VR fatigue after great first title – studio head explains VR exit
Song in the Smoke is one of the best VR games of last year. That alone is no reason for the studio to continue with VR.
Japanese indie studio 17-Bit made a name for itself with 2D games Skulls of the Shogun and Galak-Z. The third project, the survival game Song in the Smoke, was the studio’s most ambitious project so far because of its 3D game world and the first foray into virtual reality.
Song in the Smoke fills a gap in the VR market and is considered one of the best titles of 2021, but it still hasn’t been a big seller. In an interview with Gamesindustry, studio founder and CEO Jake Kazdal is disillusioned. The VR market is small and difficult, and success is unpredictable.
“VR games are a shot in the dark. The dumbest, simplest, weirdest thing can become the next big hit and the most polished, awesome, highly regarded indie title a flop. I don’t see the logic behind it,” Kazdal says. Developer Rune Johansen would probably agree with him. His VR game Eye of the Temple suffered a similar fate in 2021.
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Without financial support from Sony and Meta, the studio probably wouldn’t have taken the risk. “You’re looking for the next gold rush? Then you’d better look elsewhere,” says the studio boss.
Development has been anything but easy. Song in the Smoke, he says, was the most challenging project of his 25-year video game career, of which Pandemic had played its part. “VR, new medium, remote work, a lack of exchange with consumers… It was a punch in the gut across the board and from day one.”
Kazdal wanted to tackle a VR project because he had long been intrigued by the possibilities of the medium. He couldn’t believe how long virtual reality takes to get off the ground, he said. “VR is breathtaking, and I was surprised it didn’t take the world by storm.”
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17-Bit: No more VR projects for now
Despite his current disappointment, Kazdal is a firm believer in the future of the technology. “It’s just too much better to not take it seriously. I think cell phones and laptops will be superseded. In the next decade, everything will shift to mixed reality, undoubtedly,” says the studio founder.
Despite the enthusiasm, 17-Bit will not continue to participate in this development for now. “I don’t think we’ll get back into VR in the short term,” Kazdal says. “There’s a certain amount of VR fatigue in the studio.”
He points to recurring technical problems and having to constantly switch between VR goggles and monitors. The next project will be something entirely new again, he says.
“I want to explore different genres and dive deep into these different types of games that I’ve been playing and loving since I was a kid,” Kazdal says.