VR suc­cess

What does a suc­cess­ful VR game look like? Joe Martin at­tempts to in­ter­pret the num­bers

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Joe Martin in­ves­ti­gates what sales are needed for a VR game to be suc­cess­ful.

Un­like some mem­bers of the Cus­tom PC crew, I can’t claim to be very knowl­edge­able about Rick and Morty. I know it’s an an­i­mated se­ries for adults on Adult Swim, but that’s about it. I’ve never watched it. The re­cently re­leased VR game, Rick and Morty Sim­u­la­tor: Vir­tual Rick­ality, was my in­tro­duc­tion to the se­ries.

What’s struck me most about Vir­tual Rick­ality, though, isn’t the game, but the im­pres­sion it’s made on the wider VR com­mu­nity. It launched in the same week as Bat­man: Arkham VR and the ex­cel­lent James Bond sim­u­la­tor I Ex­pect You to Die, but Vir­tual Rick­ality seems to have cut through the noise more ef­fi­ciently than those two games. Ev­ery­one was talk­ing about it and it’s been a huge suc­cess. Or so it seems.

The big pic­ture

Most de­vel­op­ers keep their sales fig­ures close to their chest, only shar­ing broad num­bers if they man­age to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions. Adult Swim Games hasn’t yet re­leased any fig­ures. In­stead, I’ve turned to Steam Spy ( http://

steam­spy.com), which uses the Steam Web API to in­fer sales and game data, to an­swer this ques­tion.

Steam Spy isn’t a com­pletely fool­proof source, how­ever. It isn’t an of­fi­cial Valve prod­uct, but made by a third party with ac­cess to all the data. I’ve used it for these pur­poses be­cause it of­fers the best data avail­able, and be­cause I be­lieve it’s broadly re­li­able for the pur­poses of this ar­ti­cle. Still, it’s im­por­tant to note its flaws and re­mem­ber that not all games are bought via Steam.

With those caveats in mind, Steam Spy re­ports that Rick and Morty: Vir­tual Rick­ality has sold 22,278 copies (with an er­ror mar­gin of 4,251 copies) at the time of pub­li­ca­tion. Given the AAA £22.99 price point and the fact that it’s only been avail­able for around two weeks, that fig­ure seems pretty good. Steam Spy also con­firms that it’s been pop­u­lar with the VR com­mu­nity – 18,000 peo­ple have played it so far, but how do those fig­ures com­pare to other SteamVR games?

Pretty well, ac­cord­ing to Steam Spy. Quivr, an in­die archery game that isn’t out of Early Ac­cess yet, sold 18,000 copies (±4,000) in its first six months. The more widely an­tic­i­pated zom­bie shooter Arizona Sun­shine sold 60,000 copies (±7,000) in the past six months too. Mean­while, early VR hit Van­ish­ing Realms has sold 85,000 copies (±8,000) over the past year.

Taken at face value, and as­sum­ing Steam Spy’s data is ac­cu­rate, these fig­ures seem healthy. Not only has Vir­tual Rick­ality sold com­par­a­tively well, but data from other games sug­gests there’s a healthy long tail too. It prob­a­bly helps that the plat­form is still quite young, so the good games can stand out.

The big­ger pic­ture

There’s more to a game’s suc­cess than just the raw sales fig­ures, how­ever. There’s other data to which

we don’t have ac­cess, such as the cost to make the game and the sales ex­pec­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, it’s pos­si­ble that Vir­tual Rick­ality isn’t ex­pected to be prof­itable be­cause the game is viewed mainly as a mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise, or as a pas­sion project for writer Justin Roi­land.

While we lack that data, we can add a wider con­text by es­ti­mat­ing the size of the VR com­mu­nity as a whole. Valve’s VR com­pi­la­tion The Lab is handy for this job, as it’s free and avail­able for both the HTC Vive and Ocu­lus Rift. As such, we can as­sume that a large pro­por­tion of VR gamers will have a copy. Steam Spy says it’s shipped 560,000 copies (±20,000) so far, which means Rick and Morty hasn’t hit the whole mar­ket by a long way yet.

We can also flavour this data with per­sonal re­ac­tion. In De­cem­ber 2016, Rock­etwerkz said it was ‘ex­tremely un­likely’ that it would ever turn a profit on the ex­cel­lent VR strat­egy game Out of Ammo. The game ex­ceeded Rock­etwerkz’ ex­pec­ta­tions and sold ‘un­usu­ally well com­pared to other VR games’, but it re­mained ‘very un­prof­itable’. Ac­cord­ing to Steam Spy, Out of Ammo has sold 21,000 units (±4,000) so far.

Fi­nally, we can com­pare these VR sales to non-VR sales, if only to gauge the po­ten­tial op­por­tu­nity if Rick and Morty had been re­leased with­out VR sup­port. At the time of writ­ing, Every­thing, a niche in­die game that ex­plores the phi­los­o­phy of Alan Watts, has sold 22,000 copies (±4,000) in less than a week. Thim­ble­weed Park, an old-fash­ioned ad­ven­ture game by Ron ‘Mon­key Is­land’ Gil­bert, has sold 44,000 copies

(±5,000) in a month. Nei­ther of these games are mas­sive AAA ti­tles with the weight of a suc­cess­ful TV se­ries be­hind them.

The big­gest pic­ture

So, has Rick and Morty: Vir­tual Rick­ality been a huge suc­cess? It’s hard to tell be­cause the in­for­ma­tion avail­able comes loaded with caveats and re­li­able com­par­isons are hard to find. You could eas­ily ar­gue that there are flaws in Steam Spy’s data, that a li­censed ti­tle isn’t the best ex­am­ple to dis­cuss or that VR’s unique chal­lenges as a plat­form are colour­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Those crit­i­cisms are valid too; so many

dis­cus­sions about VR are still cen­tred around fal­li­ble as­sump­tions.

This month I’ve heard col­leagues be­moan VR’s death based on the quiet­ness of a sub­red­dit and praise for its growth by point­ing to new hard­ware. One of these views is cor­rect, but nei­ther is right be­cause the data isn’t avail­able to sup­port it. Un­til the data is avail­able, try­ing to gauge the suc­cess or fail­ure of VR is largely fruit­less.

I started this ar­ti­cle with the as­sump­tion that Vir­tual Rick­ality was a suc­cess, based on what I’d seen on­line, but the re­al­ity is more com­pli­cated. For starters, I didn’t laugh once while play­ing it.

Yes, there are poop jokes

Steam Spy re­ports that Rick and Morty: Vir­tual Rick­ality has sold 22,278 copies

But is it funny?

Rock­etwerkz: ‘It’s ex­tremely un­likely Out of Ammo will be prof­itable’

Out of Ammo is a sadly over­looked strat­egy game

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