Earlier this week, we sat down with Archiact’s Studio Head, Kurt Busch, to discuss his predictions for the course of the VR industry in 2023. With over 30 years experience in the games industry, 5 of those in VR, Kurt has seen some monumental technological shifts in games and thinks VR is next.
Here’s what he had to say!
"I think 2023 is going to be a really significant year [for] VR, and I think there's going to be some major trends to look for this year."
How has your perception of VR changed since starting at Archiact?
I think my perspective has changed in the same way as it has for a lot of people: in terms of what the potential and the possibilities really are.
My first meaningful exposure to VR was seven years ago, and as a matter of fact, it was with Archiact — before I had joined the company. Somebody showed me an early prototype for a role-playing game that was very similar to these dungeon crawler games I played back in the ‘90s that I really loved.
However, this time I was actually inside the game, surrounded by skeletal warriors with flaming swords and things like that. It was just this feeling of, “oh my god, I can actually be inside these worlds that were so compelling to me back when I was playing them in 16-colour EGA on an Intel 286."
But, in order for me to play a game like that at that time, I would've needed an HTC Vive — a $700 headset — and a two- or three-thousand dollar PC running it in a dedicated room where I could have the sensors and the lighthouses up. That just didn't seem entirely practical to me for a home entertainment experience.
It was also important that you just stand in one position, and waves of enemies would come at you because, even with room-scale VR, you couldn't move around too much.
Shortly after I joined Archiact in 2017, Evasion was in development. It was a big, high-production-value game that we were creating, and the designers and engineers had worked on different types of locomotion within the game.
The game had three modes: a controller-based mode called a ‘dash step’; teleportation mode, which is still very common in VR but is not an entirely natural feeling; and then there was this great mode that I loved called ‘jogging mode’. You could walk in place — and you still had to move yourself with a controller, but that opened up this whole promise that you could go through a physical space while still being in one position in the room.
Shortly after that, I sat down with our Creative Director and said, “I want a game where I can navigate the whole world using just my hands and my arms, and not my feet.”
He tried a bunch of different prototypes with driving, flying, and things like that, and he wound up with a swimming motion. I was like: Okay, this feels really good. What can we do with this? And he came up with the notion of being trapped inside a capsized, sinking vessel from which you had to swim your way out. This became FREEDIVER.
These kinds of possibilities really change your perspective on VR. There are all sorts of little tricks that you can use to make things seem more like you're navigating an actual, real world.
And then the comfort level of doing this on something like a Quest, or the power level of doing something like this on the PSVR 2, really convinces you that there are epic games waiting to be made in VR, and they're going to be made sooner than most people think.
What has been the most impactful innovation in the VR industry?
The history of VR is full of innovation, but if I wanted to talk about the most impactful moment that I've seen in the last five years, I think it would be the introduction of the Quest and the Oculus Store — now the Meta Quest Store — for a couple of reasons.
The most obvious one for me is the comfort level. Before the Quest, it was a major investment and a technically-daunting thing for an average consumer to use VR — I mean, it was a lot of work. So having a completely self-contained, comfortable unit with a very good performance level changed everything completely.
All of a sudden, friends of mine who were very cynical about VR were buying the Quest and talking about playing really good games like SUPERHOT, an FPS Quest game that many had been playing for a long time, but people I knew were just discovering.
The comfort factor was a big deal, but so was the store experience. Having a curated store with standards for what went in there made a big difference in taking that step from being this experimental, indie sort of environment to being an actual legitimate entertainment art form.
Suddenly, rather than having all sorts of freeware with ambiguous quality and very low replay value, you now had a curated experience where you could be confident about what you were getting and what you were trying out.
The Quest — and the entire Quest experience — has been the most significant innovation in VR, in my opinion; it’s had the highest impact of anything I've seen over the last five years.
What VR trends do you see being big in 2023?
I think 2023 is going to be a really significant year for VR, and I think there's going to be some major trends to look out for.
One thing to look for is more diegetic design: we'll see more of the UI and player experience taking place within the world, rather than in some external and artificial fashion.
