Zero 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.
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So Zero Latency actually just released a brand new player versus player location-based virtual reality experience. And PVP is something that is kind of difficult within VR because there's so many logistics for how do you manage people moving through an actual physical co-located space without running into each other, but still be able to navigate in a virtual world, but also in real life. And so there's a number of different design challenges that that presented that took zero latency, the last 15 months of developing another six to eight months of R and D and prototyping. And they've launched their first location-based virtuality experiences back in 2016. And they've been growing over the last three years or so. They just released some of their statistics in Hamilton from upload VR published some of their total numbers of gameplays that they had over the last three years and so in 2016 they had around 31,000 playthroughs and 2017 they had about 217,000 and then 2018 they had around 420,000 playthroughs of their variety of different experiences. I think they had like five or six different experiences. Most of them were shooter, wave shooter type of experiences. They had one that was more of a you're walking around through these different mazes and it's more of like a collaborative puzzle solving experience that you're able to do. Pretty straightforward but just allows you to have an experience of exploring and roaming around in VR. And they also released a number of unique players and so on average in 2016 each player played about 1.11. And then for the last couple of years, 2017, 2018, they were hovering around 1.41 games per person. And so they're hoping that with the player versus player, it's actually going to increase that. And I think it actually will, because it's just a lot more compelling to play against other humans versus playing against some non-player character zombies. so the gameplay is just so much more rich and it's also just a lot of difficult challenges that they had to figure out how to actually manage this dual layer of you're walking around in a virtual space but you're also walking in a physical space and so normally in a VR experience if you're playing it at home you don't really have to manage actually physically bumping into some other people. And so there's just a lot of safety concerns for how you actually design a PVP type of experience within VR, as well as managing the logistics of how do you actually respawn without running into people and all these different things that they actually had to figure out and play testing and iterating. And because Zero Latency has this community that they've been cultivating over the last number of years, then they've been able to actually do, I think, some true innovations with what they've been able to accomplish with Solar Raiders. So Zero Latency paid for all my travel accommodations to go out to Las Vegas and had a chance to actually try out Soul Raiders, play a number of the other experiences, and then have an interview with the CEO, Tim Ruse, who is based out in Melbourne. And so this conversation for me happened on Monday, February 4th, 2019, but actually happened for Tim in Australia on Tuesday on February 5th, 2019. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:21.130] Tim Ruse: So my name's Tim Roots. I'm the CEO and one of the three co-founders of Zero Latency. And our company exists for the sole purpose of delivering amazing free roam virtual reality experiences. That's a genre of entertainment that means you put on, at the moment, a headset and a backpack, pick up a controller and enter a space where you can interact with any digital content, just like it's real life.
[00:03:42.342] Kent Bye: Great. So I just went through a number of the new experiences that are launching. So maybe you could tell me a bit about what you're launching here in Las Vegas.
[00:03:49.450] Tim Ruse: Yeah, so we're launching our latest title, Soul Raiders, which is a PvP title, so player versus player. It's our first foray into the player versus player world, but it's been a little while coming, which is great. We've spent about 15 months developing it. Prior to that, we did about six to eight months of R&D, had a couple of guys putting in some time, testing different concepts, and I think we've landed on what makes a really compelling player versus player experience. taking into account the things that are really good about free-run VR, and then also making sure it's as easy to play and pick up as possible, but also ideally hard to master. I mean, there's quite a bit going on inside that game that I think will allow us to achieve that with a view to over the next few months into the next year, iterating on that content, listening to customers, and starting to build communities and leagues around that. At a local level, we have 25, soon to be 30, sites all over the world, and making sure that we're fostering a community of players, listening to them, and building it out with ultimately the goal to turn it into a full-blown esport.
[00:04:51.334] Kent Bye: Great. So yeah, this is actually the first real full-fledged player versus player VR experiences that I've had a chance to try. Most of the location-based entertainment VR experiences that I've done are co-op, like you're collaborating with other people to either shoot zombies or robots. But in this case, you actually have a number of different capture the flag type of games where you're able to actually have three people versus three other people. So what were some of the biggest things that you had to overcome in order to actually do player versus player in VR?
