Jason Rubin Discusses Franchises in VR: ‘Call of Duty in VR won’t work very well’

‘What’s the killer app for virtual reality (VR)?’ The eternal question that many believe will be resolved by social interaction, but in truth we are no closer to the answer than we were at the time of the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign four years ago. One thing we have learned however, is that there are limitations on which franchises are adaptable enough for translation into VR.

Oculus Rift - Touch

At a recent event known as Oculus Unwrapped, London, VRFocus sat down with Jason Rubin, VP of Content at Oculus VR, and discussed that exact topic. Rubin was keen to discuss his standpoint on what makes a good VR experience, and where the lines are drawn for bringing established franchises into VR for the first time.

“It makes sense for a short experience to utilise a franchise that people love. The reason for that is it’s a short experience. You ask yourself ‘do I really want to do this? Do I really want to spend time on this?’ And if you allow people to step into an intellectual property they care a lot about… makes a huge difference. If you’ve been to Comic Con and see people step into the VR activations there and be in Star Wars and be in the Marvel universe or be in these loved properties, they come out crying. They come out changed, it’s truly a different experience,” offered Rubin when discussing promotional VR experiences, such as Marvel Avengers: Tony Stark’s Lab.

“In games it’s a little different. There’s nothing wrong with the huge IP that are out there: gaming IP. They’re amazing. I made some of them; I still play all of them. I love them, but there’s something very particular about VR gaming that doesn’t necessarily translate over from 2D gaming,” stated Rubin, before continuing to explain Oculus VR’s standpoint. “So Oculus’ focus on VR games made for VR; in some cases we have grabbed intellectual property. Marvel, which is coming out [with] Marvel Powers United, that is a great intellectual property and other cases we have create the property from scratch like Lone Echo.

“We would welcome big franchises coming to VR, but we think that those franchises need to start from the ground up, building for VR as opposed to taking things that are already 2D games and moving them into VR. Now there are exceptions to what I just said, if what you’re building is a simulation of something that exists in the real world – for example a driving game or something like Elite Dangerous or EVE Valkyrie which is a simulation of a cockpit – you were always trying to build a VR game, you were just doing it through a 2D screen. So it makes sense for the steering wheel and everything else and the way that the tracks are set up to translate. Those games make complete sense.

EVE Valkyrie Screenshot

“But if you’re taking a third person character action game let’s say, or you’re even taking a first person character action game… the way that you build those titles and the things you do in those titles are a rule set that’s been developed over decades in the game industry. We don’t think about it, but it’s actually a language we use to speak to the gamer, they’re very fixed. You can’t translate that language into VR very easily. If you take a Call of Duty and just put it in VR it won’t work very well. People won’t feel comfortable with the locomotion. It just doesn’t work.”

Rubin then goes on to explain what the benefits of creating new franchises for VR are. Using an example from his own past, Crash Bandicoot, Rubin explains that videogames are often tied to the platform they’re developed for and it’s no different when developing for VR.

“So we believe the right way to bring VR forward is to build things from the ground up for VR. Again that doesn’t mean that great IP can’t come over, but our focus has been building from titles that didn’t exist, IP that didn’t exist, things that make sense and bringing it forward. Sometimes people don’t understand how specific an IP is to the hardware it’s been made for. Crash Bandicoot, which I developed twenty some odd years ago, was orange because we only had so many colours to use on the screen; we only had so many shapes to use on the screen; the size of his eyes, his giant mouth, was because we only had so many pixels on the screen. He had black gloves because we couldn’t create enough polygons and the shading was so bad that when his orange hand went across his orange body as he was walking, we would loose track of it so we put the black gloves on, so you could track his hands. Every detail of that game was made for the hardware it was built on.

“Move forward into VR. You can’t just take Crash Bandicoot throw it onto VR and create success. So we expect for our games, for our longer properties for it to be something built from the ground up for VR.”

At the Oculus Unwrapped event VRFocus recorded an extensive interview with Rubin, and will deliver the full video later this week.