VR experiences can be designed so that no one feels sick. Nay, they should be designed so that no one feels sick. In case, it’s unclear, Dear VR User, sickness is not par for the course.
I’m saying this because it apparently needs to be said. Our Oculus Rift CV1 hasn’t even arrived at our office, and I’m already running into people who think that VR is not for them because of sickening experiences they’ve had. (1)
Here are a couple reasons I want to implore you, Dear VR Developer, to join me in having a goal of zero simulation sickness in your VR experiences.
In particular, I’m referring to sickness caused by the game itself. Some software and hardware malfunction is unavoidable, and that’s sure to cause some amount of discomfort, but we should aim to make it as minimal as possible.
Suit what you build to the medium
As we started our design process on our first game for VR, the first thing we did was search out what genres of game we were most interested in and excited to build. Then, we considered which of those game genres might make people sick, and we immediately eliminated them. Then we proceeded to try to get crazy within those constraints.
And this is totally possible. Constraints have stimulated creativity for designers for decades!
How did we do this? We did two things:
- Research on causes of simulation sickness
- Played other games and saw what made us personally sick
A lot of things you would like to do in VR ironically just don’t work. The faster we can get past that, the faster we can find interactions that do work.
Instead of eliminating all potentially sickening concepts or genres, you can also try to figure out a way to innovate to make that game concept work. Explorations of locomotion through teleportation are great examples of this, which you can see in games like Bullet Train and The Gallery. But for us, the field is wide open enough that we felt interested in exploring game concepts that felt really native to the medium.
Also, USER TEST the shit out of this stuff.
It may be hard to do without stacking the cards against you
OK, Game we will love, check. Games that all our players can also love, check.
Software bugs will still get in the way. Intersections of code in sad and dizzying ways. People that try to run on underpowered rigs. Glitchy hardware. It happens.
There will be plenty of technical barriers to ensuring a comfortable experience. Why pick a concept that is uncomfortable from the start?
Bleeding edge demos + newbies = not the best mix?
Look, I know we’re still figuring everything out. I know this is almost as exciting as the wild west and landing on the moon COMBINED. I know experimentation is key to innovation and pushing boundaries. I applaud all of my fellow creators in pushing the limits and sharing their thoughts openly and growing knowledge in this community.
But you don’t have to ship your experiments.
Experiment, figure out what works. Ship that.
If you must share, be sure to give people careful warnings on both:
- Likely level of sickness possible (as many are already doing)
- Any kind of unusual, intense, violent, or otherwise adult content
Give yourself the broadest possible audience.
Can players play for hours something that made them feel ill? Can they buy the sequel? Can they badger their friends incessantly to come play with them?
I believe even the bad experiences can be overcome with time, and that the growth of VR is inevitable. But why slow the growth of this awesome medium?
Every time people put the headset on, they are trusting you. They want to try what you’ve made. We should do our best to deserve their trust.
Also, um, no one will want to head to the wild west if they hear it’s only full of dysentery and dead oxen.
Personally, I want our games to appeal to the broadest possible set of people. It’s hard enough to connect with players who love our work, to find our way through the mists and chaos of the internet to someone who likes what we like.
Turning away some who might want to play our games, because it makes them sick? Imagine me screaming nooooooooooo in super slow motion. Or better yet here’s some gifs.
So… pretty please?
Look, I’m a UX designer, first and foremost. I make games, I write, I contain multitudes. But as a UX designer, it is my sworn duty to implore you. (2)
Make games and VR experiences that are comfortable for everyone to use.
(1) This is likely a result of using early builds, early headsets, underpowered computers, or all of the above. And hopefully this should be cleared up as mature technology is established and becomes available. But it won’t just go away with a poof of fairy dust.
(2) Otherwise they’ll take away my Adobe Illustrator, and we can’t have that, can we.