[00:05:25.213] Tim Ruse: I think one of the biggest things to overcome was probably getting a bunch of assumptions and I guess like knowledge that you accumulate from working on different platforms and throwing it out the window and almost starting from scratch. The reason I say that is initially our first player versus player attempt was, okay, let's switch on every backpack and gun that we can before the system maxes out. We got to 13 or 14 sets of equipment. We turned on friendly fire. We put people inside this big military staging area and we gave them all automatic weapons and we said, go nuts. We did prove that standing seven versus seven standing off with automatic weapons at ranges of sort of 20 to 30 meters. It's a complete bloodbath and no one really walks away from that. And it wasn't a huge amount of fun. You stick your head out, you get killed. Around a corner you get killed. It was complete chaos as well and very little teamwork, very little cohesion. So that was sort of day one. That was close to two years ago. And then we've started building out a few different concepts as well, class-based stuff. But what we've landed on is we want to make something that's cooperative and collaborative. We want people to have to work together to achieve a goal, hence why it's a capture the flag scenario. We also wanted to take into account the way we set up the maps you want people to feel free to move which you want it to be safe but you also don't want people to be able to just sit back at a 20 meter range sniping everybody and getting that advantage so taking all that into account to build it and then the team spent a lot of time working with our alpha army who are our focus groups essentially they come in we test with them we test gameplay on them we gather their feedback we iterate through the game so it's been a really long and iterative process to land on something that is I think a fantastic showcase of what you can do in free roam VR, but also leveraging some of the stuff that you do see that's worked in existing esports and different capture the flag sort of concepts and putting that into something that is truly unique and leveraging what free roam VR does best, which is to completely lose your sense of reality. And hopefully, as we take you through four different levels, you get that full sense of immersion that you've been taken to a different world.
[00:07:26.550] Kent Bye: Yeah. One of the things that I noticed was that when you die, you have to be able to go back to your origination point to respawn, but you have to make sure that you don't run into other people. So it's a little bit of like when you die, you get to see where everybody else is. So you don't run into them. So that was an interesting thing that you had to do that. I think functionally you have to do it. So you are safe and you're not running back and bumping into people, but maybe you could talk a bit about. some of the challenges of the respawning and, you know, once you die, what happens after that, but also to ensure that you're not actually colliding with other people in the actual physical co-located space.
[00:08:03.211] Tim Ruse: Yeah, absolutely. So very much. So when you die, you go to sort of never world, essentially. So the game disappears and what we're trying to do there is lowest the stimulation as much as possible. So you're just focusing on getting back to your goal, making that goal as clear as possible. That was a really important part. The ghosts as well, we did a few different things because obviously when you die there's a hack that you can look around and see where the other players are. but we've had to go with that because you need to be able to see where people are and more importantly then see you coming because people do move pretty quickly in a player versus player game. We've wound back some of the speed-based safety mechanisms and compensated for that by making sure that the game doesn't invite you to, like you're never very close. The game channels you in essentially north-south direction. It doesn't want you to go east-west where you could potentially jump to the left or right and leave the space. So that's sort of how we've managed that. We tried a few different things. We tried arrows on the ground. But ultimately, it's about if you're dead, you've got to give right of way to the people coming towards you. And by and large, I think that works pretty well. Certainly by the second or third round, people are all over that. Plus, people are really motivated, I think, to get back in the fight. So they want to get back to those spawn points as quickly as possible. So some of the other safety mechanisms we've got is There's proximity radars that are contextual where they can wear too much secret sauce, but it's a balancing act between having too much safety. So it's constantly nannying you and then not enough where it's dangerous. And, you know, after five years of developing this content, iterating with zero latency is the king, I think, of that sweet spot. We want the safety to sort of be around you, but we want it to only really get into your face when it's really necessary and it's dangerous. I think with the player versus player game, we've done a great job with that. Also, the bots that you're inhabiting, their guns are bigger than the prop. So, if you stay out of the way of the virtual gun, you're well safe of the physical one. And the same with the bots. Bots are intentionally made to be larger, and that means that if your bot's coming at me and I avoid it, then I'm definitely going to avoid your physical form. That is some of the stuff that you learn, you know, when you've literally had millions of minutes of your game played and done hundreds of hours of playtesting. There's some of the stuff that we can bring to bear to make sure that it's fun and exciting, but it's also safe. And then even in the way the gameplay is organized, the way the maps are laid out, that's all bringing to bear the knowledge that we have and all the testing that we've done over the last five years.
