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Why pop culture characters may be essential to maintaining VR's growth

February 10, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

February 10, 2017 | By Bryant Francis
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More: VR, Design, Video

Ever since VR launched, many developers have been wondering what it will take to achieve mass-interest and key investor interest in VR platforms to build sustainable companies.

There obviously isn’t any one answer to that question, but talking to the developers at Steel Wool Studios today, we were intrigued by one key talking point: that well-known pop-culture characters—ranging from Superman to Disney Princesses to Steven Universe—may be needed to drive broad interest in headsets and VR games. 

During our conversation with Steel Wool Studios co-founders Jason Topolski and Andrew Dayton (and head of production Kris Donovan), who will be giving a talk at [email protected] on the value of emotional character connections in virtual reality, one Gamasutra reader in the chat was curious as to what they thought would drive owners of popular franchises to invest in virtuality. Topolski, inspired by the question, offered some useful insight about their experience pitching to IP-owners in their work on some unannounced VR games. 

“Without giving anything away for our upcoming project, what I will say is the IP-holder we’re dealing with was most attracted to was when we said ‘hey, people have seen your characters, but have they ever seen them like this?”

Topolski said this argument came paired with a demo that had VR players interacting with the fictional characters in a VR environment. This isn’t a new argument by a long-shot. 

While the way Topolski explained it to us as a hook for getting large companies involved in virtual reality, it was also a kind of argument for what everyday players might need to care about VR. 

Arguably it’s the same kind of pitch that was made to film studios, book publishers, etc when they pitched the very first licensed video games. But the psychological appeal of standing alongside mythological characters does carry a certain weight, and may be an argument you make when pitching your next VR game. 

For more insights on building narrative experiences in VR, be sure to watch the full interview above, and check out Topolski and Dayton’s talk at GDC. If this conversation was helpful for you, you might want to subscribe to the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables, and gameplay commentary. 

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