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What's the Killer App for VR? Maybe Not Games, Oculus Developers Say.

"VR still has the reputation of, you have something on your face and it's ugly and you look stupid, but ..."


It’s a huge year for games, with tech giants dropping billions on Mojang, Twitch and Oculus VR.

But at Oculus Connect in Los Angeles, the company’s first developer conference, the consensus is that while virtual reality games will be fun, they probably won’t be the content that convinces average consumers to try VR. Instead, developers here say, the lure will be social and media experiences, and games will come later for most users.

The mainstream-crossover question is a salient one, as Oculus is expected today to lay out its roadmap for getting the Oculus Rift headset on consumers’ heads. As co-founder Palmer Luckey told conference attendees at a welcome reception, the company is counting on the developers in attendance to fill its app store.

“Without content, nobody would be interested in this whole virtual reality thing,” Luckey said.

Multiple developers at Oculus Connect pointed to the already-announced Samsung Gear VR, a mobile virtual reality headset developed with Oculus, as an indicator of the future.

“It’s the mobile experiences,” said Otherworld Interactive co-founder Robyn Gray. “You can download from the store, which you already do every day. It’s just like with mobile games, when people were like, ‘I’m not a gamer,’ and then you’re like, ‘Well what about Bejeweled? What about FarmVille?'”

Alchemy creative director Phil Harper agreed that mobile has already taught consumers how to spread a killer app around once it emerges.

“People already understand how to share an application,” he said. “Those moments where people gather around someone who has a Gear VR headset and someone says, ‘Look at this!’ It’s going to create those ‘you have to check this out’ moments, and the easier it is to get involved in those moments, the better.”

One of the most buzzed-about VR experiences at E3 this year was, in fact, not made for the most casual audience. It was a (I’m unanimously told) terrifying VR slice of the upcoming horror game Alien: Isolation, based on Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 film and developed by English studio The Creative Assembly; despite the hype around that experience, TCA programmer Sam Birley volunteered the first Oculus hit might be something completely different.

“I’m not really sure what the killer app is, yet,” Birley said. “I don’t think it necessarily has to be games. Social interaction is a massive draw to VR. Hypothetically, say they had some form of gaze tracking in the Rift. Being able to form eye contact in VR would be so powerful.”

Game developer Olivier Terrassier Jansem said he did expect a “killer app” game to succeed on Oculus early on, but agreed that the content will need to be accessible enough for VR skeptics to give it a try, as they might have with the dead-simple Wii Sports for Nintendo’s Wii console in 2006.

“VR still has the reputation of, you have something on your face and it’s ugly and you look stupid, but it’s really something people need to try,” he said. “When they try it, it’ll be like what happened with the Wii.”

There was no Wii bowling at the Oculus shindig, but the night did fittingly conclude with real bowling. To celebrate his birthday, Luckey led a small parade of Oculus employees, developers and conference attendees to the nearby Lucky Strike Hollywood.

Luckey declined to answer the “killer app” question directly because he “[doesn’t] play kingmaker with apps” — as co-founder, he said, naming any particular games or apps would carry inordinate weight, and would unfairly punish unannounced apps that were still under wraps. Asked more generally about games versus social as different categories of apps, he said that may be the wrong way of thinking about it.

“Games and social are largely becoming indistinguishable,” he said, gesturing to the bowling alley behind him. “This — this is a social thing for people. It’s also a game.”

This article originally appeared on

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