[00:10:22.058] Kent Bye: Yeah. I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about the balancing because you have these different tasks, like capture the flag, where you have to stand there and shoot these different objects for a long time. And you're basically like a sitting duck when you're doing that. And so the team can come up and. kill you pretty easily but at the end of the day if you do those certain objectives then that's going to win you the rounds but if you're tied in that then it comes down to kills so there seems to be like this very interesting like either you're going to go for the objective or you're going to just go for kills and if you don't go for the objective and you only go for kills then you're not going to win Because if you let the other team get the objective, so there seems to be all these very interesting balancing things that you have to have these different trade-offs. I'm just curious if you could talk a bit about how you find that sweet spot, ensuring that you have a good balance of each in terms of how you've developed the game.
[00:11:13.770] Tim Ruse: Yes. So there's been a fair bit to that. I think it was a straight out death match initially. And then that was pretty clear. It's like, Oh, this just allows like even one lone wolf to just go out work as a team. So we put the objectives in. The objectives as well, the speed at which they move, there's been a lot of time and energy. It was pretty transparent to the user putting in, all right, how long do I need to be there with my beam on the orb to move it to the goal? Obviously, the more people on it, the faster that is. It rewards play where you're working cohesively as a team. So you played three on three, it does four on four. If you move up with someone focusing in a three-on-three scenario, if you have one person focusing on the orb and then two people not cohesively. It's very, very difficult to win. And what we wanted to do was open up a few different, I guess, it's easy to play, but we want to have these strategies that are a bit more difficult to master. You've got to work as a team. So as you rightly identified, One strategy is just to go flat out for the objective. If you're one point above the other team, that's great. But then if it draws, you need to go to kills. Other people will just get a point and then go just help a leather trying to get kills, knowing that if the other team gets a point, then they'll win on kills. So we've designed it in such a way that if you just want to come and experience VR and have more of a, just a straight out shooting experience. You might not win, but you can have a great time just, you know, getting headshots on your friends bots. But if you want to come and play the rule, there's plenty of opportunity there for you to take the lead and go, okay, here's the strategy. You know, you move on the left, you move on the right, I'll go through the middle and take the orb, take the soul core. So we've tried to build it in such a way that it allows players flexibility. And the more that people come back, the more that they can nuance those techniques.
[00:12:59.190] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's interesting. I found that while I actually was playing with the people I was playing with, there wasn't a lot of coordination or communication, and I think we lost a lot of the games. So I think the lack of the communication, it's interesting to hear you say that now. The game really does get set up to encourage you to collaborate as a team. I found it challenging, though, in terms of finding the right language to be able to communicate, and I'm just curious if If you found that people that have a background in like Counter-Strike or other games where they do do quite a bit of communication, if they tend to, uh, have a little bit of easier time with playing a game like this.
[00:13:34.063] Tim Ruse: Look, I think there's that element to it. Also, I think it's quite interesting because it's all cutting edge. It's all a grand experiment, but my observations are if you've got a leader, like I've done an experiment when I played. So you play two games, so each game has three rounds. And I've sat back and just done nothing when I've played with people who are a number of experienced and they're not, and we've been beaten. And then the second game, just coming in as a leader and going, okay, here's a strategy. Like I need two people need to go in the towers. And then when I say, go, we're going to rush out on the gondolas, we're going to take the core, just that leadership piece. And then people listening to that is a really effective way to just flip the tables on the other team. So I think definitely having a background, If you've played more online collaborative shooters where you're used to working in a squad, that can help. But ultimately, it's about having someone take a lead and then other people following those instructions, which really helps you win. But you can just wing it. But yeah, that leadership piece, I think, is pretty important to winning. And you still have fun even if you just, you know, shoot a few bots. But if you want to win, you do definitely need that element. And I think having some experience in that definitely helps.
[00:14:37.085] Kent Bye: And so you said that you've had up to like seven versus seven people, but that was a little chaotic. Did you find that three people versus three was kind of a sweet spot that you're really shooting for?
