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Owlchemy: Vision Pro is biggest step towards VR mainstream adoption

We talk to the exec team about virtual reality's latest developments, and why hype cycles are making the journey to mainstream seem longer than it is

Rumour has it that the Vision Pro is finally getting ready to get shipped outside of the US. Three months after its American launch, Bloomberg reported that Apple's VR headset could be shipping in several territories worldwide as early as next month, off the back of the firm's Worldwide Developers Conference.

It's unclear how many headsets Apple has shifted since retail availability in the US but the high $3,500 price point has made the Vision Pro somewhat of a niche within a niche product. Global availability could heighten the demand though.

And that's good news for the developers who are supporting the Vision Pro, including Owlchemy Labs. The studio announced back in February that it was porting VR hits Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator to Apple's headset, and CEO Andrew Eiche says that the strategy has always been for the studio's games to be on as many platforms as possible, regardless of how big the platforms are.

"Owlchemy has always been a multi-platform studio even back to the days when we were doing mobile games," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "And so it's less about a niche within a niche and more about the future. I think a lot of what Vision Pro represents, and a lot of what people care about, is they're hearing that this headset has reinvigorated the popularity of XR. I gave a webinar with Unity [about Vision Pro] and it was the most popular webinar they had ever done.

"And so, for us, this particular one is less about 'Oh, we need to be on the most popular headset.' It's more about what is good for the ecosystem. Our games are staples of VR and we love for the people who are just jumping into VR to play our games."

We ask Eiche whether he sees the Vision Pro as a viable platform for the mainstream, or whether he believes that's not the goal here.

"This is less about 'we need to be on the most popular headset', [and] more about what is good for the ecosystem"Andrew Eiche

"No," he answers. "I see it as one of the biggest steps towards mainstream adoption. I think there's still a lot of things that we have to figure out to get there. But as far as friction [goes], which is one of the biggest things that we fight in XR... It's one of the lowest friction devices. You put it on, there's no room setup, it's not yelling at you to draw circles or whatever, it just runs the apps. There's no caveats to it.

"And I think that, thinking strategically, that's really important to have a headset that you could just put on, it auto adjusts the lenses, it logs you in, it does everything."

The Vision Pro works with hand tracking, so not having to use controllers is also a strong selling point, he says, adding: "I think it represents the biggest step towards changing VR from a specific use case to a general computing use case."

Sandra Marshall, the newly appointed COO of Owlchemy, is in agreement that reducing friction as much as possible is the key, and that Vision Pro is a good example of that.

"It's in an ecosystem or a platform that people are used to, so if you already have the phone or the watch or whatnot, it's an extension of that, from a UI perspective, to get in and get it set up," she points out.

Pictured above, from left to right: Owlchemy's CEO Andrew Eiche, product director Matthew Hemby, and COO Sandra Marshall

It feels like every new headset is expected to become the VR headset that will reach mainstream adoption. Back in 2013, GamesIndustry.biz contributing editor Rob Fahey was pondering whether or not the 'VR dream' could go mainstream. And a decade later, it feels like the same questions are still unanswered, with the very same Rob Fahey arguing in 2023 that VR still isn't ready to play host to the cultural phenomenon that a 'must-play' experience would provide.

We ask the Owlchemy team what they think is missing, and how much longer the journey is going to take.

"I think the thing is that we were spoiled with smartphones," Eiche says. "And we forgot that smartphones had to go through Blackberry, they had to go through Palm… We had to go through all this stuff, and what we remember is Apple showed up and released this magical square that thinks and does everything for you. And you forget that Apple also made the Newton, which was a handheld device way back when, and famously was not successful.

"And I think a lot of what you get with enthusiasm is this kind of short look at things, but what has to happen first is the friction has to go down and we're still not there."

"We need the usefulness of it to rise and there will be an inflection point [when] the device becomes useful enough that the friction is worth it"Andrew Eiche

Even the best VR headsets feel heavy after a while, or get hot, he points out. And loving VR still sometimes feels like you have to justify yourself because people don't quite get the point.

"We need the usefulness of it to rise and there will be an inflection point," Eiche continues. "And it's going to be the inflection point of when the device becomes useful enough that the friction is worth it.

"For many of us it's there, but it's not there for the mainstream yet. But we're starting to see chipping away at that broader problem. So, I think, as developers and enthusiasts, you always want your eye on mainstream adoption but we need to be less worried about 'Are we there yet?' and more worried about 'Are we on a path to get there?'

"Sometimes technology appears and it's super useful, and you understand. Like Chat GPT shows up one day and everyone just f***ing gets it. But what you forget is that AI started in the '70s, and the first neural network proposal that [eventually] became Chat GPT, that started then, and we're just so used to not watching technology evolve, because it happens behind [the scenes] and then it gets productised and sent out as this great thing... And I think VR is one of the few cases where we've been so openly involved in watching every single step that we're like, 'But I love it, it should be here now!' And it's like… just wait!"

Owlchemy's Job Simulator (above) and Vacation Simulator (top) are being ported to Apple's Vision Pro

We mention some of the misconceptions VR has to fight, which are not dissimilar to some stigma associated with 2D-screen games at their debut; like the idea that VR is inherently isolating, as opposed to something that can be enjoyed as a group in the same room. (I'll personally always recommend to whoever says that to spend an evening with some friends and Beat Saber. Or Home Improvisation.)

Owlchemy product director Matthew Hemby comments: "Some of that is just also... it takes time. I remember getting my first iPhone and feeling like an absolute a**hole anytime I'd take it out in public. And so to Andrew's point about the tipping point of utility and friction... Some of this is also just us getting comfortable interfacing regularly with new technology around other people."

Marshall argues that people feeling like they're playing together when they're not physically in the same space is something a 2D screen can't give you.

"And I think having more multiplayer games will enable people that have these shared experiences together in a way that you can't get on other platforms," she adds. "The introduction of more mixed reality, as a way to see the environment around you as you have others with you, also contributes to that."

Owlchemy has been working on a multiplayer project that uses hand-tracking, which was announced at Gamescom 2022. So it certainly hopes to continue contributing to the march to mainstream adoption.

"We need to be less worried about 'Are we there yet?' and more worried about 'Are we on a path to get there?'"Andrew Eiche

The mention of Chat GPT earlier in the conversation leads us to discuss the ebbs and flows of hype cycles, which is currently all about AI but was about VR still not that long ago. And Eiche sees the trend going the same way it did for VR: "You just crash against the wall."

He continues: "Remember, VR was called the empathy machine, it was going to solve all of our problems… We're just at the top of the hype curve here, and a lot of that gets driven by where people want to invest, and very fancy demos. And my opinion [about AI] has always been that I'm very positive on it, but I'm positive on a very boring version of it.

"The ultimate end state of it is not that everybody suddenly has a [machine] over their shoulder just chatting with them all day. The ultimate end state is that you're going to buy an AI as a service package to integrate into your enterprise deployment and some companies are going to offer you that… It's very, very boring. But it's extremely useful.

"But right now, we're in the weird stage where people are over-applying. So, it's a buzzword the way that VR was. And it's funny because the group of people who chase the buzzwords, you always see them; they were in VR, they left VR for crypto, crypto was trash, they went to AI, it turns out AI is actually really hard to make, now Vision's [here] so they're back, and we see them again... And it's this cyclical group, and you're never gonna fix that, you just need to wait for the next buzzword. And then the people who are going to actually build it will stay and they'll work really hard."

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Marie Dealessandri avatar
Marie Dealessandri: Marie joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2016. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack. GI resident Moomins expert.
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