I think we will also see a significant maturation of the VR industry. That means greater production value, longer games, more licensed intellectual properties, and just generally bigger games; it’s going to be a more mainstream experience.
Another significant trend I think we’ll start to see really taking effect in 2023 is the efficient and more widespread use of high-quality passthrough cameras. This is already beginning to happen on the Quest Pro, and I’m sure we're going to see this on other headsets.
The passthrough cameras have a lot of potential.
From one side, it's the convergence of VR and AR; I think we’ll start to see AR being used much more as a design element within VR. But from a more human sort of level, what's going to be important is that high-quality passthrough cameras will reduce the feeling of isolation when you're in VR.
That isolation is both the really good part and the really bad part of VR.
The good part is there is no experience more immersive than being inside of a really good VR headset with a really great game. The bad part is, when you're immersed in your game, you have no idea what's going on in the world around you; your house could be burning down.
I think the ability to comfortably go in and out of a game using passthrough lenses is going to increase the acceptance level for people who are otherwise put off by the idea of being isolated within VR.
What do you think is the biggest innovation still to come in VR?
This is really hard to say because I guarantee that the biggest innovations coming to VR are things that I haven’t thought about yet — likely that none of us have thought about yet. But the important ones I do see coming will probably revolve around comfort and convergence.
For comfort, I think we will see big innovations within the lenses. We're already seeing higher-quality pancake lenses being incorporated, and we'll start to see better and more comfortable, smaller headsets; this is a continuing, ongoing thing.
But that will be balanced against what you need for more powerful tech and more processing power. I think we'll see innovations in both of those things substantially — in 2023, no doubt, and well beyond that.
The thing that'll go a bit beyond that that I'm excited about — and this is a kind of contentious opinion — is the convergence between VR and mobile, and other technologies. I don't see us having any huge innovations in 2023, but I think we'll have incremental innovations going on.
The reason I say this is contentious is because I know very smart people who say, “No, they're two entirely different experiences. Don't try to merge these two-screen approaches to create the same experience across flat-screen and VR.”
I look at it a little differently. I feel that there are big games and entertainment experiences waiting to be made that allow me to play one aspect of it on my phone, while I play another aspect of it in VR.
It's not that it’s a ‘versus’ situation where I'm in VR and you're on mobile or PC; it's more like, if I'm commuting, I can play on mobile and do a lot of my grinding and crafting on my phone, then go into VR when I'm back at home, where I can now unlock rare items, expand the land, and go back to more crafting and grinding.
Particularly with the ongoing expansion of 5G and the ability to process and render in the cloud, I think that this is a convergence that's going to be very, very rich for VR games.
What can people look forward to from Archiact in 2023?
here are a bunch of things I'm excited about for Archiact in 2023, and I'd say probably the most important one is a new game announcement that we will be making in the new year.
We haven't had a major game announcement since 2021, but we've been busily working away on a major title for the past couple of years as a very large team.
Archiact is now over 100 people, and the largest portion of those have been working on a major title that I'm not going to give anything away about right now other than to say: Look out for the game announcement!
Also, our continuing partnerships. When I first joined Archiact, one of the things I really focused on was expanding our partnerships. We have great partnerships with Meta, Sony, and Pico, along with some very large and significant publishers. Those will be expanded over the course of this year, and I'm excited about that.
We'll also be expanding the studio itself. I mentioned we're over 100 people right now, but those hundred people are spread out across Canada. We used to be exclusively in Vancouver, but we incorporated in Ontario this year, and we've got over 20 people there.
We also have a significant number of people in Calgary and elsewhere in Alberta, and in Manitoba and Quebec as well. We'll continue to expand across (and most likely outside of) Canada as we go on.
It's going to be a busy, exciting, and very fulfilling year.
And there you have it. Those are Kurt’s predictions for the VR industry in 2023!
What do you think the major VR trends will be in 2023? What tech/games coming out next year are you excited about?
From moving into our new studio to hiring our 100th employee, 2022 was a big year for Archiact, and 2023 will be even bigger.
Happy New Year!