• Raw Data, an action sci-fi VR game developed by Survios, is regarded as a premier title that's often featured at VR arcades.
  • Experiential marketing is critical to the success of a VR game, so Survios has been attending events and making big spectacles to draw in crowds.
  • Partners and sponsors such as Intel, Nvidia and AMD help legitimize VR games like Raw Data, while connecting with online communities and other developers enables social discovery.
James Iliff, co-founder and chief creative officer at Survios

Raw Data is regarded by many as the ultimate sci-fi VR action experience. Players must infiltrate the company Eden Corp to uncover its dark secrets while fending off waves of robotic attackers. Players choose from a variety of characters, each equipped with different weapons and abilities, and they can either play alone or alongside friends in the two-player cooperative campaign or the team-based competitive multiplayer mode.

Developed by Survios, the game launched for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR in October. Many see Raw Data as a flagship title, given how it helped set some of the standards for VR gameplay that we see today, such as blending teleportation with a movement animation like dashing so players aren’t taken out of the experience. That’s one of the reasons why it’s a featured experience at arcades like the IMAX VR Centre.

“We feel that VR is much better as a shared experience,” Survios co-founder and chief creative officer James Iliff told AListDaily. “We saw how lots of people in the early days were complaining about how VR could feel isolating and how putting on a headset was like putting on a blindfold. We realized that having a multiplayer experience made things better because that’s how human bonds are formed—having a shared goal that you can work together to achieve.”

Iliff, who was joined by Survios senior product marketing manager Hunter Kitagawa, discussed how VR built relationships in ways that weren’t possible in traditional games, where the primary means of communications are either through text chat or voice. Players lose the “carnal vessel,” otherwise known as the ability communicate using body language and facial expressions. VR gives players that connection using in-game avatars.

“We realized that the most engaging, engrossing and exciting form of experience you can have in VR is with a game,” said Iliff. “People like to play together, and play is a desirable and honorable goal in and of itself because we don’t see it—or any form of entertainment—as a form of escapism. In fact, we’re trying to enhance and expand lives.”

Engaging The Community

Kitagawa said that Survios has been active in the gaming and VR communities to promote Raw Data.

“There are a ton of VR meet-ups and conferences that we attend to showcase our product,” said Kitagawa. “Unlike most other games, the challenge for VR is that you have to try it to fully understand it. So, experiential and event-based marketing is extremely important for us. Getting this out to the public has been one of our top priorities.”

Hunter Kitagawa, senior product marketing manager at Survios

Outside of gaming, there are lifestyle events like SXSW and tech events, and in addition to those, Survios has been engaging with communities online, particularly on Reddit.

“One of the great things about the VR community is that it’s extremely passionate and optimistic,” Kitagawa explained. “They want to engage and feel like they’re part of the development of the game.”

The developer connects with its community through regular livestreams and Discord. Iliff went so far as to describe the community as an extension of the team, given how dedicated it is at helping to improve and promote the game.

“It feels like there’s a larger team out there that has our back and we’re sharing in the creation of this experience,” said Iliff. “They’re just as much product owners as we are.”

“These are the people who are completely buying into the dream of VR, and they need ammunition,” Kitagawa added. “They need great games, great experiences and great developers. So, we try to give as many opportunities for our community to go out and evangelize as possible.”

Survios is being ambitious with its growth strategy, going beyond the game to build a franchise. This includes Raw Data comic books and developing a video series. The company also has an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) campaign in effect, where Eden Corp has its own websites to draw fans deeper into the world of Raw Data.

“We try to put out as many dimensions of our universe as possible for our fans to get lost in, talk about and share with their friends,” said Iliff. “Building out that franchise is a big aspect of getting the word out. Having that attention to detail to a product and expanding it outside the game so that it feels more like a universe gets people excited about it on a deeper level.”

Iliff also said that the company will be looking for more franchising opportunities and cross promotions as its portfolio grows. In addition to developing its own games, Survios also publishes games from other developers in digital stores and in arcades across the globe. All of it is building the company up as a major digital enterprise.

Making A Spectacle

Although conveying VR on 2D platforms such as Twitch, YouTube and Facebook can be challenging, Kitagawa said that mixed reality is going a long way toward getting the message across. With mixed reality, influencers can place themselves inside of a virtual world and viewers can watch them and go through it in real-time. It connects the physical and virtual worlds and it could prove to be a major hardware driver.

“When non-VR users see that, things suddenly start to click for them,” said Iliff. “They realize that it’s more than just a traditional game—it’s a new generation of experience that they haven’t had yet. It primes them for seeking out the experience for themselves in stores or arcades.”

