The Answer to VR's Isolation Problem

VR Content

December 6, 2019 | 5 min read

Is asymmetrical gameplay the answer to VR's isolation problem?

Xbox head Phil Spencer recently laid to rest the idea of Microsoft focusing on VR for their upcoming Project Scarlett, saying that "nobody wants VR" and claiming that VR is isolating.

Spencer, for the most part, is correct and this is painfully obvious in location-based-entertainment. Patrons of VR Arcades, Family-Entertainment-Centers, etc. generally are new to VR and aren't always gamers either.

One of the hardest things about VR is to just get people to try it. For some, the idea of putting on a device that covers your face, in front of strangers who you can't see back, is extremely off-putting.

But what if there was content that helped solve this problem? Helped ease people into it better?

Some clever developers are doing just this using asymmetrical gameplay.

To keep it simple, asymmetric VR is when one player or a group of players are in VR, and another group is interacting or competing via another device. (Typically mobile devices, gamepads or a keyboard and mouse)

Developers of Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, Resolution Games, recently released an asymmetrical VR title called Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! that helps battle the isolation and "weirdness" that some can feel with VR.

Paul Brady, Co-founder & CCO at Resolution Games, said they were noticing a good portion of people experiencing VR for the first time still had some apprehension and nervousness and developed the game to help solve this issue.

"We wanted to make it as social as possible and eliminate as many barriers as we could," Brady said. "With Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! only one person is in VR, while up to eight others are playing against them from their mobile phones with familiar controls."

Brady said gameplay like this helps ease people into VR because they don't necessarily have to put the headset on to get in on the action.

"You get to jump right in and be a part of the fun and even see how much more fun it can be if you decide to take on the role of the tree in VR," Brady said. "It becomes this very social experience where you're cooperating and also being competitive. We see people swapping from one character to the next and vying for next in line to be the tree in VR."

This kind of gameplay helped Resolution out immensely when showing the game off at conferences and made it to where nobody was just "sitting around and waiting their turn."

"Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! is not only great for parties to get groups together having fun in the same experience, but it's also very accessible, Brady said. "It's something someone's mom or dad could join in on the fun without having to get too deeply committed if they didn't want. Players are looking for new experiences and new ways to lose themselves in the immersive fun VR provides and the party-game nature makes it an awesome way to allow groups (maybe birthday parties) to play together in a more social and accessible way so everyone can be a part of it."

In an industry that's all about getting people to try something new, asymmetrical VR is a perfect way to really get a group of people fired up and having a good time.

Micro-Amusement Park Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles is adding the asymmetrical horror title "Reiko's Fragments" to their location and Executive Producer Andy Dunn said they had been looking for good asymmetric games for their VR Cabanas since most people go to arcades and entertainment centers in groups.

"This way the five to eight friends hanging out in the room could all play together, even though only one is in VR," Dunn said. "Our guests enjoy teasing the VR player and working together to make it harder for that player. Each time the VR player gets a good scare everyone else has a great laugh."

Dunn said these titles are easy to offer and require very little staff support but, like any experience, it's important for arcade operators to know their primary audience and what they'll gravitate toward.

"Anyone running a facility that targets young adults, especially a bar arcade, should take a look at asymmetric VR games," Dunn said.

Two Bit's upcoming addition Reiko's Fragments was developed by Pixel Canvas Studios and is a horror experience where the VR user must escape a haunted house while up to eight players on their phone can interact with and scare the user in VR.

CEO of Pixel Canvas Studios, Liam Nguyen said he believes that VR has had a hard time gaining mainstream adoption, not only because the hardware was expensive, but because most VR games are inherently solo experiences.

"While the world shifts to more social, shareable games like League of Legends or local games like Super Smash Brothers, the most interesting games on VR (at least for parties) are things like Superhot and Beatsaber that are short enough to take turns with," Nguyen said. 

"We wanted to get all of our friends on the couch more involved in the game and asymmetrical VR is a great way to get everyone involved."

Nguyen said their team received great feedback from Two-Bit Circus, conventions and an arcade close to them which helped them make an amazing arcade experience.

"Great arcade games create memorable experiences for groups of friends," Nguyen said. "The most successful VR arcade implementations often utilize multiple headsets to get an entire group of friends into a VR experience. While these are incredible experiences, asymmetric games like Reiko's Fragments require only a single headset and therefore require much less space and cost while still creating a great experience for groups."

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