Feature Article

Oculus Boss Talks VR Skepticism, 3D TV Comparisons, and Dominating Gaming

Jason Rubin discusses the challenges Oculus faces and why he believes it will overcome them.

With the launch of Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive, VR has started its slow creep into video games. Adoption has thus far been mostly from the tech savvy, the futurists, and the curious, and VR still has many challenges to overcome before it reaches a wider audience.

It faces an uphill struggle when it comes to winning over the traditional console and PC gamer audiences, but this is just a matter of time, according to Jason Rubin, co-founder of Naughty Dog and current head of studios at Oculus.

At Gamescom we spoke to Rubin about whether the tech demo-like experiences that are currently available for Oculus Rift can evolve into the AAA gaming experiences the mainstream audience craves and the importance of reaching an affordable price, among other things. Here's what he said.

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GameSpot: How do you feel Oculus Rift is progressing in swaying the video game audience into accepting the VR revolution?

Rubin: First of all, there's 30 to 40 years of [non-VR] game design out there, so there's fantastic games out there. If you counted generations, that's dozens of generations where absolutely amazing entertainment was created. But all of those games are prevented from putting the player inside the worlds they've created. I think VR is a unique opportunity to take gaming to that next level, where players are actually inside the world.

Having said that, we're up against 100- or 200-million-dollar franchises. So people are used to very large games with very big asset bases--they're deep and very long. What we're doing is figuring out what VR is best at, starting with smaller packages that are incredibly fun for people that like different experimental experiences; they're early adopters, they're into the science of game making. Over time, we'll get those games to be bigger, better, and more focused. As that happens, you'll also see a consumer base come in, which allows developers and publishers to spend more money on bigger titles.

Over time, I believe more of the game business will move into VR. It's not going to happen overnight, but it will happen in time.

A lot of games we're seeing now feel almost like tech demos. Are you confident we'll reach the point where we're playing lengthy Skyrim-like experiences in VR?

Yes. If you look back at the game business to 35 years ago, I was selling Apple ll games in a ziplock bag. I would write one of these games in a weekend. A year later they'd be in boxes and be sold to tens of millions of people nationally. Thinking those games could ever reach 40 to 100 hours with the depth of Skyrim, I would have been considered crazy. Over time, however, the games got better, which brought more consumers, which allowed games to get better, which brought more consumers, and ballooned into what we have today.

What you're seeing in the VR business is, unlike 35 years ago, when we could theorise about giant worlds but couldn't actually make them, we don't have to theorise. We can see Skyrim, it exists, so we know how to make it and know it's fun. The question is: how we get from six months ago, when there was a zero install base in VR, to the point where we're making games that size?

The answer is Oculus and other VR manufacturers should invest a significant amount of money in software to make it bigger and better faster. That attracts more consumers faster and you jump start that 30 year process into being a much shorter one. If you look at Chronos, that's a 10 hour game, so if you set the benchmark at, "When do we see a 100 hour game?," well, it's 10 times what we have today, it's not 100. The games we have are bigger than you think, and the reason for that is because Oculus invested in them. Sony is doing the same and we applaud that because it's good for the business.

Over time those games will get bigger and I don't think it's going to take 30 years. I don't think it's going to take 10 years. We're going to get to those bigger titles.

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Do you feel Vive, with its Valve connection, and PlayStation VR have an advantage in being more closely associated to video games?

I would say in the long run, Facebook views VR as something that will be bigger and broader than games. Oculus, being part of Facebook, also believes that in the long run we want billions of people to be in VR. Having said that, the beginning of VR is a path that leads straight through games. Oculus has had a very detailed relationship with the game business for the last two years since I started working there. If you look right now in all the VR stores, the biggest investments and best titles have come from Oculus. I believe that's going to be the case for the next year.

To look and say, "This company is into having social interactions and other things, so they're not into games" is a hard leap to make when you look at the evidence in front of you. At the end of the day, we're the one producing the biggest and best games. Does it matter if Facebook wants to a bigger, grander empire if it's still building the best game business?

How do you feel about the ongoing skepticism towards VR?

It's funny. At Naughty Dog, the company that I founded, we made a bunch of small games while we were at college. Then the 3D games came out and [Andrew Scott] and I started experimenting with the 3DO. The training we got on that basically got us ready to make Crash Bandicoot, and we went from being nobodies to being the number one developer on the planet by units sold over a three or four year period.