[00:14:46.753] Tim Ruse: Well, it's actually, you had six people. So it was three on three. It goes up to eight, four by four. So look, I played a one-on-one I played two on two, three on three, four and four. Each one of those games has its own. tactics and own nuances, which I'm really pumped about the fact that if you come and play and it's a two-on-two, it's a completely different game to four-on-four. It's faster, but it's also, if you go up by yourself, you just got to get like two-on-one, it's a disaster. Whereas three versus four, it's the odds are a little bit different. So Yeah, it very much scales out and the gameplay just changes. And the maps have been designed like that. You know, be spacious for two-on-two, comfortable at three-on-three and four-on-four, but also ultimately open up different gameplay techniques and ways to win.
[00:15:32.216] Kent Bye: Can you talk a bit about how much physical space that you're using in this experience?
[00:15:37.020] Tim Ruse: Yeah, so it's approximately 200 square meters, which is about 2,000 square feet. That's where we found the sweet spot.
[00:15:45.254] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess it's like more long than it is wide. It's not like a square, it's more of like a long rectangle. It seems like these runs, they're more about you trying to navigate these different mazes, but have enough space between the two teams. But it seems like it's more optimized to be longer than it is wider in this case.
[00:16:05.171] Tim Ruse: Yeah, in this case, absolutely. We actually have a few different variations of the game because we have different form factors. There's actually a 15 by 15 meter square. which is pretty cool as well. And that, once again, not completely changes, but does dramatically change the way you move through that space and the tactics, which is a cool thing about having a physical space. It's a constraint, but it's also like a lot of constraints lead to high levels of creativity because there's stuff you unlock, like a longer and narrower versus a box, different maps, different gameplay, different opportunities, which is awesome.
[00:16:35.821] Kent Bye: Now, when did this Vegas location originally open?
[00:16:39.642] Tim Ruse: That was close to two years ago now.
[00:16:41.933] Kent Bye: And, uh, maybe you could tell me a bit about like what you've found with the other content. I had a chance to play through some other of the different types of experiences that you have. And there was one where it was basically like no guns at all. And I was just like amazed that I was walking through and then another zombie wave shooter. And I guess there's another like robot wave shooter, but maybe you could tell me a bit about some of the other experiences that you've had for the last couple of years.
[00:17:06.423] Tim Ruse: Yeah, absolutely. It's been quite an interesting journey for that. Our first ever. public release was a pop-up where we just had two players digitally connected, but physically separate. We worked out pretty much instantly, wow, the difference between one player, which we'd had previously to two, that social aspect and working together and just being in an experience with your friend is like 10x the enjoyment. So we rapidly realized that was the secret. Then we'd learned from, we had essentially had five mini games, like a couple of minutes each and everyone played through them. We then used that to iterate our first permanent facility in-game, which was 45 minutes long, big space, eight-player experience, which was awesome. And that leveraged, like, people liked walking longer distances, they liked being in the game for longer, they really wanted to, I guess, explore a larger world. They really liked that element of it, so we brought that all together. And then we then released three games After that, and these games are available everywhere, so it's Engineering, which is the puzzle game you played. The Singularity, which is you're exploring a space station trying to work out what happened to the crew and ultimately finding your way through hordes of robots. And then Zombie Survival, which is the fort-based shooter, the survival shooter that you played. And what we do with each of those is go, right, survival is very much an intense wave shooter. It's very, very challenging to stay alive, but it's super fun, super adrenalizing. Engineering is the complete opposite. That is an experiment going, okay, what can we do to completely twist people's sense of perception and mind around? And there's some amazing stuff out of that, the ramps, the twists. A bunch of the IP created in that game has fueled creativity across all our games in terms of the way we handle lifts, the way we handle ramps, stuff that we never thought was possible and no one had done before. And we just keep learning and keep iterating and bring all that to bear, which is where we brought a lot of those mechanics, lifts, ramps, there's stuff happening in the background that manipulates the space to make it feel bigger than it is, that we brought to Soul Raiders as well. So it's been a very, very iterative process to work through all those games. Fundamentally, the most popular games seem to be the ones where people are shooting stuff. And I think that comes down to the intensity, even the exciting bits of engineering. It's when people are like, oh my God, I had to walk up a wall and didn't know if I could do it, or I was walking on a corkscrew that felt amazing. There's something about coming with your friends or with any other human beings, having an intense experience. and surviving it. And that sense of euphoria when you pull out the headset and go, wow, that was super intense, I think is really, really important for what we do. And it's part of our secret sauce and secret to our success is acknowledging that a lot of it's digital, but a lot of what makes great experiences inside a zero latency center is the experiences that people have together. And that's really, really, really critical.
