Facebook has purportedly spent at least $500 million to bring a wide range of content to its VR headsets. A portion of that investment was bet on big budget exclusive games, like Asgard’s Wrath and Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, which aimed to satisfy a craving for AA and AAA VR content among gamers. But how much impact did it have?

While Facebook has funded a wide range of VR content, from 360 videos to non-exclusive indie VR games, the company has stated that a portion of the money it has spent on VR content was with the explicit goal of delivering larger AA and AAA titles to its platform that would attract gamers accustomed to seeing large scope, high production value content in the non-VR gaming world. These large titles represented many of the largest single bets the company placed on VR content, and indeed, many of the best-funded projects in all of VR, with some titles believed to have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars.

Defining Scope

Right up front it should be said that there’s a number of different ways one could consider Facebook’s Oculus exclusive content ‘successful’ or not. And, since we don’t know the budgets of each game, there’s not a clear definition for what even counts as the ‘big bets’ the company has made on content.

I’ll be clearly defining the assumptions made in order to answer these questions, starting with which games we’ll focus on.

First, we’re going to be looking specifically at the Oculus PC store since the bulk of Oculus exclusive content was made for that marketplace, giving us more data to analyze.

To look at the ‘big bets’, let’s start by listing all of the games the ‘Oculus Originals‘ section (and pulling in known ‘Oculus Studios’ titles that are oddly omitted). From there let’s only look at titles with a launch price higher than $30, as we can use the launch price as a proxy for how much value the project was expected to be worth (and therefore a coarse indication of the budget). There’s one exception to this rule which is the Vader Immortal games. I chose to keep all three in the list because they were released rapidly (all in the same year) and were effectively meant to form one complete $30 experience (in fact, on PSVR they are all sold as a single game with a $30 price tag).

This leaves us with the following list of 25 ‘big bets’ Facebook placed on VR games.

Game Release Developer
Chronos 2016 Gunfire
Feral Rites 2016 Insomniac
Edge of Nowhere 2016 Insomniac
Eve Valkyrie 2016 CCP
The Climb 2016 Crytek
Robo Recall 2017 Epic
Rock Band VR 2017 Harmonix
Wilson’s Heart 2017 Twisted Pixel
The Mage’s Tale 2017 inXile
Lone Echo 2017 Ready at Dawn
Arktika.1 2017 4A Games
From Other Suns 2017 Gunfire
Brass Tactics 2018 Hidden Path
Marvel Powers United VR 2018 Sanzaru
Dance Central 2019 Harmonix
Journey of the Gods 2019 Turtle Rock
Vader Immortal I 2019 ILMxLAB
Vader Immortal II 2019 ILMxLAB
Vader Immortal III 2019 ILMxLAB
Stormland 2019 Insomniac
Asgard’s Wrath 2019 Sanzaru
Sports Scramble 2019 Armature
Lies Beneath 2020 Drifter
Phantom: Covert Ops 2020 nDreams
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond 2020 Respawn

Defining Value

Now the question is, ‘how do we determine if the bets Facebook placed on these games were successful’?

From Facebook’s standpoint, these large exclusive content investments were made to jumpstart its VR content library, and to show gamers that polished, large scope VR games were available and ready to be played.

Thus, looking at ‘value provided to customers’ seems like a good approach to consider the ‘success’ of that proposition. Luckily, each customer has the opportunity to voice their opinion of a game’s value by giving the game a rating based on their experience with it compared to what they paid. Here’s how these 25 games stack up by user ratings:

