Virtual reality is still an enchanted territory for many developers. While everyone dreams of becoming a part of the leading industry, many VR apps development services fail right after the first app launch. The reason is a lack of knowledge when it comes to virtual reality game development. And we do not imply that people cannot code because they can; these are additional factors like marketing or selection of a game topic that prevent many startups from rising above and beyond.
Being a VR apps development company, we know about the real challenges of satisfying the ever-changing market demands and making a living out of it. This is why below we collected the kit of essential information about VR app development to help you get started on your very first project.
Before you begin
Before we move on to the actual game development, it is significant to clarify some things. Once you have an idea to get into the virtual reality app development and revolutionize the world, here are a couple of questions for you to answer.
- Do you have an idea and want a hired team to execute it? Or you plan a one-man-army project?
- Do you want to create a game for entertainment or maybe you aim to change lives with an educational VR application?
- How much time do you plan to spend on this project?
These three simple questions are essential when it comes to app development for startups. They can outline your vision and help with drafting your first business plan. The plan then will allow for calculating the project cost and hiring the right team.
How much does it cost to create a VR app?
The cost of a VR development project majorly depends on several factors:
- VR game complexity
- technology involved
- team required
- team location
It is easy to find a difference between Tetris and Game of Thrones. The former is a 2D app with the basic gestures to control the game. There are no characters to develop, no plot, no complex graphics, and it can be played on a mobile phone. The latter will likely involve the work of many designers, a complex plot with multi-level progress and dozens of characters involved, 360 degrees playfield, and probably the best existing headset for a truly immersive experience.
Now, don’t forget that team location is of great influence here as well. A mid-range single VR developer in the UK/US would require a salary of at least $65/hour, whereas, in Europe, the price varies between $40-$55/hour, and in Singapore, the cost is about twice lower amounting to $25-$30/hour for the top experts. Add project managers, designers, architects, and any other team members that a bigger app might need, and you’ll get the whole picture.
A Tetris-like game would then stay on the lower-edge of the VR games price range. Its cost can vary from $5,000 to $15,000 in total. Meanwhile, the cost for a multi-level game with plot twists and a huge team of people working on it starts from about $50,000 and usually reaches around $100,000, but you know, there is no actual limit here.
In terms of in-house and outsourcing, the price may differ as well. The current trends in the developed world are to provide the best in-house conditions for the employees (high-tech hardware, perfect office locations, bonuses, work perks, etc.). These expenses should also be accounted for when the app development cost is calculated. By outsourcing a VR apps development company, you can cut down that additional cost. But remember that an overseas team will also have a lower price range.
Concept & Technology
Now that you have already decided upon the prospective way of your app development, it is high time to sit down and outline what type of VR game it will be and what concept will lie in the base.
Decide on the game type
Hilary McLellan differentiated nine types of VR games. All these categories are based on the interaction that the gamer has within the game. The classification was made almost three decades ago, and owing to the high-speed progress of the VR game developing industry, we defined the following four relevant types.
- Immersive first-person VR apps are those where the gamers see the world with their own eyes. In these games, players are inside the VR world; they have a 360° view and freedom of movement in the game. Such games require quite extensive work from the VR design team and can be a tough-to-reach app development for startups.
- The through-the-window experience describes PC-based VR games. Here, the gamer interacts with the virtual world by looking at it through the window of their monitor. Even though the players do not see everything with their own eyes, such apps still offer first-hand participation in the game activities.
- Mirror world apps create a distinctive virtual world for the players, but they interact with it through an avatar. This is probably the most common type of virtual reality game in Singapore. Its old-school prototype would be The Sims, where players develop the world and rule it with their personified character.
- Cab simulator applications tend to be developed for professional purposes. Airplane, car, ship and other simulations are created as solutions for business VR to help professional drivers, pilots and captains acquire hands-on experience without crashing actual aircrafts and ships.
Whether you plan on developing a game yourself or work with VR apps development services, the selection of your game type is the foundation of the upcoming work. The next step will be a concept of plot and game complexity.
Plan the VR game concept
The concept is the base of your game plot, its central theme. The high-level concept defines whether you need many levels and challenges (like adventurous games need), or whether you are good with a set of repeating scenarios (like fitness apps). The concept also impacts the number of characters, the game ambiance, its further design among other important factors. So think about what you want to do.
- Action game aims to physically or logically challenge the gamer with tasks.
- Action-adventure game is a combination of an action theme with the game-long obstacles that players must overcome to win.
- Role-playing game is frequently a fantasy setting based on a book or a movie with a multitude of characters, challenges, tasks, forces, etc.
- Simulation game can emulate fictional reality.
- Strategy game requires the players to overcome the pre-planned challenges.
- Sports game can either simulate a well-known game (soccer, golf, basketball, fishing, skiing, etc.) or be a VR workout space.
