In the absence of a killer original application, VR/AR growth is being driven by big names from related industries. Established IPs are ripe for VR/AR adaptation.

The Value of IPs

Spotting the longest lines at E3 was not difficult. The newest Mario title for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, reached extensive wait times, but Bethesda was a strong rival. On average, fans waited over four hours to try Bethesda's VR offerings. The Maryland-based game developer is bringing its three largest franchises to VR. Fallout 4 and Skyrim are receiving adaptations while DOOM is receiving an entirely new experience. Each franchise is a blockbuster, with the lowest selling still shipping 3.6 million units. The lines at E3 are the latest proof that VR (and AR) experiences are still driven by established IPs.

This has been true all through VR's first year. Minecraft and Resident Evil 7 are among the biggest sellers for VR content. In regards to AR, look no further than Pokémon GO. Users are turning to established names to guide them into new technology territory. While this is certainly not a bad thing (Mario and Zelda helped sell the public on initial 3D gaming), it speaks to problems in VR software development.

Those close to space know that there is no shortage of compelling original VR content. Experiences like Tilt Brush, Accounting, and  Raw Data are all highly reviewed but not readily accessible to the mainstream market. Each of these titles requires the purchase of a high-end PC and PC HMD (Rift or Vive). This puts a minimal price tag of $1,000 on the experience - a free title like Accounting is not, in fact, free to the vast majority of potential players.

Since users are already spending so much money on hardware, they are very conscious of maximizing their dollar value. This is why trusted game developers are seeing the highest rates of adoption. Spending an additional $60 is easy when the user knows they'll receive Fallout-caliber entertainment. This is not the first time the gaming industry has been in this position and developers would do well to learn from history.

A Double-Edged Sword

In traditional gaming, films were the established property being used to generate excitement. IPs like Star Wars and Disney (certain titles) translated well to the gaming space, highlighting the strengths of the gaming platform. One of the most infamous game releases centered on an established IP, E.T., for Atari is regarded as one of the worst games ever made and helped contribute to the gaming crash of 1983. For better and for worse, established IPs see extra attention. Movie tie-ins, in general, have become so synonymous with poor quality that they are now rarely developed as full price games.

The reaction to Batman Arkham VR was decidedly mixed when the game was released. Still, it received quite a lot of attention.

Developers using established IPs need to be extra careful in development. How well a mainstream experience uses the technology often serves as a benchmark in forming public opinion. For example, Wii Sports sold motion controls in a compelling way. Super Mario Galaxy and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess did not. Developers not using tech properly often leads it to be seen as a gimmick rather than innovation.

When used well, however, established IPs offer a compelling case for users to try new platforms. This is a main takeaway from E3 2017. It is exciting to see how other established developers will use (or misuse) VR and AR in the coming months.

Nintendo is producing its first Mario Kart VR experience for VR arcades. The experience already looks to be a top seller.