Game Release Developer User Reviews
Lone Echo 2017 Ready at Dawn 4.70
Brass Tactics 2018 Hidden Path 4.69
Robo Recall 2017 Epic 4.68
Dance Central 2019 Harmonix 4.64
Vader Immortal I 2019 ILMxLAB 4.55
Asgard’s Wrath 2019 Sanzaru 4.49
Stormland 2019 Insomniac 4.48
Journey of the Gods 2019 Turtle Rock 4.47
Edge of Nowhere 2016 Insomniac 4.44
Vader Immortal III 2019 ILMxLAB 4.40
Chronos 2016 Gunfire 4.39
Lies Beneath 2020 Drifter 4.35
Phantom: Covert Ops 2020 nDreams 4.34
Wilson’s Heart 2017 Twisted Pixel 4.32
From Other Suns 2017 Gunfire 4.31
The Climb 2016 Crytek 4.27
Vader Immortal II 2019 ILMxLAB 4.26
Sports Scramble 2019 Armature 4.26
The Mage’s Tale 2017 inXile 4.21
Rock Band VR 2017 Harmonix 4.03
Arktika.1 2017 4A Games 4.01
Marvel Powers United VR 2018 Sanzaru 3.88
Feral Rites 2016 Insomniac 3.83
Eve Valkyrie 2016 CCP 3.82
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond 2020 Respawn 3.81

Comparing Value

So now we have a way to gauge how players valued these exclusive games. But how do we determine if it was ‘worth it’ for Facebook to have made these bets in the first place?

Clearly the goal of bringing these titles to market was to raise the value of the company’s VR content offering. By comparing the rating of each exclusive to the average rating of all games released that year* we can get an idea of ‘how much’ each game added to or detracted from that year’s baseline content quality.

Game Release Rating Rating vs. Release Year Average Rating
Edge of Nowhere 2016 4.44 +0.78
Chronos 2016 4.39 +0.73
The Climb 2016 4.27 +0.61
Feral Rites 2016 3.83 +0.17
Eve Valkyrie 2016 3.82 +0.16
Lone Echo 2017 4.70 +0.80
Robo Recall 2017 4.68 +0.78
Wilson’s Heart 2017 4.32 +0.42
From Other Suns 2017 4.31 +0.41
The Mage’s Tale 2017 4.21 +0.31
Rock Band VR 2017 4.03 +0.13
Arktika.1 2017 4.01 +0.11
Brass Tactics 2018 4.69 +0.62
Marvel Powers United VR 2018 3.88 −0.18
Dance Central 2019 4.64 +0.43
Vader Immortal I 2019 4.55 +0.34
Asgard’s Wrath 2019 4.49 +0.29
Stormland 2019 4.48 +0.27
Journey of the Gods 2019 4.47 +0.27
Vader Immortal III 2019 4.40 +0.20
Vader Immortal II 2019 4.26 +0.06
Sports Scramble 2019 4.26 +0.05
Lies Beneath 2020 4.35 +0.28
Phantom: Covert Ops 2020 4.34 +0.27
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond 2020 3.81 −0.26

* games with less than 100 reviews are excluded from the release year average to remove outliers

So we can see that Oculus exclusives have a good track record at least of exceeding the average game rating in their given release year.

Outliers: The low ratings of Marvel Powers United VR and Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, are particularly interesting. It’s easy to imagine that big budget games automatically get a boost to user ratings thanks to more resources for polish and presentation. But those two games are thought to be two of the three largest investments Facebook has made in Oculus exclusive content. What happened?

To an extent, this means most of the exclusive content investments the company made have positively benefited the overall position of the content library. But ‘how much’ matters here too; this is the year-by-year breakdown:

Year
Average Rating Difference Among Oculus Exclusives
2016 +9.80%
2017 +8.44%
2018 +4.42%
2019 +4.78%
2020 +1.96%

It’s clear to see here that Facebook’s efforts never managed to produce content which exceeded the release year’s average by more than 10%, and the benefit of Oculus exclusives, against games released in the same year, dropped off steadily as time went on.

There’s two likely explanations for this. Either Facebook’s bets were getting worse over time, or non-exclusive content was getting better over time. While it could be a combination of the two, it appears that the latter is the most significant factor, which we can see when comparing the average rating of games in the library each year to the average rating of Oculus exclusive games in the same year.

Continue on Page 2: A Better Way? »

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  • Toothlover

    In other words. HLA came in 2020 which is raised reviewers expectations through the roof.