[00:19:44.592] Kent Bye: Yeah, I can imagine that there's maybe been some requests to do more like laser tag or PvP type of interactions because after playing a number of different location-based VR experiences, I think that the wave shooter, there's a certain number of skills that you need to have. And I think that if everybody's doing their part, You could pretty much get through the scenarios without too much collaboration or coordination. It's kind of more of an intuitive thing where people don't have to actively collaborate or communicate with each other too much in those types of experiences. But I found that in the PVP, it turns out that it seems like the communication is a lot more crucial part, but also it's a lot more challenging. to have other human beings that are on the other side of it rather than these zombies, because, you know, there's all sorts of different ways in which you can move through. And I think it's very hard to create AI non-player characters that are as good as what humans are. And so it just seems like it's a lot more challenging and it's a lot more communication that's required in this experience. So I'd imagine that this is something that people have been requesting for a long time and that they're going to be quite excited to get a chance to finally get to have some more of a player versus player type of interactions, which I don't, I haven't seen a lot in VR so far.
[00:20:57.523] Tim Ruse: Absolutely. And people are like, it's been requested a lot, but in true zero latency form, we're pretty considered and we like to use a lot of data. I'd like to do a lot of R and D and testing with paying customers or focus groups, the closest thing we can find. And that's been really instrumental in this. And I think. Giving it time to breathe and allowing us to try different things that we thought would be successful somewhere. Some weren't things that. we weren't sure about that ended up being pivotal to the game and giving it that time to breathe and grow has been really important. So when we're now releasing our first Soul Raiders, our first player versus player experience, I think we've nailed a lot of those key bits that it's repeatable. It's social and fun. You can pick it up and just have a crack, but you can also come back and go, hey, we need to work on our strategy. We got our asses whooped. We need to come back into it again and work up a strategy and get better and better at it. So yeah, I'm really pumped. And certainly the people we've put through it, the hundreds of people we've put through it so far, during our focus groups and testing, it's all been super positive, which is excellent. So we're really, really excited about it. And also what comes next in terms of getting data, getting feedback, starting to build up that community and start developing tournaments, start developing leagues, and really fleshing this out into a full-blown esport and doing more and more maps, more and more game modes that we've got slated. It's going to be really exciting towards 18 months.
[00:22:11.033] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's another nice thing about this experience is that the VR locomotion is that you're actually just locomoting through a space, which I could imagine that you could try to do a bit of a translation of this for people to play it at home, but you would have to do some sort of a virtual locomotion, which I think there's something just qualitatively different when your body's actually physically moving through the space. Maybe you could talk about that.
[00:22:31.246] Tim Ruse: Oh, without a doubt. We discovered early in the pace. The more that you get to walk, there's something incredibly profound about walking and having something in your hands that tracks. You've got a prop, you're physically rooted in that virtual world with your feet and your hands. That one-to-one tracking eliminates motion sickness in 99.999% of people. And that walking, creating immersion is massive. And then also being transported to different places. Whether it's rifting in Sol Raiders and going through the rift and ending up in different alien worlds, or whether it's just going through a space station and exploring, that sense of walking and traveling, like traveling through a large environment, traveling through space, there's something really profound about the way that that maps. There's no contrivance in terms of the locomotion. It's completely seamless. So I can put my 70-year-old dad in it and he can have a VR experience. I can put my nine-year-old daughter in, she can have a VR experience. There's no barrier. And I think that's not only does that allow people to play, which is awesome, it also, there's something really profound about the way I think the virtual world maps to the physical world and into your consciousness. Some of the reactions we've had, especially in our more intense games and our earlier games where you basically just went to 11 straight away, we now have a slower gradient to make sure people feel comfortable. You know, we've had people pull the headset off screaming and dropping to the floor. Like you realize quite quickly, That sense of movement and feeling completely immersed in the space does something very, very profound to you, which I don't think you get just sitting in your living room or standing in your living room being able to move one or two paces left and right. And that's why we're really committed to the warehouse-scale freeroam experience. Even if I'm in a Vive-style pod with two or three people, I can't move around. I feel constrained. And that just limits your immersion. And I think it limits what you can do creatively with it. It limits your content. And ultimately, it limits that repeatability, which is what we're really pushing for hard as a business to make sure that we're making great experiences. So it's not a movie theater with one movie. This is a platform that we can be making amazing content on for years to come. And so can our partners.
