zero-latency-sol-raidersZero Latency just announced a free-roaming, player vs. player experience called Sol Raiders that will be available to play starting February 9th at one of there 20+ locations around the world. Most location-based VR experiences are co-op where you team up against non-player characters since there are a lot of difficult logistics in preventing competitive players from running into each other in the course of game play or through respawning. Zero Latency has come up with some innovative solutions to this problem, which has opened up all sorts of new game play and strategy for up to 8 players in either 4v4, 3v3, or 2v2 scenarios.

Zero Latency wanted to prevent lone-wolf game play where a single player could dominate a death match, and so they implemented a number of different capture-the-flag mechanics that reward collaborative team coordination and communication. It’s really difficult to win without some sort of meaningful amount of team cooperation and coordination. But if the teams tie on capturing the same number of objectives, then they look to the number of kills as the differentiating factor. This opens up a large number of different strategies that have been opened up with the different layouts and number of people playing, which should increase the replayability factor.

Zero Latency released some of their statistics for number of players and games played, with 31,175 in 2016, 216,667 in 2017, 419,767 in 2018. On average, each player played 1.11 games in 2016, and 1.41 games in both 2017 and 2018. I expect that the player versus player to potentially help increase the replayability retention for Zero Latency, as there is a significant amount of variation, intensity, and difficulty with Sol Raiders.

I had a chance to talk with Zero Latency CEO Tim Ruse about some of their safety innovations that facilitate the player versus player VR game of Sol Raiders, some of their gameplay design and intentions, as well as some of their previous experiences, and upcoming challenges and vision for the future. Zero Latency is thinking about the future of location-base entertainment with the new headsets and hardware that will becoming available, and they’re convinced that there’s something that’s really compelling and sticky when it comes to physically moving your body through space in order to locomote in VR, and they proved out that people are willing to spend 30-45 mintues within a single VR experience. I’ve been able to try out a variety of different location-based VR zombie wave shooters, and I can definitely say that there’s something qualitatively different and more interesting about the new gameplay and strategies that are opened up with this player versus player mechanic.

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With the rise of battle royale games like Fortnite and PUBG, then the types of collaboration and communication skills that are being cultivated will definitely translate pretty well to this type of immersive entertainment. Zero Latency hopes to leverage these trends, and help to foster leagues and competitive play that could eventually turn into a full-fledged eSport. Creating a successful eSports title is more up to players first deciding that it’s enjoyable enough to compete with each other, but then most VR eSports efforts have had difficulty in finding ways to translate these embodied and immersive games into something that is compelling for a spectator to watch through 2D media.

Zero Latency will have to think a lot more about how to capture the game play to make it compelling for spectators to watch, and having a mixed reality broadcast could definitely help with that. But Zero Latency’s focus has been optimized for creating a compelling game play experience rather than creating scenarios that would be interesting for others to watch. The narrow hallways in VR help to prevent too fast of motion through the virtual environments, and I suspect that these narrow hallways would likely make a mixed reality broadcast a bit harder to watch and enjoy.

I watched a bit of the Onward Finals at Oculus Connect 5, and I found it very difficult to watch and follow live. The recording didn’t help much either as there are virtual locomotion mechanics that make it difficult to correlate an individual player to their virtual representation within the broadcast. However, if free-roaming PvP games like Sol Raider catch on, then they could have an advantage of seeing the players physically move through the spaces, and some mixed reality broadcasts could help audiences track what’s happening.

But I think there are still a lot of open questions about what types of maps and rules would make it compelling for people to watch. Most eSports titles like Counterstrike or Onward are set up so that each player only has one life. So there different tradeoffs for what’s more fun for the players versus what may be more entertaining for the spectator. The economics of location-based VR games mean that it makes more sense to provide an optimized experience for the player rather than a spectator, and so I’m skeptical that Zero Latency has much of an incentive to figure out the spectator aspect of a VR eSport. But if they’re able to foster consistent league-play across their 20+ locations around the world, then they’d surely be able to make some signifiant incremental progress about some of the key ingredients for a successful VR eSports title might look like.

Disclosure: Zero Latency paid for my travel and accommodations to Las Vegas to see the premiere of Sol Raiders.

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