“We’re building 3 full VR games, not experiments”- Valve

Given they’re at the forefront of virtual reality tech, it’s kind of odd that Valve don’t have a full-fat VR game to boast of themselves. We’ve had a few experiments, most notably minigame collection The Lab and armchair tourism app Destinations, but nothing that really justifies spending hours and hours and hours in your gogglebox of choice. Well, that’s going to change, as Gabe Newell hisself has confirmed that no less than three “full” VR games are in development. He’s also bullish that the technology, though it would seem to be no runaway commercial success as yet, is bound for great things.

“It feels like we’ve been stuck with mouse and keyboard for a reeeaaally long time,” said Newell in studio visit attended by Eurogamer, amongst others, “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.”

Of the games Valve are making, Newell said that “Right now we’re building three VR games. When I say we’re building three games, we’re building three full games, not experiments.” So whatever they are, they won’t be shorties you play once then only bust out again when you want to justify your expensive hardware to a bemused visiting relative.

The Lab

It seems that straight VR adaptations of or sequels to existing Valve titles is not the plan, mind you. “VR is not going to be a success at all if people are just taking existing content and putting it into a VR space. One of the first things we did is we got Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress running in VR, and it was kind of a novelty. That was purely a developer milestone, but there was absolutely nothing compelling about it, the same way nobody’s going to buy a VR system so they can watch movies.”

I half-agree – in my own attempts at playing traditional games in VR, with the likes of VorpX or even just giant virtual screen apps, the awe factor has soon worn off, to be replaced with discomfort, and so I return to my monitor instead.

However, there really haven’t been many trad. games specifically made with VR in mind, so as yet we all remain somewhat in the dark about what the experience may be like, as well as often feeling disappointed by the minigamey or hands-off nature of the dedicated VR games we do get. The notable exception to this is Resident Evil 7 on PlayStation VR, which has been extremely well-received – sadly exclusivity agreements keep it from PC, for now at least. It suggests that there is a capability for this stuff, but few big studios are truly exploring it.

Newell, though, seems to be maintaining an argument I heard Valve’s Chet Faliszek espouse at Rezzed a couple of years ago, which was that no-one really knew what VR gaming would become – that the right sorts of games have yet to be created. Hopefully, maybe, Valve have come up with solid concepts for said right sorts of games, and it’s that which we’ll see in this mysterious trio of titles.

He does note that developing for specific hardware is one of the reasons that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto has had such a solid, inventive run of Mario, Zelda and other titles on multiple generations of hardware. “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.”

Destinations

However, here’s something I flat-out disagree with. “If you took the existing VR systems and made them 80 per cent cheaper there’s still not a huge market, right? There’s still not an incredibly compelling reason for people to spend 20 hours a day in VR. 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.”

Says the architect of an online store that’s increasingly notorious for declining prices and deep discounts, but that’s not what I disagree with. 80% cheaper? You do that and a shedload of people are going to be pick up the hardware, won’t feel so strongly that the software currently available doesn’t justify the cost, and then you have a big audience that is absolutely going to leap on and evangelise about whatever actually cool thing is Valve’s on about. Right now, what we’ve got is a market turning increasingly sour about VR, and, no matter how cool the thing is, a whole bunch of people who need far more convincing than ever before. We’ve heard this one before, right? Fool me once, shame on me, etc…

But hell, he’s the billionaire and I’m not, so maybe he does know best. It’s just that it feels as though VR has stumbled badly once already, and probably can’t bear that happening a second time. Newell does promise that major advances in VR resolution are happening, which is going to help with the image quality side of things.

Goggles

“We’re actually going to go from this weird position where VR right now is kind of low-res, to being in a place where VR is actually higher res than just about anything else, with much higher refresh rates than you’re going to see on either desktops or phones. You’ll actually see the VR industry sort of leapfrogging pretty much any other display technology in terms of those characteristics. It’s probably not obvious from the first generation of products, but you’ll start to see that happening like in 2018-2019.”

Great, but it depends whether that is based on a belief that we’ll all have suitably powerful graphics cards to fuel 4K or higher graphics by that point, or whether, as some predict, VR software will be able to move further away from essentially having to render each frame twice (on per eye) and can find some trickery to make it all a lot less demanding. And, of course, there’s the comfort issue too. Still, it’s good to see Valve aren’t abandoning VR based on a somewhat messy first generation – let’s hope they can really pull it off second time around.

More Newell comments, including why they got involved in hardware as well as software and how he has got it wrong about Nintendo systems in the past, over at Eurogamer.