[00:24:30.421] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I noticed that the hardware is a bit of like a custom made VR headset with lenses. Is that a strategy that you're going to keep moving forward? Or do you foresee using something like a Vive Pro or Oculus Rift to focus on the software rather than the hardware?
[00:24:46.008] Tim Ruse: Oh, look, there's definitely things in the works and we are an R&D company very much in our DNA. We bring in pretty much every mainstream and also prototype that we can get our hands on, albeit headsets, backpacks, haptics, even down to the more under the waterline stuff around networking technology and wireless technology. We're always looking at different ways to be putting things through their paces and testing them out in an operational environment, and then picking the ones that we think are going to be great for our next generation platforms. So that book's still being written, but we're very, very active in working with partners. So working at the moment with Intel, Microsoft, and HP working with their technology stack to build out a Gen 2 platform. It's a little ways off, but it's going really well, and we're really bullish about what's coming onto the market. It's fantastic to see larger players getting behind location-based VR, seeing this as a real market opportunity, seeing this as a great beachhead to establish virtual reality and mixed reality experiences. And we're really buoyed by that and want to be working with as many of these people as possible to make sure that the products that are being developed are a good market fit for the rigors, I guess, of operating a location-based experience. It's very different than having a headset that you might pull out a couple of hours a day to play VR. It's a very different experience when you're playing it, doing 12-hour days, back-to-back sessions. It's a different set of requirements to an extent.
[00:26:08.870] Kent Bye: Yeah. And one of the trends that I've seen within location based VR is that there seems to be hovering around a dollar per minute of content. Can you talk a bit about like your target length of how long the experiences you want to be and how much you're going to be charging for people to have this experience?
[00:26:24.439] Tim Ruse: Yeah, we, we see, uh, you can charge a premium for a better experience and people, especially once they play it, they get it to larger space. It's premium. There's this big high end facility that's just for them and their friends. They get that and they're happy to pay the premium for that larger space. Half an hour is probably the shortest that I recommend. I think by the time you get in there, you get comfortable, you get your VR legs. If it's any shorter than 30 minutes, you're not getting the best immersive experience. And there's something really profound that happens probably after the first six to seven minutes where you're completely immersed in the game, you understand all the controls, you're ready to go. And that next 23, 24, 25 minutes is a really, really, experience just ramps up from there. So we are big believers in that 30-minute minimum. We do a 45-minute game in Melbourne, which is loved by everybody. It's pretty intense. You are exhausted by the end of it because it's a lot of walking. It's a lot of moving. It's a lot of stress and pressure, but people love it and they keep coming back for more, which is excellent. I think that's part of zero latency is done and proven out. And it's great to see people, you know, send a pile into the market and trying to imitate our business model, trying to copy what we do, is that we were the first people to prove, because we were told flat out, no one's going to want to play VR for more than five minutes, mate. And we're like, no, no, we're testing this and people want more. We're putting in for half an hour and they want more. Those longer form experiences, playing with their friends, walking over a large distance, people love that. And that's what's making them keep coming back and allowing us to be so successful.
[00:27:50.378] Kent Bye: And how much is it for a half hour?
[00:27:53.187] Tim Ruse: It changes all over the world. So I think in America, it's about 40 to 50 US per half an hour on peak. Because we operate in so many different countries, it varies. But it's around that price point, I guess, pegged to different GDP per capita metrics in other countries.
[00:28:07.743] Kent Bye: So for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions that you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve?