- Puzzle game is the simplest of all. It can be a puzzle, a card game, or anything based on a real-life game. Puzzle games frequently involve logic and are easy when it comes to actual development.
Of course, the selection of one option does not prevent you from inclusions of other forms into your app. For example, a role-playing game may have head-twisters or puzzles as additional challenges for the players. However, if you decide to go mixed in your VR game, remember to carefully plan all scenarios.
This is also the moment to decide on the number of main characters, the high-level story behind it, the possible number of levels, and the tentative quantity of challenges per level. Consider also whether every player will have the same scenario, or maybe you are willing to introduce several complexity levels for your VR game.
Which technology will your game run on?
The technological aspect of VR development advances in leaps. Twenty years ago, we had only PCs; then mobile devices joined the ranks; today, there are special headsets and game consoles specifically designed for VR gamers, which have become widely available to the mass market. Before you get down to the actual building of your game, you have to clearly understand which device the game will require.
- PCs and laptops. Such games run on high-end computers. Given the age and level of development these devices have already reached, PC-based VR games offer the most detailed game options and virtual environments. The best VR headsets for such games include Valve Index, Oculus Quest 2, Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, and Samsung Odyssey+.
- Game consoles. Console games are similar to PC-based games, yet they are specifically designed to run on a particular game console. While the industry of virtual reality games in Singapore is working towards the development of a one-size-fits-all game for all existing consoles, so far, games are designed to match the characteristics of a selected console. Sony PlayStation VR remains the leader of VR consoles as of today.
- Smartphones. Mobile VR apps development services are in the highest demand at present. They are simpler in production and easier to sell, considering that the market is slowly getting into mass sales. Smartphone manufacturers develop their own additional VR headsets and controllers for games, for example, Gear VR by Samsung.
The choice of technology is fully yours. But remember that a role-playing console game requires much more time and team members than a simple mobile VR game. Thus, consider carefully the time and budget on the table not to go overambitious on your first VR project.
At this stage of your VR game development, you need to call for writers, artists and designers, developers and engineers, project managers, and even the marketing team members. By working all together at the very beginning of the long-lasting project, you will be able to define the scope and more precise plan of your development process. To be more specific, the function of each team member may be determined as follows .
Outline the planned character lines, define supportive roles, draft the plan for the number of levels and challenges. Each character receives a backstory, a graph of inter-character relations.
Cooperate with the writers to define which ideas might be incompatible with the selected technology/timeframe/budget.
Define the color scheme, create drafts of characters, art objects, general environment, and visuals for the game.
Developers and engineers
Meet to flesh out the physics, mechanics, and rendering.
Project Manager / Product Manager
Is present at every meeting to tie the loose ends, act as a buffer between departments, identify the potential problems, as well as set up a development timeline and timeframe for each department.
Most often, the planning stage results in an MVP with the game interaction, environment, characters, a simple challenge, and any crucial game elements to see how they fit into the same plot and if their interaction feels natural. At this point, virtual reality app development seems a bit crumpled and rough, so do not expect a ready-to-go game. During this period, your team will see the main challenges on the way, so it is the perfect time to smooth over any disagreements to find common ground for the upcoming work.
As a VR apps development company, at SwagSoft we have gone through a multitude of such planning phases, and we have formulated a number of rules that our team follows here. They will guide you in the right direction of the development to ensure that you do not reinvent the wheel or over-plan.
- Intuitive UI patterns: do not try to go the extra mile and introduce something new to the market; you will most likely create a piece of art that no one can use. Stay true to the existing intuitive UI patterns in the industry (those on mobile devices, computers, and wearables). Remember to differentiate between levels and hierarchies with colors and contrast; then carefully design object sizes keeping the player’s distance and view angle in mind.
- Physiological comfort: this aspect is still a significant challenge for some games. Many first-time players experience nausea, headaches and fatigue after 20 minutes in a VR headset. This is especially common for the apps that imitate flying, running, climbing, and any other activity that is different from standing and walking. Try to give the player’s eye a point of stillness, for example, a horizon line. Further, provide the gamers with as much control over the movements as possible, since control always offers greater relief for the vestibular apparatus.
- Overall comfort: remember that claustrophobia is a common disease for 7.7% of people; agoraphobia is an issue for 1.7% of the general population. These are the two most common phobias besides vertigo that can and will definitely impact the players. Remember not to create too small or too wide spaces because one might feel uncomfortable and hence put off by such games.
- Ergonomics: Every human has a comfortable angle of looking at things, and such an angle must be accounted for in your game. For example, if you plan for the player to use their peripheral vision at some point, do not place objects further than 105° aside. If you want them to see something on the floor, then remember that 60° up and 40° down are the maximum angles for a head motion. Ergonomics is of utmost importance in VR because the failure to consider it will lead to the disappointment of players in the lost objects and overall discomfort during the game.