57 Comments

  1. ColonelFlanders says:

    Three?

  2. milligna says:

    Every time one of these bits pop up it underlines how desperately RPS needs a writer to focus on VR, who knows what he or she is talking about and can go toe to toe with Gabe’s musings without sounding hopeless or relying on the same few jokes.

    • slerbal says:

      I disagree – I think the RPS team is doing a great job of covering VR for people like me.

    • Fiatil says:

      There’s a ton to be said about timing a release to maximize hype that Alec is completely ignoring with his “reduce the cost 80%” line. It really is recycling the same few quips over and over in this stuff — it makes sense to have a more mature software library before aiming to have this stuff reach full mainstream adoption. It uhh, is also pretty expensive to produce currently as well.

      The RPS hivemind is what made me hyped for VR. The authors breathlessly described their early experiences with the Rift and Vive and made it out to be a life changing experience. Then, the $600 Oculus price was announced. On a dime, the coverage became incredibly pessimistic. Almost every article written since has set the bar for success of these headsets to be what is essentially mass market appeal. No one at Oculus, Valve, or HTC has set that same bar. Prior to release, all of the companies specifically said that they expect the first gen headsets with their current pricing structure, system requirements, and software library to be aimed at an early adopter enthusiast market.

      I’ve watched RPS build an incredible hype bubble, set unrealistic expectations that the companies behind the headsets never espoused themselves, and then come down on them for not meeting their own fabricated and astronomical projections.

      It’s really weird! I absolutely understand not buying a VR headset because you think they are too expensive, or just aren’t interested. It makes much less sense to declare them suddenly less fun because you saw the sticker price on the thing you were just enjoying.

      • Premium User Badge

        Andy_Panthro says:

        I’ve never felt like RPS hyped one second then reversed the next. Those that have tried VR have given positive views on the experience, but they have to acknowledge that for most people at this stage it is a very expensive bit of kit for a very limited amount of games.

        For the VR industry to flourish (which a number of big companies want it to do), it has to become easier for larger amounts of people to afford to use. Otherwise you may have a problem where there are just not enough early adopters to keep the niche afloat until it’s more affordable for a larger group of people.

        • Cinek says:

          VR is already accessible to millions. Through mobile VR. And as you expect: It’s shit. If you want something that will give you a quality experience you have to pay up. That’s the brutal truth. Still it’s within reach of a normal, employed people like me, so here I am – enjoying the crap out of my Vive.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        I would love it and could afford it yet I don’t think it’s worth the admission fee now for the few 0,5 hour tech demos around.
        Same as having a sports car would be nice but highways are crowded with slow vehicles anyway.
        Make me VR next Elder Scrolls with several hundred hours playtime then we’ll talk. By that time you’d also need to buy next gen. VR gear.

      • Unclepauly says:

        “No one at Oculus, Valve, or HTC has set that same bar.”

        Yes they did. That guy at Oculus (I forget his name right this moment) gave an estimated price of 300 USD around a year/year and a half before release.

    • CaptainKoloth says:

      “Every time one of these bits pop up it underlines how desperately RPS needs a writer to focus on VR, who knows what he or she is talking about and can go toe to toe with Gabe’s musings without sounding hopeless or relying on the same few jokes.”

      Could not agree more strongly.

      “I’ve watched RPS build an incredible hype bubble, set unrealistic expectations that the companies behind the headsets never espoused themselves, and then come down on them for not meeting their own fabricated and astronomical projections..”

      Seconded as well.

  3. Shazbut says:

    I agree with Gabe. I can’t see a benefit to rolling out your product at a fifth of the cost if your product has yet to find a real selling point. Valve aren’t looking for people to maintain excitement about a piece of plastic in their house that they hope will one day be useful. The moment the good software is there, if it ever happens, then everyone will come running.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      All about them killer apps, baby

      • snv says:

        I just did about 9 Hours of Elite Dangerous with my Rift. I disagree with all this negativity towards current gen VR.

        Sure lower price would be better, sure higher res would be nice and sure it would be good if the thing would be lighter. Still it’s worth the experience at the bottomline.

        • Shazbut says:

          Good to know. I’m sort of under the assumption that people are rarely on it for more than 20 minutes at a time.

