In 2019, VR wasn’t where Jesse Schell thought it would be.
We all know this story; slow uptake of PC VR headsets and the modest launch of Sony’s PSVR didn’t measure up to the analyst projections and business bets. Even decades of experience in VR — spanning all the way back to his time at Disney Imagineering in the mid-90’s — hadn’t given the Schell Games CEO the insight to buck that trend. He admitted as much to Upload when we spoke in January 2019.
In that same interview, though, Schell cited a new hope in Facebook’s Oculus Quest. The then-soon-to-launch standalone headset represented a turning point for the VR industry, doing away with the need for PCs and consoles. And so Schell once again made a bet on the speed of VR’s growth.
Today he says he was wrong again – this time in a good way.
“I made some predictions a few years ago about how VR was going to play out and it’s been going more slowly than I had predicted,” Schell says over a web call. “But then at the same time, the Quest has taken it the other direction and the growth that is happening due to that platform is going faster than what I predicted.”
Sales stats for Quest and the recently-launched Quest 2 aren’t known, though Schell Games’ Until You Fall and I Expect You To Die have both generated more than $1 million in revenue on the platform. It’s encouraging enough that Schell is investing in a sequel to the latter, due to hit headsets later this year. That’s something the company isn’t sure it would have done so boldly were it not for the new platform.
“[Quest] is designed for this specific purpose and is meeting that purpose really, really well,” the developer continued. “And so while I predicted that that was the future, that that’s where things were going, I didn’t think it would be adopted this fast. I didn’t think the price point would be this low. And I certainly didn’t think we’d see such a change in the buying and playing behavior because that’s, this is something that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of.”
This is key. Much of the focus behind VR developer success stories has been paid to how well Quest is selling. But it’s not just that there are lots of units out there, Schell says, its also that owners are buying lots of content. “The people who have a Quest buy more games and play more games than people on PSVR or on PC VR and as a result that makes it just a great environment for developers because you move more units and people are engaging with your game more.”
Schell’s also supportive of Facebook’s strict curation policy for the platform, which he says has helped drive those strong sales, but expresses concern about the company being “the only force” in VR right now. Quest, he says, caught people on the backfoot after other headsets failed to capture the market. “They watched the Oculus Go and then watched it go. And they said, ‘Well, there it goes.’ And it didn’t impress anybody. And then the Quest came after that people thought this is going to be another Go.”
It’s a sequence of events that Schell thinks has bought Facebook “at least a year” to take hold of the market.
One thing Schell is sure of now, though, is that VR will make it to mainstream. It might be three years, it might be five, but he’s certain headsets like Quest will get to a point that they sell 10 million units. Why such a specific number? “When there’s 10 million of something out in the world, probably one of your friends has it,” Schell reasons. “And when there’s less than 10 million, probably none of your friends has it. And VR is in that less than 10 million zone right now.”
Reaching the milestone is critical for where Schell sees VR going next. “One of the things I always think about is the people who own a technology are the people who are teenagers when it comes out,” he says. “They’re the ones that are going to own that technology for the rest of their life. People who are older than that, they can kind of start to use it but they don’t own it in the same way.”
One day, Schell reasons, it’s that audience that will popularize the content that will really set VR apart. “You watch these kids doing Roblox. Most adult gamers have no concept of Roblox and when they see it, they’re like, that looks ugly and weird, but it is this force, right? People say, ‘Oh, the metaverse. One day, we’re going to have these social things happening online and people building worlds.’ Like, it’s happening now in there.”
“So what I feel like we’re seeing is you’ve got these 10 to 15 year olds who were in there playing Roblox in a couple of years they’re going to start to be able to afford and start to try VR. And when that 10 million mark gets crossed, they’re going to be like, ‘Where’s my VR Roblox?’ And we’re going to start to see these user-generated content societies start to kind of form and become really solid and really powerful because of the way people will be able to interact and connect.”