    • benz145

      I assume this is in response to the average 2020 rating being lower than 2019? I don’t think HLA has too much to do with it. Quest launched in 2019 and was already gaining good momentum into 2020; I think the Oculus PC store was already beginning to be abandoned at that time (as Facebook was signaling that Quest was the future) so the only projects launching in late 2020 were perhaps the lower quality ones that didn’t make the cut for Quest’s curated store.

    • Kunakai

      The roof?

      In so far as enjoyment goes I’d say the expectations of VR titles is below the floor when compared to conventional games.

      I’d expect many non enthusiasts moving into the space is going to lower the bar in general given the relative difference in number of games availible and investment between conventional and VR games.

  • wowgivemeabreak

    Is your list of top 20 rated Rift games using a threshold of 100 reviews? Because if not, Walkabout Mini Golf with 76 reviews is rated higher than all of those. I get an average of over 4.9.

    It’s sad it only has 76 reviews on the PC side (while over 2.1k on the Quest store) yet at the same time, that shows how dead the Rift/PCVR store is compared to Quest.

    • VR

      >> It’s sad it only has 76 reviews on the PC side (while over 2.1k on the Quest store) yet at the same time, that shows how dead the Rift/PCVR store is compared to Quest.

      Actually, PC VR is also growing healthily.

      In the means of ratings, maybe it could be better if we compare a well known, more common game like Beat Saber. Speaking of Beat Saber, it has 35,175 Ratings for Quest, and 15,135 Ratings for Rift. I mean, the difference is not something like 76 vs. 2.1K.

      Anyway, best part of the story is that VR is evolving as a whole.

      Regards,

    • VR5

      PCVR gamers tend to favor “only possible on PC” and AA(A) titles. Doesn’t mean that smaller budget titles cannot do great also but such titles face much bigger competition on PC, making it harder for them to stand out.

      • VR

        Well said.

      • JakeDunnegan

        And PCVR gamers can shop in other stores. So games like Beat Saber can be (and I know a lot of us do) buy it on Steam instead.

    • benz145

      Yes the top 20 Rift games later in the article is only those with 100 reviews or more. It is indeed sad how Facebook has pretty much left its PC VR store to fester: https://www.roadtovr.com/total-quest-game-reviews-exceed-oculus-pc/

  • VR5

    The point of exclusives is to sell your own hardware. Considering how well Rift was doing compared to the competition even on Steam, it seems to have worked. It can’t just have been price, since the cheaper Windows MR headsets without exclusives did much worse.

    • Hivemind9000

      Not exactly to sell hardware, as they seems to be selling them around cost (according to a few analysis threads I’ve read), but to get people invested in their ecosystem so they buy more games, giving Oculus Facebook their cut.

      • VR5

        That is more correct, yes. And unfortunately for FB, many Rift owners bought more of their games on Steam where they don’t get a cut.

        Which is another reason why FB now focusses on Quest instead.

  • Dragon Marble

    I am not sure if you are looking at the right thing. It’s not about ratings. You have to count how many people bought headsets because of MoH and then ended up spending money on Beat Saber and Superhot as well. It’s impossible to know from the outside, but that’s what the exclusives are about.

  • These graphs are just for nerds. I think it absolutely worked because Facebook VR headsets utterly dominate the VR landscape, which is what Facebook wants, and they have arguably the strongest game libraries of any VR platforms out there, which is what counts most to most users. So I think it was worth it by pretty much any meaningful metric.

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      It is not just for nerds. We all want VR to grow, and are somewhat frustrated that there are too few large developers working on AAA titles and too few affordable headsets. This will only improve if a lot more people start using/buying VR, so what works is a pretty important question.

