Shovelware for VR Is A Good Thing (For Now)


I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with the amazingly talented indie dev community at the Monthly Seattle VR Meetup last night. As a co founder of this Meetup group, I am excited each month to gather with so many passionate individuals with an evening intended to push VR to its highest potential, and to welcome newcomers to the community with open arms. This month’s meetup focused on art and VR creation tools such as Tilt Brush and Oculus Medium. We had multiple workstations set up and lines of people eagerly waiting to show off their artistic skills on a digital canvas.

While the focus last night was on art, it didn’t stop some of us from having some great conversations about other VR related content. As I have grown to expect, I met an indie dev who was anxious to put a GearVR on my head to show off his latest creation. I enjoy this sort of interaction because it gives me a chance to help build up a good indie dev by being honest and delivering constructive feedback.

The experience was great. It had simple control, basic mechanics, and an arcade feel that made me want to keep playing. I took the GearVR off my head and immediately said, ‘Three months of fine tuning, and this could be a million dollar game.’

The reaction was not what I expected. What he showed me was just a small part of a much larger vision that he had for this game. The dev described to me a much more elaborate experience, with high end graphics, a back story, controllable weapons, touch interface, etc. My analysis of what I felt was a 90% completed game was not in line with his final plans. I encouraged him to continue with his grand plan, but he could also put out this separate smaller version in the interim.

Then he said, ‘I wouldn’t want to release it in this state. I don’t want to put out Shovelware.’

Later in the evening, I was approached by yet another energetic indie dev who showed be various videos of projects he had built over the last few months. After seeing his portfolio, I suggested that he should publish a few of them and get them into Steam or an app store.

His reply? ‘I don’t really think any of it is ready.’

As a developer myself, I understand the pressure we put on ourselves to protect our creations until they are perfect. Even the thought of someone playing an incomplete version of my game sends chills down my spine. I don’t want any form of opinion or criticism on my unfinished product because I’m not done with it yet.

"I finished my game!"
“I finished my game!”

What indie devs truly need to realize is that maybe we are living inside a bubble that doesn’t allow us to see the value in what we’ve already created. Maybe our goal of absolute perfection is blinding us from seeing a much closer finish line. We have a relatively young VR market, with a sparse selection of titles. I think every indie dev should reevaluate their goals, and possibly crop their scope a bit to ge their title out sooner rather than later.

It’s not Shovelware. It would be different if we had hundreds of thousands of titles in the VR space. Then, I could see wanting to wait a bit, expanding your scope, and tweaking the game enough to rise to the top of a massive market. We don’t have a big enough selection for that to be necessary for success. It’s not Shovelware if your filling a hole. You can’t flood a market that isn’t even full yet.

Indie devs, this is a call to arms. Grab that fun little arcade title that you built at the last hackathon, polish it for a few months, and get it in the store ASAP. Keep working on your ambitious MMO or your super realistic Bop-It simulator, but also share your fun little pet projects with the world. Make a name for yourself.

Don’t worry. When it starts to become Shovelware, I’ll let you know.