Valve founder Gabe Newell has spoken about his company's plans for virtual reality. He confirms that Valve have three VR games in development and that VR will succeed only when games are made with the unique properties of the platform in mind.
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"Right now we’re building three VR games", says Newell, speaking to Eurogamer at a press event at Valve’s offices yesterday. "When I say we’re building three games, we're building three full games, not experiments."
Newell says an advantage of being in the hardware market for VR - as Valve are, with the HTC Vive - is being able to design software at the same time as having control over the input device.
"This is something that Miyamoto has always had," says Newell, referring to the legendary Nintendo designer and producer Shigeru Miyamoto. "He's had the ability to think about what the input device is and design a system while he designs games. Our sense is that this will actually allow us to build much better entertainment experiences for people."
Newell’s main criticism of VR right now is that designers are essentially making VR versions of existing games without fundamentally relearning game design for VR’s particular language. "VR is not going to be a success at all if people are just taking existing content and putting it into a VR space," he says, "the same way nobody's going to buy a VR system so they can watch movies."
Once designers figure out how to do this, Newell feels the real value of VR will be proved. "It feels like we've been stuck with mouse and keyboard for a really long time and that the opportunities to build much more interesting kinds of experiences for gamers were there, we just need to sort of expand what we can do. But it's not about being in hardware, it's about building better games. It's about taking bigger leaps forward with the kinds of games that we can do."
This view is perhaps somewhat at odds with that of Valve’s Chet Faliszek, who spoke with the German magazine PC Games Hardware just before the HTC Vive’s launch last year. On the suggestion that VR needs its ‘killer app’, here’s a quotation translated by ashecitism on NeoGAF:
"What was the killer app for the iPhone? Its AppStore. Back then there weren't big creators on the platform, only lots of small ones, who today are bigger than classic AAA studios. We like smartphones and tablets because they offer us different experiences compared PCs and consoles. Same will happen with VR." He repeated those views at Casual Connect a couple of days ago.
Newell, on the other hand, clearly feels that one strong, profound experience, made with VR in mind from the ground up, is needed to convert people to the platform. He also says this needs to come before price reductions - most VR hardware is still very expensive, particularly the Vive.
"Once you've got something, the thing that really causes millions of people to be excited about it, then you start worrying about cost reducing. It's sort of the old joke that premature cost reduction is the root of all evil."