One of the biggest arguments against VR has always been a lack of content, in an effort to combat this and to help the VR community grow faster and become more attractive to potential users, Valve have allowed VR devs to completely bypass the Greenlight process (the process by which indie devs upload their game, and if the reaction from the community is positive enough they can take it onto Steam) meaning practically anyone can upload a VR game to Steam right now. So have Valve solved the content issue by allowing the community to provide its own content?
Overall I am a huge fan of the idea that the VR community is very much so in their own hands, in that if they don’t make content there simply won’t be content for the most part, as I feel this brings out the best in aspiring developers and can uncover a wealth of talent that would have likely faded into obscurity if they had attempted to compete in the standard/flat games market. I have always been a big admirer of the indie game market, with most of the (non-Nintendo) games I hold dear actually being developed by small studios, so when it comes to VR I may be slightly more forgiving than someone who comes straight from playing Battlefield One expecting the same level of polish, voice work and writing of a AAA title. So do I believe Valve have made the right choice in allowing VR devs to bypass their community verification process? Yes and no.
There has been some great releases from ‘indie’ devs for VR, with a lot of them having extremely small team (1-4 people) and given this is the case, the general standard of content is actually rather good. However; as the saying goes, “give them an inch and they will take a mile”. If you regularly browse the Steam store then at some point last year you more than likely seen a game called ‘Russian Underground’, it was put across an atmospheric VR horror game, featuring some sort of predator that acted as the antagonist for the game. The actual game was simply a few assets from the Unity store placed into a scene. To cut it short the game was not a game, but a simple scam that Valves system allowed for. For the sake of formatting I am going to produce a list of games that highlight the issues with Valves leniency below:
As I mentioned before, Russian Underground was no more than an asset flip. Meaning it was nothing more than a few pre-made assets from the unity store thrown into a room. Now I would not be wholeheartedly against this if they had put the game across in a manner that allowed for this. For example if they had referred to it as an experience and just put across that the experience was looking around a Russian Underground, then they would have given people little room to complain (although it would have still been a scumbag move), where Russian Underground crosses the line is that they actually lie, in that they show things in promotional material that simply is not in the game, which is false advertising. Another case of them being deceitful is the fact that they bot the game, making it appear as though the game has hundreds of concurrent users when in fact very few people have bought the game never mind being online playing it. Steam have since taken action and seem to have solved the botting, however there will always be more games like this whilst it’s so easy to do.
As you can probably tell from the title this game is a complete rip-off of Nintendo’s 1-2-Switch, with the ‘developers’ showing how little creativity they have by completely ripping off the title as well. Just to add to that the tag-line for the game “It’s High Noon!” is a direct reference to the character ‘McCree’ from Blizzard-Activision’s smash hit MOBA Overwatch, which may have been seen as a nice reference if the devs had no already set a precedent of already being hacks/leeches. Not having wasted my money on the game I can’t necessarily critic it, however I think it’s 100% negative reviews speak for themselves. In honesty I feel this isn’t something that’s down to the Greenlight process being bypassed, and I feel this is just pure negligence on Valves behalf. I’m sure if a game came out titled “Hard-Life 2: Global Defensive” in which you play as Gorgon Truman killing headbugs, I’m sure they would give it a lot more of a looking.
“Liberal Propaganda” – The Game
One of the key strong points of Virtual Reality is it’s ability to immerse you and to draw you into a situation/environment, with the power to convey emotion on an unparallel level. This not only means we can experience genuine emotions at the hands of developers, we can also learn and develop ideas about what is presented to us, and I feel most of the main examples of this at the moment are not exactly unbiased. The biggest offender in this department is a Studio called Emblematic Group, who you may recognise from such masterpieces as “A Dark Night”, a VR experience re-telling the story a Trayvon Martin, or “Across the Line”, a pro-abortion VR documentary. For the most part I can turn a blind eye to things like this, as everyone is going to be slightly biased on subjects like this, however I feel these projects stray into the territory of Propaganda rather than entertainment, which not only (in my opinion) does not belong on Steam, it actually gives us some foresight into a rather bleak future. I mean this in the sense that some people are already slaves to the media (with several protests taking place at the moment that proves this) and it genuinely affects the way they act in their day-to-day lives, and this is from News station/News paper formats, which have nowhere near the swaying power that VR possesses. My proof of concept for this would be a VR experience based in Hitlers Berlin Bunker, in which you watch him confessing his love for Eva Braun, and breaking down/crying before they both kill themselves, I honestly believe most of the general population would feel sorry for them, and that is what I fear.
Overall I’m not saying Emblematic Group are in anyway evil masterminds wanting to brainwash the public, and I do agree with many of the points they are trying to make, however the true issue I take with Emblematic Groups work is that they just don’t seem to try, and when you are working with such sensitive topics I feel you should try to make good quality content, rather than simply using the subject matter to cash in on tragedy.
For this point I’m not going to name any games as I feel that would be unfair, as a lot of VR games are early access and still have time to improve. However, because of the virtually baseless entry level Steam have set for VR titles, people simply don’t take as much care with their releases. There are probably well over 100 negative reviews on VR games in someway saying “could be a good game but it’s broken” or “just needs more work and could be ok”, and this is quite bad both for consumers as well as the developers themselves. When a game gets very negative reviews straight away, even if they are constructive, often a Dev will basically give up/write-off the project as a failure, meaning the game never progresses and often means the dev themselves don’t improve. This is also bad for the consumer in that you trying to give feedback on a game could then result in the game never being finished. Overall I would say there are a lot of these types of games, where the devs have put actual effort in, and a bug has ruined it for them and they’ve simply never came back, which is why I don’t name any specific games. Of course there are many other types of game I would personally steer clear of, such as Tropical Girls VR and anything of that nature, however at that point I would giving an opinion rather than a warning.
In the end the best thing to do is try to be careful when buying games, and try to grasp what point the game is actually at, so you don’t buy something expecting a more complete game than you receive, as this just leads to negative feedback for the dev, and more than likely a deflated effort from the dev. Of course this is the golden age of Steam refunds, so in reality if a dev scorns you badly (such as the scumbags behind Russian Underground) you can simply refund the game. However I urge you not to refund VR games simply because you don’t like them. If the game is completely functional and is a advertised, but just not as fun as you’d hoped, do not refund it, the dev is likely needing the money as a reason to continue working on the game at all. I may stand alone in saying that, but to quote Steve Ballmer “Power to the Developers”.