From: D3580@AppleLink.Apple.COM (4th Wave, John Latta,PAS)
Subject: INDUSTRY: Review of Virtuality arcade game.
Date: 16 Mar 92 01:30 GMT
Virtuality Boon or Bust
John N. Latta 4th Wave, Inc. Alexandria, VA
Virtuality, the first Virtual Reality (VR) arcade game has generated excitement in anticipation of the arrival of public VR. Virtuality was developed by W Industries and is being distributed in the U.S. by Horizon Entertainment. It is located in six sites in the U.S. – all malls except the UC Student Union in Berkeley, CA.
We have informally observed Virtuality at UC Berkeley and Springfield Mall, Springfield, VA (near Washington, D.C.) on five occasions. Both locations use the stand up version. Although these observations certainly do not represent a definitive study of the game this report will provide some early impressions and a market assessment.
The duration of play is approximately 4 minutes and the cost is $4.00 at Berkeley and at Springfield the original $5.00 cost has been reduced to $3.50 for one play and $6.00 for two plays. In Springfield we interviewed most of the participants of the play while in Berkeley the participants filled out a survey form. We reviewed 51 forms from a Friday night play.
The pattern of usage in Berkeley is one of peak play on Friday and Saturday nights with a queue up to 35. At other times the game varies from idle to erratic use. During our visit on a Saturday morning no one played the game. The responses provided an interesting cross section of responses. Of the 51 players only 1 was female. A majority of the users said that they would play again. However, the most frequent complaint was the expense of play.
Nearly all the players were in the two age brackets: 18-22 and 23-40. The one older player in the 40+ group was negative and would not play again. The forms provided room for comments and approximately 1/3 made comments (a small number of the players said that the game was great and were very enthusiastic). Many of the comments were either negative or made suggestions for improvements. In approximate ranking the comments were:
The game is too expensive;
Improve the graphics and interaction;
Improve the focus; and
Make the helmet lighter and have less encumbrance from the wires.
Some asked for more gore and realism in the killing. There were complaints about dizziness and the smell of the headgear. Some of the players were very knowledgeable and compared the game to BattleTech. It was also clear the a number of the players had come from some distance to just play the game and had no connection with the University. One player was especially negative in asking for table tennis to be returned to where Virtuality now operates in the Union.
The Springfield comments were based on short interviews and observation of play. 1/2 or less of the players would play again. The major comments were:
The game cost too much;
The game was disorienting especially by the end of the play; and
The poor correlation between your actions and the response of the system made the game difficult to play.
A number of players thought the game was great but when asked if they would play it again the answer was no. We believe that this answer was driven by cost considerations. One male commented that the game was over blown for what it delivered.
In observations of the play we saw several patterns. These include:
A number of the players would spend considerable time looking at the floor trying to orient themselves;
Many used a head hunting action (The oscillation of the head to determine location);
Most opponent killing was not successful until the distance was reduced to within a few feet;
We never observed participants successful in stopping the action of the bird from grabbing the participant;
Women and males under 15 had a much more difficult time with the play; and
The best play was accomplished when the game attendant stood near the participant and coached them where to look for the next action.
Springfield had competition nights established on Wednesday and Friday from 7-9PM. On one Friday night this seemed to make little difference in the pattern of play from the other nights. However, one of the games was inoperative and had been down awaiting a part for nearly two weeks. We also observed the Berkeley game under repair during our visit.
At Springfield the total number of players observed was less than those reviewed from the forms at Berkeley, however, we observed two females in Springfield and one stated she would play again. Even though the sample was small, the percentage of female play was higher in Springfield.
Only at Springfield did we observe usage rates. Two samples were: 4 players in 1 1/2 hours (Saturday morning) and 3 players in 1/2 hour (Friday night). During our observation times we would estimate an average usage at 20% although the other games in the arcade were near 100%. There was a clear pattern of crowd draw during play. Even during peak times the game would be idle, but if one person played, a crowd would form. At one time on Friday night we saw 12 persons around the game. However, the queues for play were not observed to the levels reported at Berkeley. A crowd would correlate with more play, and frequently continuous play, but a substantial number in the crowds were just observers.
Virtuality is claimed to comply with all public health regulations. At both Berkeley and Springfield there were warning signs about not playing if you have skin abrasions and the sign defined categories of individuals who should not play. Yet, at Springfield the warning notice was posted on the back of the cost of play sign and very difficult to notice and read. Just from the comments, some of the participants did not like the feeling of the head gear. As one industry observer has said “…wearing VR headgear is like wearing someone else’s rented bowling shoes on your face.”
Much has been written about games and quality of play. We will cite four criteria frequently used.
Does the game have a clear goal and are the goals meaningful?
Does the game have variable levels of difficulty and multiple goal levels?
Does the game include emotionally appealing fantasy and is it related to skills gained during play?
Is there sensory and auditory curiosity and how is this fulfilled?
This is an abbreviated list and only intended to stimulate an assessment of the quality of play. On first analysis, Virtuality does poorly in all areas. The combination of the limitations of play, due to the performance of the system both visually and dynamically, severely limits the quality of the game. Further, as evidenced by the comments of the players, the excitement of the game play eroded after the first play. This is also correlated with the cost and it is likely difficult to separate the two factors. The limitations of the game are also highlighted because better play occurs when one is coached by the game operator during the game.
We see a number of areas for improvement based on this limited observation of Virtuality. They are:
Make substantial improvement in the image quality and motion dynamics.
Provide for multiple game selection which is built around a much higher quality of game play.
Provide for participant pre and post play support. (This is similar to what is being done with BattleTech.) Isolated game play appears to support single time game players.
Provide for better hygiene and less encumbrances.
Lower the price to $2.00 maximum and $1.00 preferred.
The pattern of use and response by the participants provides an early indication of a flash market based on novelty. The key parameters driving use are cost and quality of play. The former being too high and the latter too low. The game content also appeals to a narrow demographic audience (males 16 – 30). It is also clear that many came to play VR based on what they heard from the media.
The success or failure of a game such as this, especially the first one, is an important market indicator. Virtuality is a reasonably packaged game using advanced technology for the price point. If it fails to ignite the market other games appealing to a similar demographic profile must show a substantial improvement in cost effectiveness and quality to overcome the after taste of Virtuality.
VR has created its own level of public expectation, yet it will be the fulfillment of those expectations in games such as Virtuality which will shape the market in the near term. When the media and VR industry fuel public expectation, the failure to fulfill those expectations creates a technology backlash. For this reason it is important to track the success and failure of public space entertainment’s as an indication of public support for VR. Unfortunately, for Virtuality, it is the first public arcade game and must live up to many expectations it may not be able to fulfill. These market dynamics merit close observation by many working in VR. The results could shape the development of the industry for years to come.
This posting is not to be republished without the premission of the author.