'Don't put a machine gun in granny's hands': Taking VR to the mainstream

'Don't put a machine gun in granny's hands': Taking VR to the mainstream
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

April 13th 2016 at 11:29AM

Resolution Games’ Tommy Palm discusses what virtual reality can learn from the mobile market and Wii Sports

Countless VR experts have reminded the industry that while 2016 is shaping up to be a milestone year for the technology, this is only the beginning. That said, it’s always good to have one eye on your end goal.

Swedish entrepreneur, CEO of Resolution Games, and long-time proponent of virtual reality Tommy Palm (pictured) believes the medium will – nay, needs to – become a mainstream proposition, appealing to more than just the traditional gaming crowd.

There are plenty of studios and companies that agree with him, pouring resources and development times into new and unique projects, but it can often seem like it’s the games industry that will benefit most from virtual reality – at least, at first.

“But it’s important that VR becomes mainstream,” Palm tells Develop. “It needs to go beyond being a niche for hardcore players who are okay with a bucket next to them because they’re playing super fast games. 

“When I see people try VR, grandmothers become amazed by it. It’s mind-blowing, and in a very accessible way. The hard thing for us to do now is create content that fits and deliver on that promise of a fantastic experience that they’ll glimpse when they first try it.”

Somewhat naturally, the vast majority of virtual reality titles in the works are presented from first-person perspective for maximum immersion. But historically the first-person genre has been tailored to the hardcore gamers. There are, of course, exceptions such as The Chinese Room’s collected works and Unknown Worlds’ gun-less exploration game Subnautica, but it may still be daunting to those less familiar with gaming. How do we make welcoming, accessible first-person experiences?

Virtual reality needs to go beyond being a
niche for hardcore players who are okay with a bucket next to them because they’re playing super fast games.

“Don’t put a machine gun in their hands,” Palm laughs. “That’s something most grandmothers would react negatively to. 

“It’s interesting how tricky it can be for some devs to make non-violent games. It takes some effort, but it needs to be done. If you want broad appeal, it can’t be about killing tons of humanoids and aliens.

“For me, the [Oculus Touch] Toybox demo is a fantastic showcase on how intuitive and fun VR can be. And it’s a social experience, because you can play with a friend. Since you can see your hands, it’s very easy to interact with: you pick up an object like a lighter, flip it, turn it on as you would a regular lighter and then use the fire on other things. It doesn’t take any explanation – and playing with fire is always fun, especially when there’s no risk of anything burning down. 

“There are so many things we don’t traditionally think about as games that have the ability to really widen the audience.”

Palm’s talk of grandmothers and the way he describes the Toybox demo is reminiscent of the attention Wii Sports received back in 2006, praised by the mainstream media for being intuitive to players of any age and skill level. There is much talk about VR’s need for a killer app, but would a ‘Wii Sports moment’ be more important?

“It’s still such early days,” Palm says. “I’m sure there plenty of devs trying to make that game that’s intuitive, that’s instantly recognisable. 

“Wii Sports might not be remembered forever as the game that changed everything, but it was such a great door-opener in terms of getting people to understand what gaming could be about.”

While titles for core consumers will undoubtedly dominate virtual reality’s early years, Palm is confident that eventually it will have something to offer fans of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and the like.

“Casual games will definitely fit on virtual reality, but I don’t think they’re going to be what takes the technology to that mainstream point,” he says.

“One of the most important things in VR is presence – and you especially feel immersed in something if it’s realistic. I don’t think casual games are a great fit with that. But as VR becomes a bigger, more viable market, we’ll see more of those casual and puzzle experiences.”

This article is part of our month-long Virtual Reality Special. You can find more VR content here.