Since we launched Facebook Spaces in beta, we’ve been working to bring people even more fun, engaging activities to share in VR. And from day one, we wanted to help the developer community build with us to create the future of Spaces. At OC4, we introduced Bait! Arctic Open, a collaboration with our first developer partner, Resolution Games. Now, we’re happy to share that you can go ice fishing with your friends, directly in Spaces, starting today!
This is an early experiment, and we’re excited by the potential of future developer integrations as we continue to build on the core experience of social VR. To celebrate this first milestone, we sat down with Facebook Spaces Head of Product Mike Booth and Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm to talk Bait!, the cornerstones of meaningful multiplayer interactions, and the future of social VR.
What motivated you to bring Bait! to Spaces on Rift?
Mike Booth: Bait! has been a successful game on Gear VR, and Resolution comes from a long history of social gaming, with Tommy being one of the leading forces behind Candy Crush. But the main reason we used a game like this is because it’s a 3-dimensional, real-time simulation that’s social—so it could be used as a prototype to start building our third-party developer tools. It forced us to do the kinds of things we’ll need to do in a 3D environment for developers, rather than a 2D environment.
Tommy Palm: We founded Resolution Games on the premise that social gameplay would be one of the most core elements of VR. This was such a great opportunity to fully utilize the social infrastructure of Facebook Spaces, which let us focus our efforts on the actual game building—and fishing is one of those activities that allows you to be socially active and doesn’t require 100% of your mental bandwidth. With this mix, you can engage in a really fun way, while also having conversations with your friends.
MB: It’s also helped educate us. Having a third party building and testing their goals in the space forced us to solve certain problems. For example, the original media display center in Spaces filled the middle of the table, and Resolution was using the middle of the table as the place to fish, so we had to redesign our social UIs such that they still served the purposes we needed them to but could also coexist with a third party’s use of the space. Plus the Resolution team is really smart, good to work with, and friendly.
What challenges did you face while working to bring Bait! to Spaces?
TP: From the very start of my early days of programming I learned that multiplayer games are much more fun—but they also require much more effort. I normally say that, as a rule, it’s often 10 times more effort or time to turn a single-player experience into a multiplayer one.
In this case, Facebook had already made a lot of that extra effort come to life, but it still provides a big challenge on the gameplay experience. Everything from complex tasks like network physics, to “simple” things like UI viewed from several different angles at the same time—but I must say that the result is totally worth the extra effort. It’s still very early days of VR, and we’re still learning a lot every day.
MB: Because things are so unknown, the Spaces team is rapidly iterating and trying a bunch of things—so props to Resolution for dealing with the constant change of underlying code structures. Every time we dropped the code, it was like the world had changed underneath them! That’s a part of the early days of doing this stuff.
What obstacles did you run into while translating a 3DOF experience to 6DOF controls?
TP: To have actual hands in VR changes a lot when it comes to full immersion and how we as developers must approach content creation! We’re quite used to having hands in real life, and we bring with us a lot of expectations on how they should work and what’s supposed to happen when you interact with virtual objects. This requires a lot of extra effort from a development point of view and can sometimes create permutation as one object can be combined with another. As a player, you just expect things to work as your creative mind comes up with ideas. If they don’t, you get disappointed. To scope the experience you’re developing to a good size is one of the more difficult parts of the work.
What are the cornerstones of a successful social experience in VR?
MB: One of our assumptions right now is that the killer app in VR is other people—people that you know, your friends and family and communities that you have a strong shared interest with as well.
TP: As a game designer I try to think about how the brain works; why certain things trigger us more than others. One of those things that we react positively to is social settings. Some people criticize VR for being isolating, but when voice, emotions, and body language are already there, the result is very powerful on the opposite side of the spectrum. A lot of our work is already done when those basic things are in place. Now all you need is something meaningful to do and create conversation about. One of the important words I fall back on is “intuitive.” If you quickly understand what to do and why, a lot of things fall into place after that.
MB: There are at least two categories of interesting social experience. Fishing is an example of something that’s interesting to do, but it’s not so interesting that it consumes all of your attention, so you can spend the bulk of your attention on actually focusing on your friends, having a discussion. And all the existing Spaces features still work, so you could be watching a funny Facebook video while you’re fishing. We've been focusing on social experiences that keep the focus and engagement on your friends up to this point. It keeps the conversation going. That said, there’s a wide open space for completely all-consuming experiences, too, that we haven’t even begun to touch on.
What's next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
MB: That's the exciting thing—we don’t know yet. With the rate of innovation that’s happening, especially as we get more smart brains looking at this and coming up with new things, it’s really hard to predict where we could go. Even knowing what we need to add to this framework is really a chicken-and-egg problem—so as people come up with ideas about how to solve new problems, maybe we’ll integrate those ideas into our tools so then other developers can use it to create new experiences.
TP: We’re continuing to explore the frontiers of social VR. We haven’t announced anything yet, but we have some exciting new things cooking that we’ll reveal soon. The best recipes for social VR games have yet to be discovered, so we’re focused on experimenting and playing around until we find them.
MB: As excited as I am for games—and I have a long history in gaming—I’m also really excited for the non-gaming aspects that we just haven’t seen yet. One of the things we showed at OC4 was Quill art in Spaces. I’m really excited about VR-native experiences like that. It’s so magical because you can’t experience it any other way, and you want to share it with your friends. Seeing a Quillustration, being inside a 3-dimensional VR drawing especially if it’s a narrative, you just want to be there with your friends. So I'm really excited for more things like that, things that are out of left field and no one expected but that are amazing to do together—that you can only experience in VR.
If there’s one thing that people take away from Bait! in Spaces, what would you want it to be?
TP: We hope they have a great time fishing with their friends and finding all the different species of fantastic creatures. I hope that players also see the potential future of social VR. This is a new world, a new frontier waiting to be explored. There are so many fascinating experiences waiting to be made that will bring joy to people all over the world.
MB: This is only the beginning. Experiments like this are helping us learn what’s possible to build in Spaces, what works, what doesn’t, and what tools will empower developers to bring great ideas to life. Eventually, we want even more developers to build with us. We’ll share more on our plans next year, so stay tuned!
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Tommy and Mike. We can’t wait for the Spaces community to dive into the arctic fun!
This is just the beginning for social VR, and we’re excited to bring the developer community along for the journey. The launch of Bait! in Spaces marks an important first step, and we’ll share more—including how more developers can start to build with us—in the months ahead.
— The Facebook Spaces Team