      Facebook may dominate VR because:
      – Of all headsets the Quest have the best value for the money.
      – Their software library is the best.
      – Their exclusives draw the most people.
      – They spend the most on marketing.
      – The Quest is the cheapest and easiest way to play Beat Saber.
      – …

      Depending on which of these are true/relevant, investing in AAA titles might be a great idea or a total waste of money. If it is just the cheap price, spending the money to make the Quest even cheaper would be smarter. If it is the brand recognition of exclusives, they should license more titles. If it is Beat Saber, then HTC has no chance even if they release a better Quest 2 clone for a lower price, since Facebook now owns Beat Saber and will not port it.

      Answering the “does it work” question wrong may seriously harm the further development of VR.

    • benz145

      Ah yes, who wants data when we can just use our gut?

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    I applaud the systematic approach, and the attempt to find a viable marker for success, but I think you somewhat missed the mark. Facebook’s motivation to sponsor AA and AAA titles is given as an attempt to “attract gamers accustomed to seeing large scope, high production value content in the non-VR gaming world.” Then you go and measure how well the games are rated to determine if the investment has payed of, with Marvel Powers United VR and Medal of Honor looking the worst.

    But attracting non VR gamers and creating great VR games are not the same. The quality of the library matters more for keeping players on the platform than for getting them in the first place. 39 out of 40 Steam users are not using VR, and selling them VR isn’t trivial, since many games like Beat Saber cannot be sold by having a great trailer, they have to be experienced.

    To get these non-VR gamers onboard, a recognizable brand like Medal of Honor is way more valuable than Lone Echo having great ratings. Medal of Honor as a franchise has (according to Wikipedia) 17 titles since 1999 on desktop and all consoles and had sold 39M copies by 2016. A VR version pretty much says “this is a legitimate gaming platform for AAA titles”. So judging the investment by the quality of the game is somewhat shortsighted, when this is largely a move to promote the platform, where the attention of potential new users is the primary goal.

    I don’t know how much Facebook will have to pay Capcom for porting Resident Evil 4, but it will be a lot, despite being the adaption of an existing,16 year old multi-platform game. The same money could pay for a number of indie titles that are designed from scratch for VR, which would seem better value for those already owning a Quest. But for growing the platform to 10M+ users (Zuckerberg’s estimate for the required size to make a platform self-sustaining and attractive to larger developers), having a Resident Evil title is worth way more. It is money well spent, even if it gets only average ratings and never breaks even.

    • This! Its also the reason they took Insomniac on board. And Ready At Dawn.

    • as one of those mostly non-vr gamer i have to say u nailed it. i am always more excited for ports than i am for “built from the ground up” vr games. oculus getting re on their store is huge to me just like when skyrim, fallout, and borderlands2 vr went to just steam i was piss but got 2 or of the 3 and love both games. oculus is waking up to the fact to go pass the vr diehards they need to make deals like this one over building games people like me will over look.

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    • benz145

      All fair points. I would say though that it’s in Facebook’s best interest to have their big bets be both big IP and well received. After all, what does it look like to a potential headset customer who looks at Medal of Honor and sees it poorly rated by reviewers? That doesn’t exactly make them want to jump into a headset purchase even if they were initially excited about the idea of Medal of Honor in VR.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        Sure it would be best if the ports of popular franchises would also be great VR games. But this could be prohibitive expensive.

        A lot of criticism regarding AAA to VR ports is that things like menus, camera controls, movement etc. are poorly adapted. It works, but not great. Performance is often poor and the games feel rather unpolished, while polish is what we expect from AAA titles. Medal of Honor, FO4, Skyrim (and probably RE4) feel more like recycled with VR patched in for a budget limited by VR being such a small niche.

        Considering how different HL:A is from HL2 regarding mechanics, pacing, level design, size of the world, asset details, interactable environment etc., turning a flat screen AAA into a VR AAA could often require pretty much a rewrite. It might be cheaper to create a new game than to convert an existing title to a polished VR game. Even flat screen franchise games like Uncharted rarely reuse assets from previous games, because reworking them takes too much effort.