- Sound: Without sound virtual reality would not feel like a reality at all. Whenever one or more feelings are not perceptible to a human body, they get substituted with others. Considering that virtual reality app development has not invented mechanisms for smells or touching yet, these are visuals and sounds that should substitute them. Opt for the holophonic sound (one that comes not only from left/right but also from behind, from above, etc.) whenever you can.
And the last but not least step at the preparation stage is to read what the market already has to say. What we mean is that you need to follow the guidelines from Google if you opt for a mobile VR app for Google Cardboard. Or get acquainted with the Oculus VR best practices should you go with this technology. These resources give you a heads-up on what is expected from your new game if you are willing to release it with such VR giants.
Development & Design
It is the stage when the VR apps development company makes magic happen: pen-and-paper characters and stories turn into close-to-life people and animals living in the virtual world. However, with magic also comes the burden of work and restraints. As a rule, the development-and-design phase is the most expensive one in the whole app development for startups (some might argue that marketing can beat it, and they might even be true). It is at this stage that all those participants who just recently consulted and worked on a prototype would sit at their computers and do the actual work of turning the idea into a game.
One of the key obstacles on the way to success will be communication among teams. This would be the PM’s job to set up and maintain a good spirit throughout the development stage. Most often, constructive feedback and proactive approach help, yet it is essential to ensure that all the following team members are equally involved in the process.
Key roles in VR development lifecycle
- Project manager: a knowledgeable PM knows about technologies of VR development and can easily control them. These specialists are the brain of every operation.
- VR developers: these are the people who code all the ideas and paper-based concepts planned before. Remember to get a VR developer on your team, not just a software developer, since the latter might not have enough experience and knowledge for 3D graphics.
- Game engine/computer graphics expert: this person would be responsible for building a specific 3D engine for your game if you are planning to do everything from scratch (though it is not a recommended path of app development for startups as it significantly complicates the project hence increasing its budget).
- VR designers: they know the tricks to turn a usual video game into a masterpiece of virtual reality because they know how to work with the complex 3D environment on the limited computational power that we currently possess. They also know everything about human perception of the world to ensure that objects feel and look as natural as possible.
- 3D artist/scene designer/animator: the choice of a few separate specialists or all-in-one worker depends on your project scope. But this expert creates 3D content, puts it into the environment, and improves it to look natural. The level of expertise required for this team member is essential since about 80% of all VR app development depends on this role.
All these team members will work together as in a usual software development lifecycle, so we will not dwell upon this aspect for details. It all comes down to iterations, communication, an agile approach, and flexibility on the way to perfection. The process of game development is similar in terms of procedures, regardless of 2D or 3D content. The content itself and the tools for its creation are what makes a difference.
VR development tools
You probably already have a favorite library, engine, and platform in mind, but it is essential to mention some of them. There are more than 30 options of different tools for VR development in the market. Each has unique features and perks, which depend on the project specification. Since in this article we talk about app development for startups, we feel the need to say that once you are in business, you will go through several trial versions of each platform and engine in order to select the one that suits you best. However, if you do not know which ones to choose, here are a couple of recommendations on the best options specifically suitable for beginners.
Since most often game development begins with design, it is only logical to start from these tools. Should you be going for a dry run to check how VR apps work or just prototype for an MVP, you can use assets from community-run libraries (Vuforia, VR Buttons and Levers, VRTK, VRAmrIK, etc.). However, remember that the custom-made models, assets, and textures are what make a VR game unique and interesting for the gamers. So when it comes to design tools, opt for the following:
- Sketch can help with building smooth user flows and screens for mobile interfaces. With a special plug-in, it creates 360° views.
- Blender is a free tool for custom 3D models, perfect for beginners.
- 3ds Max and Maya are more professional tools that are harder to learn but much more beneficial to use. With both, you can create animation, visual effects, lighting, sculpture and model your game completely. These are one-size-fits-all tools that might be tough to master for a beginner, but both are definitely worth the time and money investment if you plan to launch a virtual reality game in Singapore.
Another set of VR tools is for desktop. Most often, developers opt for Unity 3D, Unreal Engine (UE4), and Blender to create native desktop apps. Unity 3D should be the first VR engine selection for beginners. Its advantage is the possibility to preview all the development work within a virtual space via an HMD (Head Mounted Display). It is easy to learn and use (owing to the vast community of developers), and it is ideal for MVP development. UE4 is Unity’s main competitor. It has the same level of community support and tops it with multiple VR integrations and an asset store. UE4 also offers more realistic and detailed graphics. Both engines are the leading options because they allow exporting the developed product to most of the existing platforms. Blender wins the hearts of the VR community because it is free and open-source based on Python. It provides a great community, tons of support learning materials, and many formats that help using it with other VR development tools.