We trained ourselves on hardware that all of the bigger, established developers were saying, "Oh that 3D stuff may be good at some point, but we're making these 2D games that are selling incredible amounts, why are we going to focus on these CD-based systems?" I've been around long enough now that I've seen history repeat itself.

I remember--and you're not going to believe it--I remember people saying you lose precision with 3D and that you'd never be able to make a good platformer with that. CDs? Those scratch! I like cartridges because they don't have load times, who needs CDs? All that memory is wasted, you'll never fill a CD up anyway. Those drives will break. 2D is fantastic, 3D game systems will never take off. It's all crap. You hear it over and over again every time there's a sea change in the industry.

Facebook, Google, Sony, Microsoft, Valve are all embracing VR. It's very clear what's happening. That isn't to say non-VR games are going away, because they're fantastic. This new world opens up opportunity that in the long run will probably be one of the dominant forms of gaming.

Price continues to be a sticking point for many people. Are you looking into driving that down?

Flat-screen TVs are thousands of dollars…

But people know exactly what they're getting when they purchase one: a large screen with crisp picture. With VR there's a lot of caveats, some people may feel sick, others may not even be able to see properly in VR.

I remember when flat-screen TVs came out and they were $10,000 and people said this will never be a big market. Now you can buy something the size of a wall for a few thousand dollars. I think that will happen [with VR]; the price of technology comes down. When people first saw the Newton or the Blackberry it was, "Internet-connected phones with big screens? Who needs that? My phone is just fine because I dial on a pad and it's easier." Again, I've seen this happen time and time again. The idea that what you see today is VR's ultimate possible function and therefore you can look at it, say it makes a few people uncomfortable, and say it won't work, ignores the fact that developers and technology learn to get around issues over time. Very smart, large companies get that now and it's why so many are jumping in even as the naysayers take the problems in the first two hours of it and assume it can't get better.

Do you feel a sense of urgency to reach the point where it's cheap and addresses major problems, given that slowness to respond to these could result in a lot of people solidifying their opinions in VR's infancy?

We have a $99 VR system that plugs into a Samsung phone, so you can get into it in an inexpensive way. But I think a lot of people conflate past history with the future and they look at the broad stories instead of the details. Look at 3D TVs, which didn't fundamentally change TV viewing, it just added something, which wasn't an awesome way of seeing 3D. People say, "Well what if VR comes and goes like 3D TVs?" VR is different in that it lets you see the world in an entirely new way, a way that has never been possible before. Insomuch as those things are interesting, it may take a while but eventually we'll get around to the right hardware at the right price to meet the consumer needs.

The minute is saw a person step to the edge of a building in VR and not be able to walk off, I knew it was fundamentally different than anything else we've shown before. If we keep that going and make it better, we will at some point connect with people. I do not fear that over the long run, this is going to go away. It may take a long time for it take off, but I don't think it's the kind of thing that will go away. Time will get this thing to work.

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Final question: Have you seen the Nosulus Rift?

I have not seen it but I had the pleasure of working with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on a [The Stick of Truth]. They are some of the funniest human beings on the planet and very deserving of their accolades. One of my proudest moments as a game maker was when The Simpsons did a Crash Bandicoot takeoff because I knew at that moment that we had made it. Having Matt and Trey take on Oculus says we've made it. It is absolutely a moment of pride for Oculus.

It's at Gamescom and it's horrifying to use. Someone that designs perfumes made this scent that smells like five different types of fart.

[Laughs] Producing Matt and Trey was one of the most amazing moments because we would go and hear their pitches for levels and it'd be like, "Ok, you're climbing up a rectum and…" I was like, "Oh my god, how are we going to get this by the ratings board." Those guys are amazing. It's a moment of pride. More power to them. Ubisoft is a big supporter of VR, so the joke is on all of us and we all share in that.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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Gamescom 2016


Tamoor Hussain

Tamoor Hussain is the Managing Editor of GameSpot. He has been covering the video game industry for a really long time, having worked in news, features, reviews, video, and more. He loves Bloodborne and other From Software titles, is partial to the stealth genre, and can hold his own in fighting games too. Fear the Old Blood.

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