Mass Appeal or Niche Audiences? VR Games Find Their Focus

glowing chamber in Loading Human

Virtual reality is a really hot topic for the media at the moment.

Not a day goes by that the mainstream press isn’t singing the praises of the new, emerging medium, or showing off the incredible potential of the technology. From its use as a medical aid to making learning more accessible, it seems like there’s nothing VR can’t do and no group that can’t benefit from its effects.

As wide-reaching as VR’s capabilities may be, though, when it comes to VR gaming, there’s a very specific audience that developers are attempting to woo. The audience for a virtual reality title is currently a fraction of the gamers who’d play a traditional video game, and one of the big challenges that game studios face is broadening the niche market to reach a wider gaming audience.

So who are developers trying to reach? Which audiences are getting attention now, and how will this expand in the future?

The Limitations of the Marketplace

There are several things holding VR back from wider acceptance by mainstream gamers.

One primary concern that gamers have experienced is that of physical incompatibility. This can be for a range of issues—those with specific disabilities, for example, may find either motion controls or VR headsets not designed with their specific challenges in mind.

These gamers make up a relatively small percentage of potential users, but their collective issues need to be addressed to make the medium more accessible. Even more pertinent, though, are the issues surrounding motion sickness that the technology creates. Until VR can be played without inducing nausea, it won’t be able to gain widespread acceptance.

Beyond this is the pressing issue of cost. VR gaming is not currently cheap—purchasing an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive will set the player back at least $600, and that’s to say nothing of the cost of a computer that will be powerful enough to take full advantage of VR technology.

The PlayStation VR will make virtual reality slightly more accessible.

Technology costs are always high at the beginning of a device’s lifespan and will drop over the next few years. The introduction of PS VR later this year will help to drop the price as well—the $400 price tag for a device which works with players’ existing games consoles will help make the technology more accessible to a wider audience of gamers. It will still be some time, though, before the cost of a VR headset drops enough to grab mainstream attention.

In the meantime, the prohibitive price tag attached to VR gaming means that only a niche audience of early adopters are looking at the technology. Games studios are aware of this, and are planning the games they release around the types of gamers most likely to own VR devices.

The Perfect VR Gamer

Considering the small audience of gamers who are likely to own VR devices, there are a fairly wide variety of games available for the medium. This is in large part due to the Oculus Rift, and deliberate efforts from the company to fund a varied library of games to better show off the potential of VR.

But although VR has many possibilities, not all of them fit their current audience. There’s a reason why Lucky’s Tale is the only notable cartoon platformer on a VR system. The game doesn’t appeal to the kinds of gamers who are interested in VR, and is instead an attempt to prove that the platform can be used for many different kinds of games.

Lucky's Tale is better suited for a younger audience

Lucky’s Tale is a great game, but it’s not aimed at the older gamers who make up the majority of VR early adopters. Source

Market research into interest surrounding virtual reality shows that the technology is most appealing to those aged 10-17—considering that this audience has to rely heavily on the bank of mom and dad, though, this isn’t the most profitable demographic to aim for at the moment. Instead, studios are developing games for single gamers aged 18 to 34, a group who are likely to have more disposable income and more time to play games, due to their lack of family commitments.

This is why competitive titles are rare on VR systems—as gamers leave their teens, they’re more interested in personal experiences and story-driven games rather than deathmatches. Identifying the types of gamers who are likely to own a VR headset helps developers choose the right subject matter for their games.

Developing for the Niche

There are two ways to approach creating VR games for a niche audience.

One is to create games that have a widespread appeal, with the expectation that a large chunk of the VR gaming community will find the experience rewarding. The majority of gamers enjoy action, sports, and shooting titles, and the VR marketplace reflects this, with a healthy number of titles in these categories available or in development for all systems.

For the most part, though, it’s not the generic action/shooter games that are getting attention. With access to a new technology, we as gamers have instead been drawn to more new and innovative uses for virtual reality, even if that means leaving our comfort zone.

A glance, for example, at IGN’s most anticipated VR games of 2016, shows a lot of adventure games on the list—titles like Adr1ft, The Climb, The Assembly, and Affected are all story-driven games of exploration and discovery, which work perfectly with the strong points of virtual reality.

The Assembly is a story-driven VR game

Story-driven games of exploration like The Assembly are most sought-after by VR device owners. Source

IGN’s list was published in February, and looks a little dated even only six months later, as many of these games have since seen the light of day, to widespread critical success. A similar list from NerdMuch points to a more up-to-date look at what gamers are hoping for: VR experiences that let the player take on the role of Batman, fly a Star Trek or Star Wars ship, or wander the familiar Fallout wasteland. Gamers are eager to use VR for roleplaying, especially when that means enjoying a rich narrative while doing so.

One game which makes NerdMuch’s list is Loading Human, a game which speaks to the needs of VR’s target audience by providing an opportunity for roleplay within an adventure game. Loading Human has a fantastic science fiction setting which the player can explore as they experience a strong narrative that’s inspired by adventure games of the past.

Loading Human is also designed to provide the personal, intimate experience that VR gamers are looking for. With rich, well-written characters the player can interact with, the game allows gamers to develop an emotional connection that delivers a more fulfilling experience.

Loft in VR video game Loading Human

With a focus on storytelling and utilizing VR features, Loading Human has a wide range of appeal.

It’s these kinds of games that will particularly appeal to the initial niche market of gamers, as VR gains popularity among early adopters of the exciting new technology.

What’s Next?

Virtual reality won’t stay a niche interest forever. As more gamers adopt the new technology, the spectrum of games offered will widen to meet growing needs.

Studies have shown, though, that the most important factor in the popularity of virtual reality is word-of-mouth praise. Gamers are more likely to consider VR as a worthwhile technology when their friends recommend it.

This means making sure that the core audience of early adopters for the technology receive an experience that they find fulfilling and worthwhile—it means providing solid, enjoyable VR experiences that prove the technology is of benefit to the gaming community.

So, if you’re a fan of adventure titles, roleplaying, and story-driven gaming experiences: good news! There are plenty of fantastic titles on the way which will appeal directly to your personal gaming needs.

Loading Human is an adventure game with a strong story at its core and a cast of interesting, exciting characters. The game’s first chapter debuts on October 13 as a launch title for the PlayStation VR, and will come to additional platforms soon after. Preorder your copy of the game today.

 

David Bridgham

Producer, Gamer, Musician, Sports Car Enthusiast, Slow Jogger.

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