Vickie Chen , CEO of Avia Games, represents Chinese gaming companies hoping to break into the western market. Last week, in a non-descript Silicon Valley garage, we caught up with Ms. Chen to chat about Mirage Interactive, a fast-growing VR game studio out of Beijing.
Even with the understanding that the Chinese (and Asia overall) consumer market has vast revenue potential from the sheer numbers of players, we learned there is a strong desire to see games made in Asia become successful in North America. Joking about Avia Games’ need for this “Silicon Valley garage” aside, it is apparent from the Chinese game developers we met that the western world’s game development culture carries serious credibility to Chinese game developers. While Asia’s technical and creative development base are as first-rate as anywhere else in the world, and their talent pool is growing rapidly, reaching and winning players in the western market offers a certain panache and brings greater credibility to Chinese game developers. Reaching this target market is evident now in a lot of games made in Asia, particularly so for VR games.
Take Heroes of the Seven Seas for instance, Mirage’s flagship (no pun intended) game. Mirage Interactive’s founders come from WiSTONE. WiSTONE is China’s leading mobile game developer and publisher, and its mobile games have had great success worldwide. Now it’s one of the most competitive mobile gaming companies in China.
Created in Unity, with some glorious scenes evoking an old world pirate theme, Heroes of the Seven Seas has been built to take advantage of players using a Samsung Gear VR headset as their trailer highlights here:
Heroes of Seven Seas is a Sea Battle RPG game, depicting a pirate fantasy journey during the Age of Exploration. Players play a pirate who first learns the legend of the Master of the Seven Seas in a bar before embarking on his journey, during which he finds that his own destiny and that of the legendary Master of the Seven Seas are tightly intertwined.
According to Founder Ke Wang, “during early game production, we found that special keywords are associated with pirate-themed games, such as mystery, adventure, friendship, and treasure, etc. We thus tried to build the game from components, and they became it’s key features.”
Chao Wu, Operations Director at Mirage Interactive offers, “Right now, it’s still early stages for VR and most VR products focus on short term experiences. Few products spend effort on building a rich background and integrating designed content into a game. Today, most VR devices still make players tired easily, especially when played intensely.” Mirage decided to divide their game into three parts: land, sea battle and a shooting arena.
On land, players can wander on the pier, chat with NPCs, upgrade ships at the dock, as well as talking to the owner at the bar. Getting this kind of information doesn’t require additional strength. During the sea battle, the player’s warship has a health bar where the health will decrease if the ship is damaged by the enemy. However, when players do things such as walking, chatting, or upgrading ships, it doesn’t hurt their health bar.
The core of the game is sea battle, focusing on the shooting strategy. A player’s ability to effectively and strategically navigate, sail, choose the right angle and choose the right weapons to attack are the keys to victory. Lastly, they provide players with a Boss battle, which is similar to a traditional shooting game; players must focus intensely at the target, and careless mistakes will be punished. Ms. Chen jokes, “I won’t tell you that during the journey you will be eaten by a whale and eventually get an Easter egg.”
Like many VR games right now, Heroes of the Seven Seas in made in Unity. Asked about their choice of engine, we were told the team believes that for a VR game, focus should be on the game’s interactive design, user engagement and storyline, and as long as the technology is efficient and can be published on multiple platforms quickly, Unity is good enough since they really wanted to focus on the game’s performance.
Their game is probably one of the few pirate-themed VR games, and it covers various control modes that may appear in VR games. The game probably still needs some improvement, but Avia Games is confident it has many innovative features.
Heroes of the Seven Seas has just launched on Gear VR and priced at $4.99 and will soon launch on Oculus Home (Rift), Steam (Vive), and Sony’s PSVR. In an upcoming update on console and PC versions, expect improved performance and spatial adjustments for the controller. In the near future, also expect a PvP version for Heroes of Seven Seas.
Mirage Games is a great example of this game development world-flattening we see emerging in VR games and applications. Like so many other new VR studios around the world, Mirage Interactive was established at the very beginning of the emergence of VR to focus on VR gaming, aiming to create the best virtual reality entertainment for players worldwide. According to Ke Wang, “we are a team of game industry veterans with passion and dedication, and we believe that VR is an exciting next stage in human-computer interaction. We intend to be the most innovative pioneer in this industry and become the most valuable VR company.”
Speaking with folks from Mirage Interactive and Avia Games, it became apparent we share a mutual thinking that small scale online battles will be a key feature of future VR games. VR is a transformative new experience, and such innovations always bring a sea change to the industry. Chao Wu proclaims, “for example, the impact of the iPhone was dramatic enough that mobile devices have started to subsume and replace PCs in many areas, such as gaming. Now that the growth of mobile has slowed, VR will not only bring a new experience to people, but also spur the development of closely-related industries.”
It is expected that VR will spur continued improvements of graphics cards, 3D engines, and phones in order to meet the performance demands of providing a VR experience. Games have always been well-positioned to make use of the immersion of VR, but, until recently, have been locked into being shown on flat 2D surfaces. Many anticipate that games will be the first killer app enabled by VR, and gaming companies all over the world are poised now to rise to the challenge.
Here at GBR, we have no doubts about the continual rise of the VR market, but developers’ biggest risks are timing, resources and how well their competitors fare. If there are more VR users within the next two years as expected, with polished and fun games, then studios such as Mirage Interactive will establish their position in the VR industry and continue to grow their player user base – internationally. However, if it takes longer than that, then it may be a test for their team and their financing abilities.
This said, one of the biggest challenges right now is user interaction design. Since this is a completely new environment with new ways to interact, everyone is trying to see what works, but the cost of this kind of experimentation is not low. Like pretty much everyone else entering the VR market, Mirage Interactive believes VR has huge potential and they believe in their team enough to continue to meet VR’s challenges.
Concludes Ms. Chen, “I think the most important ability is to seize opportunity. As long as you are doing the right thing at the right time, success will come along.”