[00:28:16.242] Tim Ruse: Yeah, interesting. Look, our big focus at the moment is making sure that we're trying to, I guess, predict the future where this is going to go. I want to see a democratization of VR generally and free-run VR specifically. I want to be pushing for better and better, cheaper and cheaper technology. Look, it might be different experiences. I think what you're going to get in a location-based facility, they're always going to be able to buy more expensive equipment and then renting it out by the hour. you're always going to get a great free roam experience location-based. But I want to be seeing, we're looking at the five-year horizon, different devices and different form factors. There's no reason why you can't be playing free roam VR in a location-based facility, maybe playing a stripped-down version of that game on a cheaper device, a standalone device that you could be playing at a basketball court or a squash court in these shared indoor facilities. It's a big vision, but we believe that it's a profoundly interesting medium. The free roam VR concept, it's completely new, but it's here to stay. People love it. It does something as you rightly identified, that sense of walking, that sense of space, that moving around and coming with your friends. It's really profound about that. And we're just really, really focused on making sure we keep pushing and pushing and pushing to make better and better experiences, but also find ways to be delivering free-run VR to as many people as we possibly can.
[00:29:30.714] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is and what it might be able to enable?
[00:29:39.176] Tim Ruse: Oh, that's a big question. Look, I think it's already starting to embed itself into different areas. It's got a long way to go, I think, but the power to transport somebody where it separates out from AR, but the power for VR to transport you to a completely different place that you've never been before and make you really feel like you're there is huge. We see that every day when we put people inside the system. You see how, within three or four minutes, they forget where they are and they are immersed in that world. That is a hugely powerful thing. It's maybe not as, at the moment, as ubiquitous as your phone, which is obviously immersive but in a different way. But in terms of transporting people to a different world, there's an opportunity to create empathy experiments within those and to empathize with other people. But even just experiencing other worlds or the history of the world, collaborating together, there's some awesome developments happening in that collaboration space. But being able to remove someone instantly from their day-to-day existence and transport them somewhere completely immersively is incredibly powerful. And I think the potential of that is massive and continues to be uncovered as innovative companies keep pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
[00:30:48.579] Kent Bye: Great. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:30:54.103] Tim Ruse: I say get down to a zero-latency facility as quick as you can and play Soul Raiders. You won't be disappointed.
[00:31:01.012] Kent Bye: awesome great well thank you so much for joining me today so thank you so much thank you it's my pleasure thank you for your time so that was tim ruse he's the ceo of zero latency so i have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all well it was just super fascinating to hear him unpack the different dynamics for what they were trying to create in the vr experience and having a free roaming player versus player vr experience is a lot of technical challenges as well as logistics that you have to sort out to make sure that you have a safe experience but also fun and there's just a lot of things that you actually have to balance and I think they did a really nice job of actually balancing all those various different things and it was super fun. I ended up playing it once and then the second time that I played through knowing a little bit more about some strategies I did a bit of a lone wolf strategy in the third map that they have they actually have like this lookout tower that you can go up and start sniping the other players but i did find that in the lack of communication it actually is very difficult for you to pull off a win and so there does seem to be an emphasis of actually coordinating and communicating with your team For anybody that's played like Counter-Strike or Fortnite or PUBG, I think that you've got into this habit of actually communicating with the people that you're playing with. And I feel like that this type of experience is going to be leveraging those types of skills that people have been cultivating and developing with their friends. I imagine that there is going to be a bit of, you know, wanting to actually physically move your body through space while playing some of these experiences. It's just such a much more compelling experience and so much more immersive. And so you not only have this feeling that you're actually there and you're in this like really high adrenaline intense situation, but that there's these different strategies that you can start to operate as a team and actually perform better. And I think that was proved out from my experiences of playing the game. So there's a lot of different things that they had to balance in terms of they wanted to really prevent just a lone wolf going in there. And if they have sufficient skill for them to just absolutely dominate. And so you do have the opportunity to go out and just go for kills. And, you know, there's a different strategy there, but if you're not operating as a team and everybody's going off as a lone wolf, then if they team up, then it's actually going to be harder for you to get those kills. And they actually may get those objectives. And so there's different strategies. I think, uh, it was interesting to hear that even if you're to have like two V two or three V three or four V four, or even if you have some asymmetrical levels of like two V one is an absolute disaster. They said, but three versus four actually can be a little bit more interesting. I