          • DoomBroom says:

            I have played a ton of Minecraft with the Vivecraft mod in VR. It’s so damned fun. I’m on this MMO server and oh my gosh the amazing things I have seen and done! It’s a new dimension in VR. You can easy switch between teleport locomotion or the free move that most traditional games use! It supports both Rift and Vive.
            link to vivecraft.org

            Also I will give a shout out to the multiplayer social game Rec Room. Super fun game and awesome developers. link to store.steampowered.com

            Those are just two of my favorites in VR. There’s content enough alright if you look around. The Indies are doing a good job holding the fort until the big AAA titles are coming. Bethesda and Valve! :D

            Oh and another thing, people are half the fun with VR. It’s so compelling to interact with another person in VR. It brings the hole world to your living room. No other tech can do that like VR.

        • CaptainKoloth says:

          I just did about 9 Hours of Elite Dangerous with my Rift. I disagree with all this negativity towards current gen VR.

          Sure lower price would be better, sure higher res would be nice and sure it would be good if the thing would be lighter. Still it’s worth the experience at the bottomline.

          I’ve had the exactly the experience with E:D. From all the coverage you’d think VR is something billionaires with trust funds did for 3 seconds at a time to impress relatives before recoiling in dizziness and vomit because it made them so sick, but that it wouldn’t matter because none of the content lasts more than 2. Sadly I’m only about a billionth of the way toward being a billionaire, but I have a Rift and have spent many, many hours at a time literally in awe of the beautiful graphics of Elite:Dangerous. Never once have I gotten sick. I’m not saying this will be everyone’s experience or that everyone will like Elite, but there’s definitely more reactions than those the press would lead you to think everyone has to VR.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Them killer apps are already here. They’re called flight simulators, and related cockpit space games like Elite:D.

        VR is now supported in all the major civilian flight sims and DCS combat sims. Flight sim fans have been waiting for this for years.

        It’s too small a niche market to support the development of low-cost and high-res VR. But we’ll happily take a ride on general gaming, if enough good VR games can be developed.

  4. ThePuzzler says:

    You guys know it’s only a thought experiment, right? Reducing VR costs by 80% at this point would mean they lost hundreds of dollars for every unit shipped. The more sales went up, the faster it would bankrupt them.

    • Titler says:

      Except… taking a loss on hardware to recoup it and more on software was the standard model of console gaming for quite some time; the problem VR has is that the software isn’t really there yet, and possibly not even the hardware for many when it comes to issues of nausea.
      However one of the advantages is that some of the required hardware, in the form of the kind of PC required to run it, is only going to become more and more common; either from people simply upgrading, or hardware requirements coming down. So unlike a console, where people might skip a generation, there’s a natural tendency towards owning some of the hardware regardless on PC. Probably not enough to offset the lack of killer apps yet… but as the Nintendo Switch has shown, get the brand loyalty right and there will be enough of an audience to ignore the lack of an essential launch line up. VR needs to work the loyalty first then.

      • Dave L. says:

        Except… Consoles are closed platforms and the platform holders made their money back by both charging an arm and a leg to developers to lease devkits, and charging AGAIN to submit and release each title.

        • Titler says:

          Which Occulus was indeed experimenting with. And could do so again. So your point is…?

          • Dave L. says:

            That Valve is explicitly against making VR a closed platform?

            That Oculus is the lowest selling of the current consumer crop of VR headsets?

            That Oculus doesn’t sell headsets at a loss, doesn’t lease headsets for thousands of dollars to devs, and doesn’t charge for certification of apps and games on the Oculus stores, and thus doesn’t actually make their money back that way?

            What’s YOUR point might be the better question.

          • Unclepauly says:

            Everything Dave L. said with a topkek to boot.

      • eqzitara says:

        So lets do the math on this.

        $200 off a vr console out of manufacturers pocket.
        Lets say they somehow make $10 per game sold. They need to sell 20 games. Thats ridiculous, even average playstation user doesnt buy 20 games in life cycle.

        That said people are already saying I won’t pay blah blah for a tech demo. Adding $10 to each game is just going to piss off developers. Valve is down right telling developers if you make a VR ONLY GAME it probably won’t be profitable.

        No won’t work.

    • montfalcon says:

      I understood his comments to mean bringing the cost down by 80% generally, for both manufacturing and retail, not simply the retail price. I don’t think anyone is expecting or demanding Valve make ~€500 loss on each Vive sold.

      I also disagree with his logic, I think with a refinement of production processes, continually falling component costs, as well as increasing computing and graphics power across PCs generally, I feel like ‘affordable’, not ‘enthusiast’ VR gear would totally continue the momentum of the VR market.

