When it comes to the video game industry, each major player needs a “killer app” to sell its hardware. Sony (SNE) has its Gran Turismo franchise, Microsoft (MSFT) has Halo and Nintendo has Mario. Oculus Rift has been wowing game journalists since May 2013 – long before Facebook (FB) acquired the company for $2 billion this March — by featuring developer CCP Games’ virtual reality space-combat dog fighting game, EVE: Valkyrie.
Sony Computer Entertainment stepped into the VR game in March with its Project Morpheus prototype device, and one of the games showcased was EVE: Valkyrie. The game will be a launch title for both platforms, offering PC gamers and PlayStation 4 owners (separately) the ability to step into a virtual cockpit and fight alongside, and against, friends.
At its annual global EVE Fanfest event in Reykjavik, Iceland, this month, CCP Games allowed fans the opportunity to play both versions of the game. The company, which was an early Kickstarter backer of Oculus VR, recently switched from Unity to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology and showed off the graphical upgrade running on the just-released Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 (DK2). The developer has worked closely with both Oculus VR and Sony, which allowed them to get nine Oculus Rift DK2s and four Morpheus devices to the fan event.
“From a creative standpoint, VR as a platform opens up a whole wealth of opportunities, as well as challenges,” said Owen O’Brien, executive producer for EVE: Valkyrie. “We have been conditioned for years to consume media on a two-dimensional screen and have developed best practices and interfaces to compensate for this. All that has now changed. We are really just starting to learn what is possible in VR.”
O’Brien’s development team in Newcastle, England, is also working on a cross-platform game experience designed for two still-developing platforms. He noted that both VR devices now have positional tracking, which allows more accurate replication of the head movement. This means aspiring pilots can lean forward and look out their window to check on weapons systems or for damage. Advances in the headsets are really helping reduce simulator sickness, which occurs when there is a disconnect between what the brain is telling you your body is doing and what your body is actually doing.
“The Oculus Rift DK2 clearly showed that this was a device to be taken seriously,” said Steven Wong, Editor-In-Chief of gaming site Shacknews.com. “It doesn’t look like a little flat panel screen glued onto a pair of ski goggles, like Dev Kit 1 did. It actually looks like it’s comfortable to wear, and it’s something consumers won’t feel silly about wearing. Furthermore, the technology took off by leaps and bounds during its year of development. The fast low-persistence OLED display is a major breakthrough, and it became clear that Oculus was going to be synonymous with VR.”
Peter Warman, video game analyst for Newzoo, is convinced that this new and improved version of EVE: Valkrie contributed to the speed of the Facebook acquisition process. Although he added that the reasons for Facebook’s purchase are broader than only games.
“It is a strategic acquisition to stay in the Google Glass-type arms race between the worlds’ biggest (social) media companies,” said Warman. “CCP is known for innovation and its core Eve Online audience are typically the consumers that would be early adaptors of Oculus. On the other hand, they are also the people who are skeptical towards companies such as Facebook.”
So now EVE: Valkyrie finds itself in a unique and powerful situation among core gamers. Many Oculus Rift fans have been counting down the days until the game launches with the hardware (which has yet to be announced), but they’re also still upset at Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey for selling the company to Facebook. One way CCP Games may even the battlefield is to release the game as a free-to-play title.
“This business model would immediately appeal to the EVE Online crowd of a couple hundred thousand and an additional couple million gamers that like shooters and enjoy sci-fi,” said Warman, who believes the game will bring in at least $20 million a year through micro-transactions and other revenue.
It could also help the bottom line for the Icelandic developer. In the first quarter of 2013, CCP Games stated they had 500,000 EVE Online accounts for its massively multiplayer online (MMO) space simulation role-playing game. Since many players have sub accounts, Warman believes the actual number of paying subscribers is between 200,000 and 300,000. CCP Games earned $66 million in 2011, but the company has struggled a bit since. Warman estimates CCP’s revenues today at about $50 million, which corresponds nicely with their staff of about 500 and an average monthly spending level of just over $15 for 250,000 paying subscribers.
CCP Games announced that the new PC shooter game, EVE: Project Legion, will be free-to-play. The shooter is being developed as an alternative to the PlayStation 3-exclusive DUST 514 free-to-play shooter that launched in May 2013. Like the PS3 game, the battles that occur within the game universe will directly affect the EVE Online universe. CCP Games, hoping to attract more than just core gamers to VR, has enlisted Battlestar Galactica alum Katee Sackhoff to play the role of Rán, the leader of the Valkyrie fighter pilots in EVE: Valkyrie.
The universe continues to expand with new offerings from Dark Horse Comics. Following 2014’s EVE: True Stories comes the EVE: Valkyrie digital comic series, which will tell the origin story of New Eden’s first Valkyrie pilots and their rise to prominence in the EVE universe. The publisher will also release the EVE Universe: The Art of New Eden book.
Beyond helping CCP Games grow its own user base, EVE: Valkyrie could ultimately help Facebook and Sony turn VR into first an early-adopter hit and potentially into a more mainstream experience. While Facebook has plans beyond gaming, video games will play a huge role in enticing consumers to invest in Oculus Rift, as well as in Sony’s VR headset.
“EVE Valkyrie was designed from the outset to be a VR game and as such we feel it is ideally suited to show off the potential of the technology,” said O’Brien. “It provides immediate visceral thrills, is easy to play and still has tactical depth for players to explore. VR has the potential to be a game-changer on a literal as well as metaphorical level. You can see from the reaction of anyone taking off a headset after playing Valkyrie for the first time; they feel they have glimpsed the future.”
That future doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s coming soon. And this new wave of VR, backed by the pocketbooks of huge companies like Facebook and Sony, already has its killer app.