The chief strategy for Survios has been to get as much exposure as possible at events. Kitagawa recounted a time when VR demonstrations were held privately behind closed doors, bringing that aura of mystery and exclusivity that works well for traditional game and technology marketing.

“Our philosophy has always been to be inclusive and make it available to everybody,” said Kitagawa. “So, our strategy has always been around the idea of spectacle. How do we create spectacle in a public setting? We don’t want to hide the players. We want to elevate them.”

Iliff added that at events, Survios is always looking to show its content on stage, with screens on every wall, while a broadcaster talks about an ongoing competition on a loudspeaker.

“It draws a crowd and gets you excited,” said Iliff. “There’s nothing to hide and there are no secrets. That much flies in the face of what you would traditionally see at conferences such as CES, E3 or GDC, where there are big billboards on the outside but it’s actually kind of like a dungeon on the inside. We’re trying to turn that on its head and showcase everything all at once in a big spectacle, so people get excited about it.”

Making Friends

Attending events and making a big spectacle is great, but you have to get there first. Iliff said that Survios wouldn’t be as well positioned as it is today if it weren’t for partners and sponsors such as AMD and Alienware, which hosted an afterparty when Raw Data was announced in January 2016. Afterward, hardware companies such as Nvidia and Intel brought Raw Data to major conventions like GDC and PAX by integrating the game into their booth spaces.

“Getting that love and excitement from partners has been a huge boon for companies like Survios in getting products in front of more eyeballs in addition to getting a legitimacy boost from these big corporate brands,” said Iliff. “They’re putting their stamp of approval on it.”

There’s a second important support structure that complements that seal of approval from large companies, and that’s other VR game developers. For example, Kitagawa talked about an ongoing social campaign called “FreeKeyFriday,” where Survios challenged someone to play a competing game for the chance to win a Raw Data key. Then the following week, that game developer would do the same in reverse.

“We’re marrying our communities together and growing those ties,” said Kitagawa. “It’s extremely collaborative.”

Past events have included games such as Arizona Sunshine, Rec Room and The Brookhaven Experiment.

“We cross-promote with these other VR developers and we’re bringing conversions to each other while growing the community at large,” said Iliff. “It’s a scenario of ‘a rising tides raises all boats’ because we all know that we’re all in this together and we’re all believers in this technology. So, we have to support each other.”

But this cross-promotional effort goes beyond mingling different VR game communities. According to Iliff, it creates a platform for social discovery.

“Once people become VR users, they become more dedicated to it,” said Iliff. “That means, all of sudden they hop on social media and Reddit and they’re getting a whole interwoven web of discovery where all the VR developers are talking about each other’s innovations. They’re able to discover new products faster that way, and we think that’s growing the market in a healthier way than if everyone was closed off and focused only on themselves. People want to help each other right now because they want VR to succeed.”

Understanding The VR Space

Survios remains optimistic about the future of VR, despite how the technology is currently in the “trough of disillusionment” part of the hype curve. In fact, both Iliff and Kitagawa say that they’ve observed significant growth in VR within the gaming sector, with more enthusiasts looking to pick up the next high-tech gadget, more VR arcades popping up all over the world and leaders in the industry like Bethesda committing to VR.

Iliff believes that confusion among consumers may be coloring the perception of VR. That is, low-cost solutions such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard provide largely passive experiences like 360-degree videos, which are just one step up from watching them on a 2D screen. Although the low cost will attract many users, they don’t necessarily promote understanding for the deep, active experiences games like Raw Data provide on premium (and significantly more expensive) headsets.

“Active VR is where our heart is,” said Iliff, explaining how more advanced and compelling content will drive acceptance of the technology. “We put user experience above everything else. Having the best experience is going to be what drives technology and content forward.”

Hardware improvements such as becoming untethered and having a more comfortable, attractive form factor will also go a long way towards mass consumer adoption. But ultimately, it may be the VR arcades that will be most people’s first point of contact for premium VR.

“Arcades have been a big focus for our business,” said Kitagawa.

Survios observed how at events, users who take the headset off frequently want to know how they can have the experience at home. With this in mind, the developer adapted Raw Data to fit the arcade setting, complete with the call-out to pick up the full game at the end.

“Had we known that VR arcades were going to be so big, we would have built Raw Data from the ground up to function in retail and arcades,” said Kitagawa.

“That’s the best way to market,” Iliff added. “If people are already voluntarily playing your game in a public location, that’s the best way to convert them.”