      As a student, I considered early adoption. Instead I am waiting for equipment to come down to a place where a Vive or Rift or equivalent won’t cost two month’s rent.

  5. golem09 says:

    So they’re making HL1 remake, HL2 remake and Ricochet remake?

  6. Saiko Kila says:

    This VR thing may be a bit dangerous thing to invest in, so I understand it. Just look what has happened to 3D TVs. They are practically dead (well, zombies). And it isn’t only because of the perceived discomfort of the glasses, the root causes are deeper… This may as well happen to the Virtual Reality, with current technology.

    • grimdanfango says:

      VR has nothing to do with 3DTVs… 3DTV, and 3D cinema in general, has been pushed so relentlessly for one reason alone – to justify hiking up cinema ticket prices, and to create another meaningless gimmick to differentiate one generation of otherwise-identical TV sets from another, and thus convince people there was some technological advancement worth buying into when there wasn’t.

      VR actually *is* something revolutionary… which really has had massive amounts of R&D put into it. It’s in no way a meaningless tweak on what you’ve already experienced.

      It may yet have trouble reaching mass market appeal, but unlike 3DTV, it won’t be because of total market apathy even from those who have tried it.

      • Dave L. says:

        One of the big things that killed 3DTV in the early going was actually exclusives. The only way to get the 3D blu-ray of Avatar was to buy a Sony 3DTV. The only way to get 3D blu-rays of any of Dreamworks animated movies was to buy a Samsung 3DTV AND a bundle of four non-rechargeable active glasses, which cost (iirc) an additional $300 on top of the price of the TV.

        Add in that there was no cross-compatibility between brands on the glasses, and it was just a giant clusterfuck that made adoption too much of a hassle for most.

        Annoyingly, LG’s 4K 3DTVs with passive glasses are AMAZING, but they’ve dropped 3D from all their 2017 models.

        • Unclepauly says:

          If you are talking about the passive on the OLED’s yes it’s amazing. They finally got it completely perfect but it was too late, sad really.

    • Premium User Badge

      BlueTemplar says:

      Indeed, I’m happy that I couldn’t afford the expensive 120 Hz monitor, Nvidia graphic card and 3D Vision glasses that were at the bleeding edge around 2010 :
      link to rockpapershotgun.com
      (I even thought about buying only a motherboard with an integrated graphic card first, then a proper graphic card later, when I could afford it, and to combine their processing power using Hybrid SLI – which was pretty much abandoned too.)

      And that experience is why I didn’t jump on the Oculus dev kit bandwagon – though after trying it, I feel that VR is something that *will* be worth the cost in the near future.

      Ironically, with large, cheap, “4k” screens, stereoscopic glass-free 3D would probably be today cheap and good enough to be included as a feature (if not on PC’s then on the larger TV’s and projectors) – if there wasn’t a stigma attached to it due to its failure a few years ago (which directly relates to Gabe Newell’s comment about having a good enough experience before mass marketing something). It would probably return again in 30 years (like it does since the 1890’s), but I’d expect that at this point VR and AR would leave no spot left for it except niche uses.

    • Cinek says:

      Oh come one, you can do better than BS with 3D TVs here.

  7. grimdanfango says:

    You do that and a shedload of people are going to be pick up the hardware, won’t feel so strongly that the software currently available doesn’t justify the cost, and then you have a big audience that is absolutely going to leap on and evangelise about whatever actually cool thing is Valve’s on about.

    Nonsense… that’s not how the gaming community works. This is the internet we’re talking about.
    If they cut the cost by 80%… a shedload of people will indeed pick up the hardware, and then a shedload of people will endlessly complain and proclaim the death of VR before it’s even started, just the same as people do now.

    He’s absolutely right… they need to develop the medium first, and think about the economy of the medium second. For some reason everyone’s hellbent on this idea that VR *needs* to be a massive runaway financial success from day 1, and never put a foot wrong on its way there, in order to be a long-term success.

    In order to be a long term success, VR needs to tinker and faff and try a thousand half-baked ideas. One day, the VR equivalent of Minecraft will pop out of nowhere – the total anomaly nobody could have seen coming – and then all bets are off.

    • frenchy2k1 says:

      I agree.
      If you want an example of a technology that was cheap enough to be mass market, exploded through word of mouth and is now collecting dust, look no further than the Wii. It was cool and fun, demoed itself through friends and exploded through word of mouth, but without the library, boredom settled in quite fast. Or just limited application.
      (thw wii was a wii sport machine for a lot of people)

      • gunny1993 says:

        I thought the wii was a massive success, wasn’t it the wiiu that flopped after launch?

