Game Cooks, an independent (indie) Lebanese video game developer with 30+ employees, recently competed in a competition against over 100 game developers to create and submit a VR experience for the “VR and Beyond” challenge, winning an AED 500k prize.
AMEinfo had the opportunity to speak to Lebnan Nader, co-founder and CEO of Game Cooks, about their experience during the competition, as well as finding more about their history making games.
In the first part of the interview, we explored the experience itself and the starting days of Game Cook. In this second part, Nader reveals some of the major obstacles holding back VR from mainstream success, as well as providing advice to investors looking to venture into the business of virtual reality.
Enter the virtual world
Attending the conference, Nader and accompanying team members became enamored with VR tech.
“You can fly in VR, you can dive in VR – you become the protagonist of the game,” Nader mused. “We instantly fell in love with VR and decided that we want to give it a shot, even though we didn’t have any experience with the technology. We acquired the equipment needed from the States, and we flew back here to Beirut and started working on it.”
“We learned it [all] on our own,” he revealed. “We Googled everything – it was a lot of trial and error. We eventually got the hang of it.”
They later published 4 VR games that were very successful. They tried to branch their efforts to corporate partnerships and deals too, not only games to end users.
“Real estate is definitely very interesting for VR,” he noted. “VR is [also] an excellent training and education tool. You can train in driving a plane, in scuba diving, and in many things. Also, don’t forget tourism. Today, you can put on a VR headset and go visit a Safari virtually, or go on a tour bus in London.”
The VR industry in the UAE, for example, “is leaning heavily into tourism and attractions than anything else at the moment.”
“There is a big demand for VR, but I see it growing more on the B2B front. A company will hire a developer to create an experience, and this company will showcase the experience to its users, clients or perhaps its staff, whether for a price or for free (think product demos). I see this growing a lot.”
“What I don’t see growing a lot is the B2C, where experiences such as VR games are sold directly to consumers. It will also have applications in e-commerce, though that is more the field of AR (augmented reality).”
“[In the end,] I think it’s safe to say that VR can work in all industries.”
Obstacles preventing VR from mainstream success
Still, VR is far from breaking into the mainstream. While the general populace has acknowledged its existence, many obstacles stand in the way of its widespread adoption.
Nader attributes these obstacles to multiple factors, the first of which is price.
“To buy an HTC Vive, which in my opinion is one of the best VR headsets today, it costs around $500 or $600. [Still], $600 is expensive. It’s not in a regular consumer’s budget.”
He continued: “The second issue is that you need a powerful PC. It’s not like a smartphone where you just load up a game and play. VR isn’t portable either… [and] doesn’t provide a lot of value except for gaming, if we’re talking about normal users. [Also], most people can’t keep a VR headset mounted on their head for more than an hour, no matter their tolerance.”
“Thirdly, the physical set up is impressive, and potentially overwhelming. We are lucky in Lebanon [and the GCC] that we are used to living in medium to large-sized apartments. If you go to Europe or the States, it’s not the case. So, many cannot afford the space for VR.”
The HTC Vive, for example, requires about 8-9 square meters of dedicated empty space for set up.
In the end, he believes it is a “vicious circle.”
“Because not a lot of people are buying VR, you don’t have a lot of developers creating a lot of content for those players.” The demand doesn’t quite justify the costs it would take to undertake a triple A VR project.
“However, the small to mid-size companies like ourselves might work on VR experiences because it will not cost us a lot to do it, and then if [we] end making half a million dollars, that’s good. One million, much better. If you look at a triple A studio like Ubisoft, for example, 1 million in revenue is a failure to them.”
“So the content, because it is done by SMEs, it’s not the content that is triple A which typically motivates users to get a platform.”
He calls back to how the iPhone’s multitude of apps in its early days got users to make a purchase. The same could be said for Blackberry’s success in the early 2010s off the back of their Blackberry Messenger (BBM) app.
“So today, it’s the programs that are on the hardware that what will push people to buy, and not the hardware itself.”
“I think that they will get there. I think that, with time, the VR headset will not need a PC to run. They will not need a huge set up to run, and it’ll be a lot cheaper. Whenever the sales of hardware increases a little bit, the developers will create content a bit more.”
Is VR a worthy investment?
When asked what advice he has for investors looking to venture into VR, he said that they should not be dissuaded by the common myths surrounding the tech.
“They hear that VR causes motion sickness – yes, that’s true for some users, but the same could be said for sea travel. Some people get sea sickness, but not everyone.”
As it is a new industry still, Nader explains that many VR experiences are still technically challenged, which often causes motion sickness and the like.
“VR is definitely the future,” he emphasized. “[It] will be an integral platform to be used in the big corporations moving forward.”
“To investors, I’d say that they should definitely invest in VR, but they shouldn’t expect a return on investment (ROI) the next year, or the year after, but it’s definitely growing. The sooner the better: you get experience ahead of competitors, you acquire primary market intelligence, and you grow with the company you are investing in.”
Today, Game Cooks continues to make games in multiple mediums: From mobile games, to PC games, and finally VR. The company has three different teams working on three different platforms, and if their latest competition win is any sign, the company is forging ahead on to bigger and better things.