don't know if they actually changed health levels, if it's a asymmetrical three V four type of example, but just in terms of strategy, it sounds like that you could still do pretty well if you're operating as a team, even if it's not a complete even numbers of people. So whether it's a long rectangle or a square, there seems like there's many different variations that they could have. So to me, this is exciting just because there's so many different maps and so many different variations that you could have that there's just a lot of replayability interest there that I think that it's interesting for them to say that they're moving towards perhaps doing these more community and league nights because $50 a pop for a half hour can get pretty expensive if you want to go and play a number of different rounds. especially if you don't have one in your local city. And so having some sort of way for people to subscribe and to get these larger team plays and e-sports, it'll be interesting to see how that actually develops because a part of e-sports I think also is it has to be fun to play. but it also has to be fun to watch and spectate. And I think that's been the challenge within VR esports is that while it's been a completely immersive experience for you to actually be embodied within these virtual worlds and play these experiences, that hasn't always translated into a compelling 2D spectator experience for people watching. But I do suspect that you actually moving your body physically through space is going to be a key component for what's going to make it actually more interesting to watch. Because when there was the Onward Terminate at Oculus Connect 5, people were just basically standing there. And because there's so much going on, you can't really actually see much of what's actually happening. So if you were to actually have people's physical bodies moving through a mixed reality space that actually was a representation of what was actually happening within the virtual world, then it would be a lot easier for spectators to watch and perhaps a lot more entertaining as well because it's actually very difficult to spectate and watch some of these. Doing that translation from what's happening in a virtual world into like some sort of 2D spectator mode. But that overall, if you have some good communications and good leadership strategies, it feels like it's going to be something that people are going to have a lot more fun playing. It's going to have more of a replay value. I mean, I could see myself playing it again, especially if there's different friends that I'm going with and happen to be in Vegas. So if you're in Vegas or any of the different cities where Zero Latency has one of these experiences, I think there's like at least 25 different cities. I think they're going up to 30. So you can go to the website to see where around the world they're having these different experiences. It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you have a group of people that want to check out some of the different location based entertainment games. It's definitely something that is unique and not something else that I've experienced in very many other VR experiences, which tend to be if they do have some sort of, you know, multiplayer mode, it's been co-op and you're fighting these NPC. entities, which isn't all that compelling because it doesn't actually really require you to communicate or to interact or to collaborate in a meaningful way. And finally, just a quick note on the hardware. They did have like their own custom tracking solution, which seemed to work pretty well actually within the context of what they had created. They were using like this OSVR custom made headset with like these high quality lenses. The barrel distortion, I don't know if it was completely correct or not. There seemed to be a little bit of distortion that wasn't quite like at the same level that I would see on a Vive or an Oculus Rift. So to me, I think in the long term, they're probably going to be better served by going with some more commercial off-the-shelf type of hardware solutions and add something like haptics or other things that are going to give it more of an immersive experience rather than trying to create their own custom bespoke headsets because you know honestly it wasn't that much better of an experience based upon having their own sort of custom-made headset and I think it could have been just a better quality experience if they just would have used a commercial off-the-shelf type of hardware especially over a number of years because I think it's going to be difficult to keep up with the pace of innovation with what's happening with the commercial market of VR headsets, it doesn't seem like it's going to be viable to roll your own headsets and still be able to keep up with the pace of change in the larger technology. You may be able to get a small incremental improvement in the short term, but in the long term it just feels like it's not going to be worth developing your own hardware, that you're probably better served really focusing on the software and letting other hardware partners like HP, Intel, and Microsoft mixed reality headsets start to really develop some of these maybe higher end custom bespoke enterprise level headsets. I think there's probably more of a market that are happening within the medical field and also location-based entertainment with more of these locations around the world. It's just gonna be probably better to go with some of the commercial off the shelf solutions that are out there and just focus on how can you make these really super compelling free roaming experiences? Because the most compelling element is your body moving through space. And then from there, they didn't have any haptic suits or anything else like that. But I think adding haptic suits would go a long way of increasing the immersion. And then everything else, if you just focus on fleshing out the different software paradigms that make an interesting and compelling player versus player experience, then I think in the long run, they're going to be better served doing that. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.