Resolution Games, the VR game studio started by Tommy Palm of Candy Crush Saga fame, is all-in on mobile VR.
The Stockholm-based company launched its free-to-play VR fishing game Bait! earlier this year on the Samsung Gear VR virtual reality mobile headset. That game has been downloaded nearly a million times. And last week, Palm also announced his studio will also make another mobile VR game called Wonderglade for Google’s Daydream View mobile VR headset. Wonderglade will have mini games such as Tip N Tilt Racing and Tiny Tee Golf.
Palm has nothing against the PC-based VR headsets, but he believes smaller companies like his have a better chance in mobile, and that’s where his team’s expertise is as well. He wants to find another breakout hit like Candy Crush Saga was on Android and the iPhone.
I caught up with Palm, the former “games guru” at King Digital Entertainment, at the Oculus Connect event in San Jose, Calif. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You had a Daydream announcement?
Tommy Palm: Yeah, we announced a game called Wonderglade. It’s an amusement-park type of game with a bunch of mini-games. We’ve tried to follow our core strategy of making games that are accessible and fun for everyone. It’s not a multiplayer game, but we’re very interested in that, in social VR. It’s as multiplayer you can get without making it multiplayer. We set it up so it could be a social setting as well.
GamesBeat: How does that work?
Palm: We made sure we designed things so it would be easy to pass and play. We imagined in the beginning that people will just have one headset in the family. They’ll want to show their friends. That’s one thing we’ve aimed for with our games, to make it a good show-and-tell experience.
It would be fantastic if some of these mini-games were multiplayer, but at this early stage of VR, multiplayer takes so much effort. It would delay the content. I’d rather release something that can get to market quickly and keep working in the meantime.
GamesBeat: That is your second VR game, after Bait?
Palm: Bait was our first game, yeah. We now have two teams. This is a new team working on Wonderglade. We’re definitely planning on bringing it broadly to different platforms, but right now it’s for Daydream.
We always knew we wanted to have two teams working on two different projects. We started working on this game when we learned about the Daydream platform. It felt like a very exciting initiative. It was similar to Samsung’s Gear VR, which we think is a great platform, but it has a broader reach to more potential phones. And with a controller, it makes a first step toward more natural interfaces in a 3D world.
GamesBeat: Some people were worried, when VR first got going, that there wasn’t going to be enough of a base as far as unit sales. But it seems like the platform owners are stepping in and funding a lot of developers. Facebook said today that they’ve invested $250 million in VR content, and they’re going to do $250 million more. It lifts some of the worry off everybody’s shoulders. If you have a good idea you can get funding from the platform holders.
Palm: It’s important at this point, as Mark Zuckerberg said as well—what’s needed is software. It’s much harder to make great software for VR than it is for mobile phones. It’s very unforgiving. It takes more effort.
Our team setup is different. Resolution Games is my fifth startup. Previously we had far more programmers compared to people working on content – sound and art and graphics. Now we have just as many artists employed as programmers. We have 20 people altogether.
GamesBeat: Bait did pretty well, it seems. It reached a good percentage of Gear VR owners.
Palm: Yeah, it’s been great to see that. We’ve had so much interest in the title, so many downloads. We don’t know exactly figures about the installed base. In the summer we saw some figures from Oculus. I think they said one million active devices between Rift and Gear. Soon after we reached 700,000 downloads. So that at least indicates that we have more than half of the population in general.
GamesBeat: Did it work as a free-to-play game?
Palm: We implemented a free-to-play model, but it’s not very advanced. From a strategic point of view, our company is more interested in learning at this point, getting something out there, than making sure all the nuts and bolts are there to make a lot of revenue.
GamesBeat: What lessons did you bring out of your first VR game?
Palm: One of the immediate lessons from Bait was that it was very difficult—we recruited the team at the same time we were building the game. It was very hard for the guys that came in, that the first game they worked on was this rather big production. Again, very unforgiving. That’s one reason why we felt it was better to do a mini-game collection with Wondeglade. The team can learn much faster and make many more small prototypes to see which ones really work.
Two of the games we announced and showed Tuesday—one is a mini-golf game where you use the controller to putt. That works really well. You’re in this miniature fantasy city setting. The other one is called Tip and Tilt Racing. You’re racing with a cow in a farm environment.
GamesBeat: Are you going to stick with this kind of casual, snack-like game? Or do you think this will be a different market?
Palm: It’s a very different platform from mobile. Mobile is definitely something you just want to pick up and play, with very varied game sessions. One thing we’ve seen from Bait’s testing is that people typically go in and they dedicate some time to playing the game. Game sessions are much longer. You have that activation energy from putting the headset on.
One thing we’ve seen from Daydream that’s really smart is that you just slip the phone in. You don’t have to connect it to anything. John Carmack said yesterday that long loading times in VR are really a killer. You have to just sit there and look at nothing but a spinning wheel or something. We can definitely take a lot of the lessons we learned from smartphones and apply them to VR, but they’re still two very different platforms.
GamesBeat: Do you think this kind of whimsical content you’re building is your a specialty?
Palm: Not necessarily? We’re still in a phase where we’re learning a lot and testing a lot of new things. Personally, I like adventures in VR. The content that intrigues me the most is where you have narratives and bigger settings. I’d love to play a Diablo type of cooperative game with my friends in VR. That would be my ideal right now. But we’ll see. We’re testing a lot of different things. I don’t know how many prototypes we’ve built so far, but we’ve tried to keep the tempo up. We’re getting titles out in the market so we can learn and feed content into the ecosystem.
GamesBeat: What did you think of the stand-alone headset that Oculus showed and some of the futuristic talk?
Palm: It seems very interesting. I believe in having something that’s much more portable than this. Unfortunately, PC VR involves a lot of cables and batteries to charge and other things to set up or move. I have an HTC Vive at home. I demo’d it a lot of people in the beginning, but now—I play a lot of games myself, but I rarely if ever sit down and play VR games there.
GamesBeat: What do you think of PS VR? Is there any attraction for you?
Palm: I tested it recently. It feels like one of the most comfortable headsets. It fits very well, at least on my face. It’s not heavy. That was good to see. It’s an attractive proposition, where you have such a big target group and they all have the same hardware. That’s great from a developer’s point of view. You don’t have to think about different room setups and that type of thing.
GamesBeat: Would you be able to take something like Bait to it?
Palm: In theory it’s not so difficult. But as a small company you have to focus. We’ve focused on trying to be the best mobile VR developer out there. We’ll see if it makes sense for us to bring something to PlayStation.
GamesBeat: Your choices are more like Daydream or Gear VR?
Palm: It’s an interesting challenge, creating an immersive world with only 50,000 polygons. It’s a very hard restriction. It’s about 200 times less than what you’d have in a PC or console environment. But with Bait, for instance, we showed that it’s possible to do something that feels like a game on any platform. It doesn’t feel like it’s hampered by performance restrictions. Mobile VR is going to be much more accessible, obviously. People already have phones. It’s easy for them to try it. It’s possible to do really compelling content, even with this generation of phones.
I’m happy to see that Google is also moving in and there will be another big company feeding VR. What’s needed now is content with a lot of retention. Social is a key factor there, being able to play games with your friends. That could be one of the great strengths of VR. You don’t necessarily need to be in the same room, but you feel like you’re together because you’re playing with a friend.
GamesBeat: We’re still waiting for a hit like Candy Crush or Pokemon Go.
Palm: I see so many similarities. I started in mobile games back in the early days. It took quite a long time before the market took off and found the right form. There were a lot of games out there for J2ME, but very few that consumers really cared about like we’ve seen with Clash of Clans or Pokemon Go, where it becomes this huge global phenomenon.
It’s been great to see Pokemon Go prove—we’ve said for so many years that there will be a location-based game that opens up that market and makes it much more accessible. It’s unfortunate that the stickiness wasn’t quite there. It would be great if it had some more layers. I was really enjoying seeing young people, and people my age as well, going around in the park and interacting socially around that game. It was very refreshing compared to just people standing around passively, thumbing away at their phones.
GamesBeat: Maybe social VR will help produce that big hit.
Palm: Definitely. But it’ll still be a sitting experience. You won’t be able to run around. We’ll need, what are they calling it, augmented VR first? Then people can use it in the streets more.