How To Make A Million Dollars In VR: Release An Expensive Game

Sean Parker may have famously said of Facebook’s early years that only a billion dollars is cool, but for the maker of the hit virtual reality game Raw Data, a million dollars is a damn good start.

According to Culver City, California-based Survios, Raw Data, available only for HTC’s high-end Vive, has become the first consumer VR game to hit $1 million in sales in a month. In addition, the company said, at least 20% of all Vive owners have purchased the $40 first-person shooter, and it became the first-ever VR game to top the charts at Steam, a leading game platform and ranking site.

Raw Data has earned rave reviews—such as Tom’s Guide’s best VR game award at this year’s Game Developers Conference—thanks to high-fidelity graphics, Active VR technology that gives players an immersive, free-moving, shared-space experience, and a high-quality gaming experience.

Survios’ Raw Data

Another way of putting it is that Raw Data feels expensive, and that’s exactly what Survios was going for, CEO Nathan Burba told Fast Company.

“We saw a need in the market for a AAA title,” Burba said, referencing full-price games for consoles like the Xbox. “It’s more expensive than anything for the Vive, and more people wanted that…. By putting more money in [and] having a higher price point, we’re signaling to users that this is a AAA title.”

In fact, Burba added, people who bought high-end VR headsets like the Vive—which costs $799 and requires an expensive PC—are expecting Halo-like games that offer hours of play and the promise of ongoing expansion.

The idea that a more expensive VR title will attract more customers isn’t all that far-fetched, especially if it’s from a company that got into the game early.

“One of the curious things that happened in the launch of a new platform, like VR, is that the early developer adopters, like Survios and the like, are going to be the early winners,” said Brian Blau, a media analyst at Gartner. “It’s great news, making $1 million. Everybody’s going to love that. For a new platform, it’s a fine showing, and proves the point that the CEO says, that if the quality is good, people will pay for it.”

Blau did note that it’s too early to conclude that Raw Data’s success will last, or even not soon be trumped by other titles, especially given that high-end systems like the Vive and the Oculus Rift have only been available since last spring and that the holidays may well be fruitful for other titles.

Still, Survios’ foresight in being among the first to develop and release high-quality VR content is nothing to sneeze at, Blau said.

“If you look back at the launch of other new platforms, whether it’s iOS or Android,” he said, “you could see that in the early months, users gravitated to the obvious, popular titles, and Survios is one that can say they’ve done that.”

Burba argued that Survios has “cracked the code” when it comes to making successful VR games. And while he said that the company plans on doubling down on what it’s learned as it expands Raw Data, it is also already developing other titles.

He wouldn’t say what those titles are, but did suggest they will be in different categories.

That could be a smart move if Survios wants to succeed over the long haul. Blau said that on most platforms games are the early winners but other types of content eventually also do well. With virtual reality, that could mean other forms of entertainment or 360-degree video content.

While Survios couldn’t say how many people have purchased Vives—and HTC did not respond to a Fast Company request for sales numbers—the company did conclude based on data from SteamSpy that at least 20% of all Vive owners have purchased Raw Data.

That would be particularly impressive given that the game costs $40 and that some of the previous biggest hits for the platform, such as Valve’s The Lab, are free.

For his part, Burba thinks Raw Data’s sales success offers hints for how investors can make a lot of money with virtual reality in a nascent market where there’s still a dearth of high-quality, rich content.

“There’s an opportunity to own a significant part of the marketplace,” Burba said, “if you’re willing to spend capital up front…. There haven’t been too many big swings [at high-quality content]. I’d love to see another venture capitalist…take a big swing or two.”

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