Ubisoft’s VR Escape Rooms have expanded rapidly to become one of the most widely distributed virtual reality experiences. The company’s gaming experiences have been developed for gaming arcades and they have proven quite popular with arcade operators as the latest announcement that they have now been licensed to 240 arcades shows.
The company made early investments in virtual reality development with games such as Eagle Flight (2016), Star Trek: Bridge Crew (2017) as well as Space Junkies (2019) among other titles. In spite of the rapid growth in its LBE product in the arcades, it is the company’s consumer in-home products that are still most recognizable.
Ubisoft’s play in the LBE space has been spearheaded by the Blue Byte Düsseldorf based in the German city by the same name which has so far released two games developed for location-based entertainment arcades namely, Beyond Medusa’s Gate released in 2018 and Escape the Lost Pyramid released in 2019. These two were released under the Ubisoft Escape games brand and both of them are set in the Assassin’s Creed universe.
In a statement to Road to VR, Ubisoft Escape Games Executive Producer Cyril Voiron revealed that the studio’s LBE content has now been licensed in 240 VR arcades across the globe and that the company is now in a leading market position in this niche.
Building for the Mainstream
It was important for the studio for its virtual reality experiences to appeal to as many users as possible, particularly novices that have never tried Virtual Reality before. This is why Ubisoft resorted to the Escape Rooms concept for the public and built its virtual reality concept based on this principle.
As the name suggests, the Ubisoft Escape Games VR experiences are a concept that have been built around virtual reality “escape rooms” rather than on the traditional VR gaming content. Rather than targeting players or games, Ubisoft is building its experiences for the mainstream audiences, many of whom will be trying VR for the first time. The company opted for this mode to make its virtual reality highly accessible by mimicking real-life escape rooms which can generally be enjoyed by wide-ranging audiences, irrespective of their age or physical abilities.
The Ubisoft experiences have also been designed to be played by either two or four players and created in such a way that every player has to contribute to the success of the puzzle while preventing any one player from tackling everything without teamwork. This way, every team member comes out of the experience with the feeling that they have made a meaningful contribution. They also have a story to tell in the role which they have played in helping solve the escape room puzzle.
The core philosophy in designing the virtual escape room also entailed giving players an opportunity to enjoy virtual experiences that they can’t have at home such as rock-climbing or viewing environments on a massive scale. The experiences have also been designed to be as natural and intuitive as possible with simple mechanics such as climbing, team communication, bow shooting and the grabbing of objects.
The Ubisoft Escape Games experiences have also been created based on natural room-scale locomotion although Ubisoft has included an optional teleport system that enables the game to operate in locations with smaller footprints. The experiences have also been developed with moving virtual platforms, capable of moving the players over massive distances than would have been feasible within the physical space.
To create a feeling of space and separation between the players, Ubisoft initially designed the Escape Rooms to separate the players at different points before gradually bringing them back together into the group. However, the feedback-based approach showed that players preferred to be together as a group.
Based on this feedback, the Ubisoft Escape Room still splits players to provide for some intrigue and utilization of the virtual space but the Blue Byte studio has designed the experience in such a way that players are still able to maintain the line of sight and talk to one another so they do not feel lonely or lost in the VR environment. This is particularly important when players have to help one another work out what to do whenever they get stuck in the escape rooms.
To attract customers who aren’t familiar with VR into the virtual escape rooms experiences, the studio has advised clients operating the virtual escape rooms to avoid marketing them as video games but instead present them as an experience that players can embark on.
Since Ubisoft is targeting first-time players that have never experienced VR before, the emphasis was on making the distinction right away that a virtual reality experience is quite different from what they would experience in a traditional video game. It accomplished this by providing users with full-body avatars along with mirrors at the beginning that lets users see themselves embodying these avatars. This setup “clicks” with players very quickly due to the range of accessories that they can use to transform their look. Ubisoft has suggested that the location-based entertainment centers’ clients can even set up a virtual reality headset in their lobbies and allow users to quickly look at themselves in a virtual mirror so they can understand what the VR experience feels like.
Blue Byte’s presentation was a product of the careful monitoring of both player and client feedback and the deliberate iteration and improvement of the experience based on this feedback. One of the improvements arising from this feedback was the lengthening of the average time it took a player to complete an experience, thereby enabling players to derive more value from the cost of admission. The average completion time of its first VR escape room experience Escape The Lost Pyramid is 44 minutes while that of Beyond Medusa’s Gate was increased to 54 minutes.