        • Dave L. says:

          It was a massive success for Nintendo, but for the overwhelming majority of people who bought it, it was the ‘Wii Sports’ box and nothing else. And that stigma carried forward into the WiiU and was a big part of why the WiiU failed.

          Also a big part of why it was so successful for Nintendo was that, even as cheap as it was, they were selling the hardware at a profit from day one.

    • alms says:

      My thoughts exactly. What he’s saying is NOT that the goggles are not going to sell if they cut the price, because that’s obvious.

      He’s rather saying they need to have a system seller/killer app, which seems pretty reasonable.

      After all, who would be using Steam today without Half-Life 2?

      • Nilsor says:

        Everybody! Steams success is based on being able to roll out auto-updates for everybody playing counterstrike 1.6.

  8. haldolium says:

    So […]”once you’ve got something and you can say okay, this is the thing that causes millions of people to be excited about it, then you start worrying about cost-reducing.”

    That means after Valve (?) launches their major VR titles (??) the ridiculous price range of 500-900€ will be “cost reduced” to ???€

    Seriously. This premise and idea behind it seems ridiculous. Not only will VR inherritly remain constraint, but furthermore do I not see a price drop that will convince the mass market to take a look into it.

    I also think that in due time, AR will succeed and I personally think AR is by FAR more interesting as VR ever was.

    • CaptainKoloth says:

      “I also think that in due time, AR will succeed and I personally think AR is by FAR more interesting as VR ever was.”

      I hear this a lot. I’m convinced the instant HoloLens drops on the market the internet will be flooded with complaints about how crappy it is, but technology x, that’s what’s really going to be cool next!

      • snv says:

        I can see a lot of usefulness of AR for many work scenarios, but for the escapism of entertainment i do not understand why people think AR could be better than VR.

        Especially the mentioned hololens has shitty specs compared to a VR setup and costs much more.

    • Unclepauly says:

      A large amount of people play games to put themselves in another world, which is the strength of VR. AR does seem interesting for a lot of uses like another poster said but gaming doesn’t seem like its strong suit.

  9. racccoon says:

    Good idea Valve make people more blinded.

  10. wyrm4701 says:

    I can’t shake the feeling that Valve has gone from creating genre-defining blockbusters to producing arthouse experiments raved about in footnotes by technology historians.

  11. GenericJohnDoe says:

    Well, people are waiting for Full Dive VR, and VR-Googles can not deliver this.

  12. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Well I think Gabe has more or less the right idea. The technology just isn’t well suited to the kinds of experiences people thought it would be, so you have to find an experience that is. If they pull it off, VR could be more than an expensive boondoggle in the near future.

    Personally though, I think the whole implementation is flawed this time around. What are the biggest problems with VR? That it isn’t immersive enough? That it doesn’t have enough graphical fidelity? No. The problem is that it is uncomfortable and expensive. Frame rates need to be high, and head tracking needs to be incredibly responsive not to cause discomfort. So why did all the VR companies put so much effort into high-resolution screens and require horrifically powerful GPUs?

    Personally, I think they would have been better off if they’d focused on making the thing render fast and track your head responsively. If it means we’re back in the era of low-poly 320×240 to make that happen, I think it still could have worked. No, you couldn’t pretend to watch a movie on a 10′ screen with it, but it turns out people don’t really like doing that anyway.

    Then again, I’m not a billionaire either.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      That it doesn’t have enough graphical fidelity?

      Well, it doesn’t, and this seriously limits the usefulness of the technology.

      • Premium User Badge

        BlueTemplar says:

        I don’t think that (unlike comfort and responsitivity) graphical fidelity has a lot of importance outside of the “PC gaming” market (and it’s this outside market that needs convincing the most). Otherwise Nintendo would have disappeared long ago.

        • Unclepauly says:

          If the wii would have failed and wasn’t a freak success Nintendo yeah they’d be gone. Graphics are a very big reason why people rush out and buy new consoles, it’s in no way just a PC gaming thing. Look at all the console fanboy wars and youtube video comparisons for proof. Graphics are also a big reason why PC gaming has grown so much, console kids are jealous of our shinies.

    • Cinek says:

      The technology just isn’t well suited to the kinds of experiences people thought it would be

      Like what? Cause it’s well suited for everything I thought it’d be.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Horrifically powerful GPU’s? Can’t you buy an nvidia 970 for like 150 USD now? That’s the baseline iirc and considered low/mid range.