John Carmack: VR developers are 'coasting on novelty,' and need to be 'harder on themselves'

John Carmack didn't mince words when he took the stage to close out last week's Oculus Connect event. "We are coasting on novelty, and the initial wonder of being something people have never seen before," he said, referring to developers of VR games (via GamesIndustry.biz).

Carmack, who helps spearhead hardware at Oculus as the company's CTO, implied that VR software has yet to attain a level of value comparable to traditional titles. He came prepared, citing a list of specific points to address—points he referred to as "objective measurements of quality." First, loading times. It's one thing for a PS4 game to take roughly 30 seconds to load, but VR games should load significantly quicker to keep players immersed.

"That's acceptable if you're going to sit down and play for an hour....but [in VR] initial startup time really is poisonous. An analogy I like to say is, imagine if your phone took 30 seconds to unlock every time you wanted to use it. You'd use it a lot less."

Carmack, who structured his Connect talk by collating some of his thoughts shared via Twitter posts, admitted that he shied away from games that looked appealing because of lengthy waiting periods. "I would say 20 seconds should be an absolute limit on load times, and even then I'm pushing people to get it much, much lower."

Most importantly, he urged developers to resist leaning heavily on novelty. "This is misguided. It's not just that it hurts your performance, or the visual quality isn't as good; it's actually the wrong thing to do."

Wrapping things up, Carmack segued into mobile VR, a market he believes is the future of virtual reality. "There might be a hundred million PCs that can do this, but I believe in the mission that Facebook had when it bought into Oculus, of having a billion people in VR. So it's not going to be a higher and higher bar for performance; it's going to be a lower and lower bar for adoption."

High-end PCs, he remarked, will become a sort of laboratory—a testing ground where VR developers can hone ideas before carrying them over to more accessible platforms, namely mobile devices. The fact that Apple's latest and greatest iPhones fail to hold a candle to top-of-the-line gaming PCs should not be a deterrent, but rather a focal point for developers.

"Find old-timers, anybody that worked on an Xbox or an original Gamecube or something like that, and tell them your minimum clock speed is 800 megahertz or something," he said. "They'll say, 'Megahertz?!' "It's absolutely possible to still do great things with that."

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