As you can see, there are already some tools to choose from. This is why for your first VR app, you need to clearly identify your goals (mobile, desktop, console, standalone VR set) and then select the tools that are designed to build apps specifically for these purposes. Should you be willing to go both mobile and desktop, for instance, be ready for a lot of tweaking since the 3D possibilities of PCs and mobile phones differ drastically, and not in favor of the phones. If you are so ambitious, then going for Unity 3D or UE4 would probably be your best choice since both theoretically allow the application to be deployed to more than one platform with minimal adaptation.
We separate tests of the app into an individual section to highlight its importance in the whole VR game development. Every single application, even the Tetris-like one, must be tested because there is no worse game than the one with bugs. And considering that in VR the bugs get vivid to the gamers (just recollect the floating items in Cyberpunk-2077), it is vital to bring as few of them to the final version of the game as possible.
Make sure that you always have a specialized team of testers for a VR project. Again – always. They have to push your modules as well as the final version to the limits to find all possible bugs for the developers to work on. Remember that these must be VR testers, those experienced in this type of project. And do not leave testing close to the deadline. It is a time-consuming process and requires some development work afterwards.
Marketing & Monetization
While these two sections are at the end of the article, it does not mean that they can be ignored or postponed. Marketing, as mentioned before, is an essential part of any virtual reality game in Singapore. Without professional marketing, no game would see the world because these are marketing and community building practices that allow monetizing the ready-to-play game after the release. So let’s take a look at the marketing tricks that are a must for any VR game and methods of earning a fortune with your creation.
Any successful marketing campaign begins before the game is launched or even developed. The earlier you begin working on a game’s promotion, the more successful your product will be after the launch. Pre-launch posts and news alerts about your game will create anticipation among the gaming community, hence increasing the potential interest and prospective conversion of your production effort. At the earliest stage, when only an MVP is ready, it is time to:
- Set up a website for the game (with early purchase options, screenshots, demos, and regular updates on the progress)
- Create social media accounts with similar information but more regular content publishing
- Spread the word about the game inside of the community: forums, websites, news publications, etc.
- Create a hook that will allow your community to grow naturally (for instance, ask people to sign up for updates and then send them a promotional code for the game a few days before the launch)
Once the app is launched, try to reach new audience members by giving interviews to the influencers in your VR niche, attending online/offline conferences and gaming events. Many VR apps development services also go for the free launch keys. By handing over your game for free to a blogger with 1 million subscribers, you get free promotion to that 1 million people. So do not hesitate to share free access cards to trigger the word-of-mouth promotion.
Where to sell VR apps?
Again, please do not think that this question is not so important as it is not in the beginning. Everyone in the VR development world is here for art and money because virtual reality is the future. The question is where to sell a ready-to-play VR application. The answer is simple – to the company you were designing it for. Now, let us explain what this means.
At the very beginning of your VR game development project, you decided that you would create a mobile app for Google Cardboard, for example. So here is your answer – sell it to or via Google. Yet, if you opted higher and went with the Oculus Rift headset as the primary one for your game, then go to Oculus Home and launch your game there. Every platform has its own review process for accepting a game and enabling a developer to publish it under its roof, but be ready that most of them will take about 30% of the game cost as royalty. For instance, Oculus Home may be reviewing an app for several months before allowing or refusing a game to appear in their space. To join the Google Playstore, the developer needs to pay about $30 fee for an account to freely publish the games there. If you decide to publish your VR game on Stream, for example, be ready to pay a fee of almost $110 to participate in the Greenlight review process that is required before a game is launched.
Solid understanding of where you plan to release the game and under which conditions is essential for a successful marketing campaign as well as a proper development process. So think very carefully about your future distribution channels before you begin active development.
Other options to earn on VR games
Besides selling the app itself, there are still a couple of options to earn a living from your project. They are in-app purchases and advertisements.
- In-app purchases are one of the most common features of all video games, and the VR world is not an exception. By making the app free, you can easily lure a huge audience into your game. But then in-app purchases of extra money, artifacts, levels, and any other perks can actually make the difference. It is true that statistically no more than 5% of all players make purchases; however, this 4.4% of playing gamers helped Clash of Clans earn $1.3 billion in 2014.
- Advertisement is and probably will remain among the top-earning options for game applications. Advertisers pay game developers for the ads to appear in their free versions while players play for the ads not to. As a result, game owners get double profit from advertisements after all.
Virtual reality and every aspect of it is a promising field for businesses. This article provides a complete guide on planning, developing, marketing, and monetizing VR app development for startups. There is a lot of information to comprehend and many tips that can help you push your next app to the top-10 of VR apps in the world. So glance over the article again, make notes, and dare to dream big!