nDreams: VR not a gimmick

nDreams: VR not a gimmick
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

April 9th 2014 at 12:00PM

CEO Patrick O'Luanaigh discusses the virtual reality revolution and why it's poised to start a new era of immersion in games

UK developer nDreams is one of the first studios in the world to focus solely on virtual reality game development, something many may see as a gamble on a technology untested on the consumer market.

As part of our VR week special, we caught up with CEO Patrick O'Luanaigh to discuss VR development and why he thinks the tech has such a promising future.

Why have you decided to focus game development on VR?

I was lucky enough to spend time playing with the Oculus Rift and Morpheus last year, and I was totally and utterly hooked. I’ve had a huge interest in VR since the days of Virtuality and Superscape, so seeing what is possible with the new technology was genuinely eye opening. The feeling of presence/immersion is staggering and I think for games that want to immerse people into a new world, VR really is the next big step forward.

It also feels like a technology that fits the team we have built here at nDreams – we’ve been working closely with Sony on their virtual world for a long time, and the opportunity to create VR games and experiences for PS4 and PC was too good to ignore. I’m also a huge fan of telling stories, and was getting frustrated by how hard it is to do this commercially on mobile. So we starting focusing our future on VR back in mid-2013, working on demos and pivoting the business. I decided it was the right destination for us, and worth taking a risk on.

What kind of games are you working on?

We have three cross-platform VR games in various stages of development, plus a couple of other unique VR projects. Our first major game will be announced at E3, and we will be showing off a playable demo there. It is a unique adventure game designed for VR with a powerful story. One of the other games is based on the rough SkyDIEving demo that we released last year, which itself came from a 48-hour game hack. The third one is under wraps at the moment. We have also funded an independent VR gaming website, VRFocus, which is growing rapidly and helping spread interest in VR games, big and small.

How difficult and expensive is undertaking VR game development at this early stage?

One of the great things about game development at the moment is that it’s open to all kinds of games with all kinds of budgets. Thomas Was Alone can sit comfortably next to GTA V on PSN or Steam. Take a look at Kickstarter or VRFocus and you’ll see lots of fascinating indie VR games and demos.

We’re doing things with a bigger team at a greater cost, but we’re still a long way off triple-A budgets. It’s about finding the perfect game for the budget you have available. Fortunately we’ve been using Unity3D for a while, and it’s an engine which makes developing on VR very easy – both on PS4 and PC.

Do you think UK developers are well poised to get into VR, and should they do so now?

I’d love to see it being an area where the UK can dominate. Whilst analytics and retention techniques are vital for all games nowadays, I think you’ll find that game design, writing and creating emotions are going to be much bigger drivers of success on VR than in mobile, and I hope that will play to the strengths of many UK studios. And we’re considering publishing games from other studios as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to help smaller teams out with co-funding and publishing. 

What tips do you have for other developers getting into VR game development?

Remember the strengths of VR. It’s not a platform for snackable five-minute mobile games. But for games that immerse players in a new world or where the designers want to elicit strong emotions from the players, VR is second-to-none.

Do you see VR developing as its own platform, or a peripheral for other platforms? 

At the moment, the two major VR headsets are linked to existing hardware. But we’re treating VR like a platform rather than a peripheral, and our aim is to deliver the best VR experiences, with games designed with VR in mind from the very beginning.

Just how popular do you envisage virtual reality being?

I think it’s going to be very, very successful, but it’ll take a while to get there. I know some people see VR as being a gimmick – the next 3D TV. But for me, the difference between a gimmick and a revolution is the question: “Does it make things genuinely better?” And for games that immerse the player in another world, the answer to that is a huge yes. Compare the first mobile phone with the latest Android handset, and then imagine where VR hardware will end up.