What are current VR trends, challenges, and perspectives? What are the limits of this cutting-edge technology, is it only suitable for gaming, and can it become a tool that finally unites the whole world. I've discussed these and many other questions to Vasily Petrenko, co-founder and CEO of Another World VR, to elaborate on the current state of Metaverse and its future.
First, let’s talk about the current state of VR and metaverse. What are the main pathways for technology to emerge?
People are really interested in VR; Oculus Quest sells millions of units. I think the fact that people are after new experiences is amazing. However, I always point out that this is a portable, ‘home’ solution that doesn’t provide deep immersion, though it definitely diversifies people’s free time.
My team and I are huge supporters of the free-roam concept, which is impossible to implement in a home environment. It is the same as comparing movies at home and going to a theater or working out at home VS at a fully equipped gym. That is to say, this technology lifts limitations on VR that exist in living conditions. Free-roam is the solution when players are not limited by wires and can explore the whole gaming arena. All players are in the same virtual environment, interacting with each other. This is what we are working on now.
One of the primary directions of the free-roam concept is scenario-based games, where players do certain things in certain locations and follow a storyline to get to the final. It is like virtual reality with movie elements.
Another major direction is competitive VR gaming, with teams fighting against each other. Actually, it shows signs of cybersport with possible broadcasting of games or championships.
Does the Metaverse corner the VR Games market? What will happen to VR games if the Metaverse becomes true? And really, how do you estimate the actual possibility of it becoming true?
You could say that we create the Metaverse without using the word :) In my view, uniting different locations around the world, different cities, in one virtual reality is exactly creating a universe, isn’t it?
Our focal area is definitely games, but we also develop ideas about working on educational content in VR. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if kids could explore space by looking at it in VR and then interacting with objects there somehow, say, putting planets in order?
We could create a Metaverse with access not just to entertainment, but also to learning. For people from all over the world!
Following our expansive business model, we are looking forward to opening 1k, 2k and more locations with our partners, where people can do all kinds of stuff!
Our big idea is to unite the world through our solutions, and there are definitely a lot of interesting things coming.
How did you come to this concept, what is your personal story in the VR industry?
Well, in 2014, my business partner and I launched our first business. Back then, we were catching the wave and building escape rooms, these mini-versions of Disneyland for adults. In a couple of years, we have had more than 300 locations opened around the world: the US, Europe, Australia, India and more.
With a constant desire to be something more for our partners and the market in general, we started thinking about how to bring our business to the next level. In 2016 VR entered our view, and at the start, we tried to implement existing technologies and solutions. To be honest, we were not excited about them. Five minutes of adventure in a VR room in a shopping mall and having drastic nausea and headache for two hours afterwards wasn’t something we wanted for people.
Here came our savior – a free-roam technology that synchronizes movements in space and in virtual reality, so that players can move on the location and their movements fully coincide with the movements of their virtual avatar. The coolest thing is that free-roam doesn’t have that side effect of physical discomfort that VR attractions have. Users can play for an hour and more, enjoying their experience.
Sounds great! How did it come into business?
So, with our free-roam demo product, we went to present it at a conference in the US. Two people were so impressed that they were ready to purchase a license for our game even though we didn’t have a game itself at that moment!
We got super-excited, and it took us some four months and two developers to make what many other companies do for years in big teams.
This was our first game. Businesses started buying it for their existing escape rooms as well as building separate locations for our games.
What is so special about your multiplayer concept? What are your special features among other industry players?
First and foremost, we’ve made it possible to organize team games with a big number of people simultaneously playing. It is a new level of immersion and gaming experience: there is a difference between teams consisting of two people and six people at a time. Moreover, it allows our partners to significantly increase the number of visitors and their profit.
The first game we ever made was a zombie shooter for a maximum of four players who fought against their common enemy. Then we decided to spicy things up and make the gaming experience more captivating, which for us meant adding more participants to the game.
At the same time, technologies are evolving.
Initially, every player had to wear a heavy backpack with a computer, which made free moves more difficult and the experience less enjoyable. However, the biggest problem was that this setup hindered an increase in the number of players. Then a new VR headset came out, and we were able to raise the number to 8-10 participants! We designed a technological solution to using headsets without equipment behind players’ shoulders, and with each gaming computer costing $1-2K, we at the same time saved our partners some $20k in costs per game, which also gave us the upper hand on the market.
What do you consider to be the most promising design work of your company?
One of my favorite things about what we do in Another World is that we have found a way to massively augment physical reality virtually. In one of our games, players are divided into two teams virtually taking two towers, each of those having three floors. In reality, we have one big room, but in virtual reality, this one room becomes six spaces! Because inside the game, players can use the elevator, which creates a sense of moving between floors. The virtual world expands the real one.
Of course, this trick provides a significant benefit for our partners as they don’t need to build vast locations.
Talking of which, 14 players is a lot. In order to keep our business profitable for our partners, and cutting-edge for their visitors, our utmost goal is to consider the interests of all parties. That is why, in general, we use 1600-2000 ft rooms. However, we are totally up to setting up bigger locations if that’s what our partner is capable of!
Another thing I want to mention is that now we are also working hard on developing the game concept where one team in one VR arena fights the team in another. Soon, it will allow us to set up championships, for example, between different cities or even countries, with teams up to 14 players (as for now!) playing against one another.
It is an opportunity to double the number of players and to connect two geographical locations in one shared virtual universe! Technically, we are very close to it, it just takes designing bigger maps, which is one or two months for us.
Did you have to sacrifice anything in terms of game quality?
The major difficulty, of course, was that the heavy individual computers served for processing all the data, and VR headsets are obviously not so powerful. We worked on software optimization so that it worked without lagging – you surely need to be sure that everything works perfectly during free-roam games.
We actually developed our own thing to make it possible for 10 players, and now up to 14, to participate in a game. The best news is that even though we made some technological changes in the software, we didn’t lose out on the game quality.
Let’s talk about the future: how do you plan to compete with other players in this market, and how it may evolve in the near future?
There are companies that jumped into free-roam VR gaming in its early days, years 2012-2013. The number of players they could afford was very limited, and the cost of such games was really high due to the equipment used, like the Optitrack optical positioning system. The thing is, some of our competitors actually still use this technology, being kind of stuck with it. They still put heavy computers behind the back of each player, and the number of players still stays small, etc.
We, in turn, are always on the lookout for ways to make free-roam VR entertainment available and affordable for as many people as possible. For example, we know that in the US, people love playing in big teams, having private parties and corporate events in VR amusement parks, so we work to make that happen in the best way possible. And this is the future of the whole Metaverse industry!