John Carmack reveals the formula for Beat Saber's success

John Carmack reveals the formula for Beat Saber's success

It's no coincidence that Beat Saber is the most successful VR game, says John Carmack. And he explains what makes it so successful.

Beat Saber has sold more than four million copies since its release in May 2018, and the VR game has turned over $100 million on the Quest platform alone. Those are impressive numbers, dwarfing any other VR title and prompting Meta to buy the Czech studio in 2019. Currently, Meta Quest 2 is even sold in a bundle with Beat Saber.

No one had foreseen that the VR game would become so successful. Not even co-developer Ján Ilavský himself, whom I met in San Francisco shortly before the launch.

Doom creator, former Oculus tech chief, and Beat Saber fan John Carmack talks about the VR game in a five-hour podcast marathon, explaining the factors he believes contributed to the title's fabulous success.

Beat Saber circumvents VR weaknesses

Host Lex Fridman asks Carmack why "silly fun games" in particular have been so successful in the new medium. "It's not just that it was a magical, quirky idea. It was something that played almost perfectly to what turned out to be the real strengths of VR," Carmack says.

One of the things the programmer is referring to is the way Beat Saber uses the VR controllers. In VR, many hand interactions would feel unnatural, such as having to press buttons to pick up a virtual object. Tabletops and other objects offer no physical resistance, which also destroys the illusion.

"Beat Saber winds up playing only to the strengths. It completely hides all the weaknesses because you are holding something in your hand, and you keep a solid grip on it the whole time. It slices through things without ever bumping into things," Carmack says. "You got something that slices through, it's never your brain telling you, you should have hit something. You got a lightsaber here, you expect it to slice through everything."


Carmack calls Beat Saber gameplay "a perfect storm"

Other success factors, he says, lie in the immersive power of the music and the fact that Beat Saber runs on relatively low-powered hardware. The title also offers a satisfying gameplay loop that takes little time to complete, he said.

Modern games eat up an enormous amount of time and often require artificial locomotion: both are suboptimal for virtual reality, as VR headsets are still uncomfortable and can lead to nausea when artificially moved.

In Beat Saber, you stand in place and everything comes at you. There's also the fitness aspect. An hour of Beat Saber or Supernatural is legit solid exercise, and it's more fun than doing it in any other way there."

Beat Saber, Carmack concludes, is a" perfect storm of all these things that are really good."