Virtual reality’s ability to seize both the public’s imagination, and that of the various entertainment businesses, is undeniable. Much of the reporting out of the Game Developer’s Conference centered around VR, and we’re likely to see that repeated at other upcoming conferences and events as VR hardware hits the market this year. The collective weight of billions of dollars of investment has so far generated massive interest, even though revenues are yet to be realized.
One thing is clear, development time and resources are coming from a broad array of small to medium size developers, mostly funded by investment from venture capital and from the makers of VR hardware. Big game publishers in mobile, console and PC are staying on the sidelines for the most part. They’ve got more predictable places to invest their time and development resources than in the uncertainties of VR titles, so this makes sense.
Yet, shouldn’t all kinds of game makers be looking to capitalize on this obvious excitement for VR? Isn’t there some way to add the luster of VR to existing brands without betting huge sums of money? There are, in fact, several things that game publishers at every level can do to take advantage of VR’s appeal without actually creating their own VR game.
VR as a marketing tool
One of the immediate ways to utilize VR is as a tool for marketing your products. We’ve seen this already with companies like McDonald’s and Marriott taking great advantage of the sizzle of VR to draw interest and engagement for their own products.
For games, Sony announced a partnership with LucasFilm and Electronic Arts to bring Star Wars: Battlefront to the PlayStation VR. “Battlefront is going to be one of those games that will really show gamers what it means to be in the world of VR,” said John Koller, vice president of marketing at Sony Interactive Entertainment, per Forbes. “It’s very special. And just by the nature of it being designed as a VR experience, it’s going to be very different than the PlayStation 4 game.”
It’s not clear, at this point, what will be in this game or how it might connect to the existing Star Wars: Battlefront game. But it’s clearly an important step for Sony, and the company has already gotten a great deal of marketing mileage from this announcement. Electronic Arts has benefited too, with its existing game generating terrific media attention and a nice glow from the connection with VR.
Licensing to VR; ports to VR
One easy and inexpensive way for a publisher to take advantage of VR is to simply license its brand to another company to create a VR game. The VR developer gets the benefit of the brand equity, while the publisher gets the benefit of a VR game without the expense of creating it. The next step in this path is porting an existing title to VR, which like other ports would be done by a third-party studio under contract. While such games usually aren’t great ways to utilize a new platform, they have the advantage of being inexpensive and somewhat more predictable as far as revenue goes. At least, it will once the market for the platform is established well enough to allow for revenue projections.
When a new platform really gets going, publishers will begin to see the usefulness of connecting the new platform to their existing ones via games that cross over in some way–usually with gear or characters. Many mobile games now fall into this category, as publishers develop mobile games that connect with console games so you can stay engaged with the game and brand when you’re away from your console. These companion apps might let you rearrange your inventory, change outfits, or go shopping for new gear on mobile devices, then play your revised character in the hardcore console game.
Similarly, VR games could be made to offer a special experience that carries over from your existing console or PC game. Perhaps there could be a certain battle mode available in VR, or a special location you can experience, and then you could bring your character back out with new items or more experience points. Such a connected VR game would add marketing luster to the basic console game, and give it a special way to stand out (if competing games didn’t have such a mode). Perhaps Sony’s VR Battlefront may do this.