowing through the trees behind the field of vision is a great way to take advantage of the 360-degree landscape and make users truly feel like they’re immersed in the world you’ve created.
4) Don’t Shove Information in the User’s Face
A lot of developers might think that the most natural way to show status display or messages in a 360 environment is to have the information appear right in front of the user, but UX testers found that distracting and obstructive. Bendov recommends incorporating those elements into the gaming environment organically, such as displaying the number of lives a character has on a physical object in the scene, like a flag or a sign.
5) Ditto for Menus
Like status displays, users didn’t like menus right in their line of vision getting in the way of their gameplay either. The lengthier text on menus, though, makes it hard to incorporate all of that information onto one physical object alone. Bendov and his team worked around this by making the menu occupy an entire room — each option was displayed on a different item that users could interact with to easily digest information and make choices.
6) Don’t Leave Your User in the Dark
With so much to explore around them, it’s sometimes hard for VR gamers to realize what their objective is and what their next steps should be. To avoid this, you’ll want to point your users in the direction they need to go. There’s no one right way to do this, but Bendov and his team have used everything from sounds, lights, arrows and text alerts, depending on what fits in best stylistically. Remember, though, that VR users are usually limited to a field of vision of around 90 degrees — so it’s important for any clues to be readily apparent within that frame.
7) Keep Your Controls Intuitive
There are a lot of different ways your users can interact with your game — gaze, taps, swipes, motion or voice recognition… the list goes on. Again, which controls you should use will vary game to game, but you’ll always want to make sure that they fit within the style and context of your game, and that they’re simple for users to understand.
8) Allow Agency, Within Reason
If you don’t guide your users towards their objectives clearly enough, they can get frustrated and lose interest. At the same time, however, you don’t want to exert too much control over what they can and can’t do. Instead, try to find a healthy medium between the two. If you’re moving a user’s character along a rail, for example, make sure they can look around and view the landscape around them. And if you need to dramatically move locations from scene to scene, Bendov suggests a quick fade-out followed by a fade-in to speed things along without dizzying users with a fast camera speed.
9) Optimize the Way You Monetize
When you’re first releasing your game, the best pricing model is to make your content available at a premium, as in-app purchases won’t be realistic until your game hits about 20 million players. If your game is free-to-play on mobile, this means you’ll have to give users a good reason to pay for your VR game. An extra incentive Bendov and his team have used is to make what would normally be an in-app purchase in mobile a given in the VR version. That way, users feel like they’re getting a little more bang for their buck.
10) Always Expect Feedback
The relatively limited amount of content available for VR means that games are subject to more editorial discretion than they would be on a crowded mobile app store. While publishers want you to succeed, they also want to ensure that they’re only featuring the best games, so you can almost always count on hearing a few extra suggestions once you’ve submitted. Budgeting out the time and resources needed for this process from the get-go is a must, says Bendov. That way, you won’t find yourself surprised when you fail to meet your expected launch date or burn through your designated spend early.
There’s no doubt that VR offers a huge opportunity for developers, especially those who have already created mobile games. But a revolutionary platform requires revolutionary content — not just a cheap imitation. As long as you invest the time and energy to optimize your experience for VR, though, you’ll be able to add a fresh take while still capitalizing on your existing momentum. Who knows? If you play your cards right, you might just be able to ride the wave of early adopter success for years to come.