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Founder’s Take: The future of VR unveiled with Meta Quest’s latest game release

Picture credits: AEXLAB

After 7 years of development, AEXLAB, a company I founded alongside my brother Albert Ovaida, proudly launched our flagship game VAIL VR on the Meta Quest store. AEXLAB is leading the market with the development of cutting-edge software utilizing virtual reality technology in an unparalleled combat game.  We are a virtual reality studio, and VAIL VR is a first-person multiplayer shooter designed to revolutionize the VR gaming landscape with its dynamic gameplay and immersive social interactions, delivering unparalleled combat.

VAIL VR is available for $29.99 USD, marking a significant milestone in the VR gaming industry.

The journey of bringing VAIL VR to life has been nothing short of exhilarating. VAIL VR 1.0 introduces Quick Play matchmaking, enabling players to seamlessly join games and enjoy the thrill of competition without delay. The new progression system, ranging from levels 0 to 50, rewards players with not just weapons, sights, and emblems but also exclusive weapon and character skins, adding layers of customization and strategy. Additionally, VAIL now integrates leaderboards and comprehensive stats tracking, challenging players to ascend daily, weekly, and all-time rankings, showcasing their prowess and progress in the VAIL universe.

So that’s VAIL VR.  But if the last 7 years have taught me anything, it’s a strong understanding for where VR has been, is, and is going.  Here’s my take:

Where is VR right now?

VR is still a new industry, but it is growing and innovating fast. It’s matured enough that there are some pretty set standards and expectations from consumers on what makes a good VR experience. But at the same time, there’s still a ton of new opportunities in VR that haven’t been explored yet. There are tons of amazing options for VR headsets, but what’s lacking are compelling experiences that will make someone want to put on the headset and play over and over again.

Where is VR going in the next 5 years

As more companies like Meta and Apple invest even more money into the space, it’s going to keep growing exponentially. A new platform like this doesn’t happen very often, and VR has been around long enough that it’s now a proven platform; it isn’t going anywhere. I’d say that right now, VR is extremely popular with children. VR headset sales were massive in 2020 with the lockdowns, and certain VR experiences aimed at kids thrived from that. Five years from now, those kids who started playing VR games as early as 2020 to now will be growing up and maturing, and so I expect the platform to mature and grow with them. We’ve seen something similar with traditional gaming where gaming has just exploded in popularity as gamers grew up, and I expect VR to have a similar explosion in growth in the coming years.

What are the challenges of VR

While of course there are technical challenges, like the performance costs of VR games and simply getting the game to work nicely with all of the different headsets, there are even more challenges related to the fundamental design of an experience. So using an example from VAIL, something as simple as reloading a gun is infinitely more complicated in VR than it would be for a flat game. In flat games, you press a button and it plays an animation. But in VR, if you take away control from the player to run an animation, you’ll make players frustrated and often nauseous. You can’t take away control from the players, you have to let players reload the weapons themselves. 

So now you have to teach players how to reload, and you have to teach them how to reload every single weapon in the game because they all have slightly different reloading mechanics to stay true to real life. On top of that, every headset uses different controllers with different buttons and grip angles, so grabbing and interacting with the weapons isn’t the same for every player. So one interaction, like manipulating a bolt on a bolt-action sniper, will feel different for every single player and every single headset. This means you have to try it on every single headset to make sure it’s easy, intuitive, and feels good with every piece of hardware; and even then every single player holds controllers differently so what might feel good to you is frustrating to them.

On top of all that, you now have balance considerations because flat games give different weapons different reloading times based on how powerful that weapon is. But in VR, your reload speed is as fast as you can physically do it, so now you have to figure out a way to balance more powerful weapons beyond changing the reload animation speed.

This is just one example, this kind of complexity is introduced to nearly every single game mechanic, and if you make it the wrong way you’ll leave players sick, frustrated, and confused. 

What do you make of the headset wars

It’s great that massive companies like Meta, Sony, and Apple are all competing with each other to create VR technology. While all of their headsets are unique, they’re all fundamentally using the same technology to immerse users into new worlds and experiences. This means that we’re quickly seeing massive innovations as they all compete to offer the newest and best technology. Just in the last year, we’ve seen the release of Quest 3, PSVR 2, and Vision Pro all introducing consumers to new tech like pancake lenses, eye-tracked foveated rendering, and color mixed reality. Not one single headset does everything better than the others, and so while they compete fundamentally on the technology, the end-consumer wins because they now have multiple options on what headset to grab depending on how they plan to use it. 

What makes VAIL superior

We’ve been working on VAIL for years. This means that we have a lot of experience working through some of the unique problems that VR presents. We’ve developed unique technology and systems that offer a truly unparalleled combat experience. To put it simply, we’ve minimized anything that can be frustrating or annoying to players which allows us to maximize what players love about immersive gaming. 

What has the process been in terms of raising/VC/money with regards to being in the VR space

Securing funding for our VR game, VAIL VR, was a journey filled with many no’s before we hit the yes. Initially, we reached out to numerous VCs, optimistic about their potential interest in AEXLAB and VAIL VR. However, the response was a bunch of rejections. So many VCs kept saying no. I made a list of VCs I thought might be interested. I went on a cold calling spree. They all said no. Every single one. Which led us to a different approach- turning to the people who would be using our product: the gaming community. We showed them what we were working on and the response was overwhelmingly positive. They believed in our vision so much that they started to invest themselves. This was a game-changer for us. Armed with this strong community support, we went back to the VCs. This time the conversation was a bit different, and since they had proof that so many people from the community were willing to put their own money into this, it was much easier to speak with them.

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