One of the best virtual reality (VR) titles to arrive in 2021 for Meta Quest, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR was 17-BIT’s epic survival adventure Song in the Smoke. The first VR experience from the Japan-based studio, it seems the complexities in creating an immersive videogame as well as global factors have dampened the teams desire to build upon Song in the Smoke at the moment.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, 17-BIT CEO Jake Kazdal was very honest when it came to the question of launching the videogame last year: “It’s a perfect storm of shit, to be frank.” Having previously built Skulls of the Shogun and 2016’s Galak-Z, Kazdal explained that part of the issue was not enough player feedback due to the lack of events: “Normally, with Skulls of the Shogun and Galak-Z, we’re showing at multiple PAXes, TGS, E3, and all these shows. We’re getting tons and tons of feedback. We’re watching 1,000 people play the first hour of the game. We’re getting so much great feedback on where the game is at.”
With the pandemic restricting movement and events going online (or closing entirely), this made the development process and Song in the Smoke’s refinement even harder. “With VR, it’s a lot harder on a good day because it is such a solitary thing… And then you couple that with this whole COVID bullshit and no trade shows. And even if there were, it’s not like people are going to be willing to put on a headset that’s been on 1,000 other people’s faces. We had so little user feedback moving into this that it was really difficult for us,” he said.
This meant 17-BIT had to spend longer polishing the title, no bad thing considering what the team accomplished. But this has led to the studio playing down the idea of another VR title. “I don’t think we’ll be exploring VR in the short-term again. There’s some fatigue for sure in the studio.”
Even so, Kazdal still has a lot of love for VR and the opportunities it affords gamers: “I think in terms of interactive media, there’s not much higher to shoot for than something really engaging in VR. It really is an incredible next step as a gaming medium.” And like every VR gamer passionate about the tech, the slow consumer adoption is still surprising: “I kind of can’t believe how long it’s taking to get going. It’s stunning and it surprised me it didn’t take the world by storm in the way I thought it would because I was so absolutely blown away by it on day one.”
That continued belief in VR’s ability to entertain audiences in new ways has kept the industry going for many years, it has also claimed many a victim with poor sales. 17-BIT hasn’t released any figures just yet so maybe Kazdal will reconsider VR development if they’re good. However, he notes the team are: “excited about the next project, but it is a radical departure again.”
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