Developed by Polish studio CD Projekt RED, 2015’s Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is surely one of the best regarded games to launch in recent memory. Studio co-founder Marcin Iwinski says the studio is watching VR carefully, but he’s still waiting to see what compelling made-for VR content looks like.
Speaking to Glixel in a recent interview, Marcin Iwinski spoke briefly about the studio’s interest in VR, focusing on CD Projekt RED’s story-driven approach to game development.
“We are observing [VR] with interest. We are telling stories. If VR can help us, we’ll definitely consider it,” he said.
It doesn’t sound like VR is out of the question for the studio, but also doesn’t sound like it’s being actively pursued. What might change Iwinski’s mind?
“Right now, I’m personally looking for something really substantial as an experience [in virtual reality].”
He hones in on, perhaps unconsciously, one of VR’s current challenges: the lack of a killer app; an experience that justifies the purchase of the hardware.
“Why did I pre-order the Switch? Not because I want the Switch. Because I want Zelda.”
An apt analogy for the present state of VR, where expensive startup costs mean that a killer app can’t just be great, it has to be exceptional.
I believe the ‘killer app’ can be understood as an economic function. The value of a killer app must exceed the cost to play it—it must justify the price of the hardware, just as Iwinski intuited. If he wants to play the latest Zelda, he has to purchase the Nintendo Switch for $300. Now, for Iwinski, that’s worth the price of admission. But what if the Switch cost $800 instead? Now it’s a different value assessment, one that might not agree with his wallet.
This is how many people view purchases when it comes to buying into a new platform. 10 decent games that each provide $30 worth of value to a player, do not ‘add up’ to the desire to buy the Switch. But one excellent experience can.
VR today is in the same boat. Yes, there’s early adopters (like me, and probably you) who say ‘I want VR in general, so I’m going to go get a headset’. But the mainstream is like Iwinski: they aren’t interested in a headset for the promise of ‘a handful of good games’. They’re interested in an excellent experience—a single tangible experience—which just happens to require a VR headset. There needs to be a single, compelling piece of content to install the desire of the headset, not the other way around. Just like Iwinski and the Nintendo Switch.
The more expensive the upfront cost, the greater the burden on the killer app. Superhot (2016), for instance, is a great VR game. But is it alone worth the $600 minimum buy-in for an Oculus Rift + Touch? For some maybe, for most, not. But what if the buy-in was just $100? For many more people, the answer would change from no to yes.
So then, there’s two ways to get closer to a killer app: better content, or cheaper buy-in. The critical point where an app goes from just an app to a killer app is when the value provided by the app and the cost of the hardware intersect.
Will Iwinski and CD Projekt RED be the studio to dream up VR’s killer app? We can certainly hope. In the meantime, as the cost of VR hardware decreases, it becomes easier and easier to achieve killer app status.
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As you might be able to tell, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of the ‘killer app’ and how it applies to VR. Interested in hearing what leading companies in the industry think? Check out our article series on the topic: