Sandbox Strategies’ PR and influencer teams lay out the current challenges of VR gaming media, as well as some tips for getting noticed in a field that’s still trying to hit the mainstream.

When VR re-emerged in 2012 as a legitimate entertainment consumer medium, the potential for gaming seemed limitless. Looking back, we know now that road was both fascinating and turbulent, with wildly enthusiastic hopes and predictions slowly deflated as the years went on by high costs, cumbersome set-ups, fluctuating game quality, and nausea-inducing gameplay, among other factors. While press was eager to check out the first wave of VR launches, the offerings and audience never seemed to grow beyond the “hobbyist” stage. And while truly unique and innovative stand-outs like The Climb, Tetris Effect and Astro Bot have proven VR’s worth, the medium has struggled to become a household staple, reflected in decreased interest from games press, readers and influencers.

The challenges here have been hard for VR to overcome. Few text or video representations of a VR game have been able to truly convey what the game itself is really like. A very simple act (climbing, rowing, etc.) in VR can be an incredible experience, but reading about it never quite captures the feeling. Coupled with high barriers for entry for most consumers, and it’s not hard to see why views are diminishing (and thus press coverage, too). For many major outlets, the appropriate writers don’t even necessarily have the specific hardware needed to play a given game even if they did accept code for it.

This isn’t to say journalists have abandoned VR (many, in fact, still champion it); but the landscape has changed in big ways, and you have to go looking for your opportunities. The biggest successes are often exceptions, not the rule, so if you have a VR game today you want to promote, here’s a few things to consider:

1.) Finding Your Audience:

First, understand the kind of audiences your VR game is most likely to attract aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers alone. Don’t worry too much about the core games press, who may very likely not cover your game. Instead, keep your focus on the journalists who have maintained interest in VR, no matter who they write for. Be aware of the kinds of games these journalists are interested in, too, because if your game is a match, they’ll be much more likely to put the headset on. And keep your eyes open for prominent new converts to VR — sometimes closed doors can re-open.

2.) Demoing to Press:

Focus on events where writers can get immersed in the game. Despite the various improvements in showing VR without a headset, nothing beats the real thing of wearing one yourself. Standalone press events can be expensive and run the risk of low attendance, but the old school tactic of booking a press tour (visiting journalists in their offices, often in NYC or SF) can make sense for a genuinely innovative VR game. Trade or consumers shows like GDC, PAX and DreamHack consumer events can also be fantastic for meeting press. The biggest events, like E3 and gamescom, probably only make sense to attend if you have a partner (like Oculus) to offset costs.

3.) Showing Your Game Off:

Think hard about the assets (trailers, etc.) you’re creating to promote the game. Screenshots and video often fail to adequately capture the “feel” of VR gaming, so you need to find alternative ways to show consumers how your product works. Few people want to see two-lens videos, and pure footage of it on a 2D screen can sometimes be nauseating. Instead, show someone playing your VR game with the headset with mixed reality (as opposed to a first person in-game view) to help contextualize what’s happening for the viewer. Communicate in the trailer how the game uses elements of the hardware to create an incredible experience. When it’s ready, find the sites and writers that have maintained interest in VR games (like UploadVR), and try to pre-seed it with them for a coordinated round of coverage (rather than just blasting it out and hoping someone notices).

4.) Influencers:

Twitch remains largely a no man’s land for VR games, so avoid spending too much time reaching out to streamers for organic coverage. The logistics remain too high a barrier, and there is little evidence notable streamers are seeing demand from their viewers for VR content. On YouTube, however, things are improving. “Spectator modes” in VR games have made capturing compelling footage much easier, and some content creators have even made a name for themselves by laser-focusing on one popular VR game (e.g., Tempex playing Beat Saber).

What opportunities you can secure organically can’t always compare to the larger audiences of the big “variety” YouTubers. So if your budget allows, we recommend allocating money for a paid collaboration with a non-VR YouTuber team – humor is usually the key to compelling YouTube content, and a team participating lets them goof on each other (wearing a VR headset will always be funny on some level). This video of the Node crew playing John Wick Chronicles in VR is a good example of what is possible.

New releases like Oculus Quest are continuing the drive to make VR more accessible than ever, and technological advances like these are enormously heartening as they chip away at the hurdles of price, comfort and usability that hold VR back from more widespread mainstream acceptance. The core games press is harder to hook now, but they do at least still take notice of quality content on the horizon. Influencers may be harder to win over in the short run, but paid campaigns can at least help offset some obstacles there.

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