        And I’m not even sure such a rewrite would be universally well received. Most who bought Skyrim VR probably had already played the game and now want to be immersed in this world they already know and love. Changing the game a lot to make it better for new players might ruin the experience for those that just want to re-experience it in VR. I bought vorpX primarily to walk through Assassin’s Creed Origins. The experience is pretty horrible, the once lush world now a pixely mess, but I’m fine with that (until RTX 3XXX cards become affordable). I don’t even try to play the game that I have completed several times in flat. I just wander around in Memphis and wouldn’t be happy with a VR optimized version that prevents me from revisiting locations just because getting there is vomit inducing. My case may be extreme, but experiencing this world in VR is way more important to me than it being a good VR experience.

        VR is a different medium, so there are limits to how well games not designed for VR can work without making massive changes first. AAA conversions from flat screen will get better with developers gaining experience in porting to VR, or AAA titles getting designed with VR ports in mind. But as long as VR gaming is just a tiny niche, AAA VR ports will most likely mean experiencing the world of a AAA game at a clearly not AAA level of polish due to costs and the expectations of players that already played these games outside of VR. The ratings will reflect the lack of polish, but it is still worth it because there are so many people that will get into VR just to get immersed into games they already know, even if these aren’t the best VR titles.

    • Gonzax

      You nailed it, man. And the RE4 example is perfect. Tons of people will buy a Quest 2 just for that game and probably get hooked on VR after playing it, which is exactly what Facebook is looking for.
      How many headsets did HL: Alyx sell?? tons! An indie game would not do that. And Superhot might have a higher rating than MoH but that doesn’t mean it’s a better game either.

  • Wild Dog

    I was hoping for a TLDR.

    • benz145

      Without full details on budgets from Facebook (which we’ll never get), it’s not easy to make definitive TLDR. The article lays out one way to look at the available data.

      • Wild Dog

        After reading it, I thought the TLDR was “It was good money at first, but they shoulda loosened up on the pedal after a while of chasing exclusivity.”

  • Ad

    1) McAllister works at Facebook now?

    2) How did Mages Tale end up on steam?

    • benz145

      1) Yes he recently announced he took a position with the compacny.

      2) A few of the exclusive titles seem to have been timed exclusives (ie: Eve Valkyrie, Mage’s Tale) rather than permanent exclusives. This probably comes down to the structure of the deal between Oculus Studios and the developer. A title fully funded by Oculus Studios is likely to be a full-time exclusive.

      • Ad

        What about games that got some amount of funding and only came out on facebook’s store, are they counted here?

        And Gerald is just the best, I’ve never see someone so spitefully hostile to literally any criticism, any dev so willing to throw other devs under the bus, or just any commentator so clearly insistent he was unbiased and independent yet obviously biased to the point of just making strained cringe arguments for them and apparently working there now.

        • benz145

          Can you give me an example of which games you mean?

          • Ad

            For funding I’m not sure about names, but like with the low fi sequel, he said he was waiting for funding, and I’ve heard people say that many games get some amount of funding. A bunch of the initial quest titles seemed like they got funding.
            As for only coming out on facebook, I just mean anything that didn’t release on steam. Like spheres for example.

  • Very interesting analysis… it has its flaws, but it is interesting and well written

  • Are ratings the same as sales? You don’t really have any sales figures for Oculus, as they’ve released none. Ratings, in general are bunk when it comes to quality. Bland and forgettable titles can rank in high scores with very lack luster sales, just because they have a tight community of fan-boys that shift the value of things. And very well selling games, like Skyrim or No Man’s Sky, can have very poor ratings despite being far better games, as well as having better sales.

    Beat Saber, for instance, is a game were you smack boxes with glow sticks. It’s the Flappy Bird of VR games. But some boring noobs can’t get enough of it, and many of those noobs run YouTube channels that love to promote the game regularly just by always showing it in the background and excitingly talking about any and all minor upgrades for it. Compared with Skyrim VR, it’s a crushed soda can in the bottom of public trashcan, in both sales and quality. But it’s highly rated. Clearly ratings are a joke.