As Verse nears, Sweeney gives gloomy VR view

Sorry, no Fortnite tips in this Epic-focused issue.

As Verse nears, Sweeney gives gloomy VR view
[Header image remixes a promotional image from Epic Games.]

Hi folks!

Here's this week's Virtual Vector, which I'm guessing has arrived between some early OOO notifications and upcoming flight reminders for many of you. Feels like things are slowing down fast for the end of 2022, so here's another short one. As I said last week, I plan to keep weekly issues coming through the rest of December. My finals aren't over yet, hence the Wednesday release. Also, my class schedule for next semester is nearly set and it's looking like Wednesday might need to become the norm moving forward–watch this space.

One more thing: I want to kick things off with a prompt this week. If you're buying anything VR-related as a gift yourself or someone you know, or if you're using AR for some holiday shopping decisions, I'd like to hear about it! Email me at if you want to share.

An Epic two-fer

Say it ain't so, Tim–coming off a new interview and some characteristically candid followup tweets, there's been a lot of talk around Epic Games' CEO saying that Fortnite won't make the leap to VR. As we'll go deeper on in the next section, Tim Sweeney's comments here as reason to doubt his other metaverse plans related to Fortnite, but this should halt speculation about any VR run-ins with Peely for the foreseeable future.

"The magic of Fortnite since 2018 has been that all players can play any mode together across all platforms," Sweeney tweeted in response to a thread kicked off by Myles Dyer last Friday. "In a group of friends, people own different devices. If VR required special modes, groups would be fragmented." This hypothetical of Fortnite needing separate VR modes stems from a question Sweeney asked earlier: whether there's "a good VR game with fast shooter style player movement that doesn’t induce widespread motion sickness?"

No matter which popular, movement-heavy non-shooter VR game a person might hold up to suggest Sweeney's asking the wrong sort of question here, I think you'd be hard pressed to come up with a sample size that might sway Epic. Fortnite attracts tens of millions of players for the same core battle royale across a wide range of devices, and for all the work that's been done with comfort and locomotion in recent years, Sweeney's lack of interest in adding VR to that list makes sense. There's no magic bullet for VR motion sickness. Epic would need to invest in costly development work to do a decent job of a conversion, and right now it would likely only add a few million players to Fortnite's player count, tops.

Sweeney added that the alternative–cordoning off VR players to account for balance and comfort changes–would "would likely lead to smaller-audience VR modes failing unless they were so amazing that they caused 10M's of people to go out and buy headsets." Let's be clear about one thing here: at least as Fortnite is concerned, that's the kind of scale that Epic wants to start seeing before VR would be anything more than a hypothetical.

Fortnite aside, I think this additional bit from Sweeney deserves some thought:

Beyond just games, this idea of design-neutrality determining whether VR will soar or sink gets us into the problem of what needs to come first: a mass audience for immersive content, or wearable hardware that better substitutes for other screens.

My guess is that you can't get to the latter without the former. It's not as though early personal computers and smartphones were great ways to experience media that wasn't originally designed for them; they rose to prominence because they were able to let us do and experience other things, and then over time they became better tools for all manner of activity. While Epic waits to see how VR scales from here, I think it'll be the teams unbothered by design neutrality who'll really determine how big the market can become.