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  • A Student Experience: Making A Serious Game In VRChat

    [01.26.21]
    - Nathan Hahn
  • Introduction

    Last semester, I partnered up with fellow game design classmate Oliver Page to develop a serious game for the social VR platform VRChat. VRChat is sometimes referred to as the wild west of VR due to the experimental ethos of its development community, but I wanted to explore the possibilities of serious game development on the platform. We learned a lot from the experience, but we also noticed there hasn't been much research on the possibilities of social VR platforms for serious games. I hope that this blog post spurs more interest in researching the applicability of these platforms for serious game development in the future.

    Why VRChat?

    The VRChat platform has many characteristics that make it a promising way to develop games. VRChat allows users to upload their own custom avatars and worlds through the Unity game engine for free (although it lacks a way to monetize available content). VRChat is also a cross-platform social VR application where users can play with mouse and keyboard, PC-enabled VR, or on the Oculus Quest. VRChat has a flourishing community development mindset, and there have been some very impressive user-created games already made within the platform.  


    Figure 1 - A re-creation of the game "Among Us" as a VRChat world

    Serious games usually have smaller teams, a smaller budget, and a shorter time frame of development than most entertainment games. Therefore, asking a serious game team to set up a cross-platform VR experience with synchronous multiplayer may be promising as a serious game experience but too expensive for a serious game client's budget. By using VRChat, serious game development teams could theoretically use the capabilities of the premade platform to reduce the difficulty of developing a cross-platform synchronous multiplayer VR game for clients, so long as the platform provides the capabilities necessary for the desired serious game experience.

    Development of Art Sort


    Figure 2 - The title image of Art Sort

    To test the challenges of creating a serious game inside of the VRChat platform, I partnered up with a fellow graduate student with an art background to create a very simple serious game. Art history students generally study for their classes by reviewing artworks and ensuring they can specify characteristics about those artworks for their quizzes and exams. Art Sort is a puzzle game where players must solve each puzzle room by picking up artworks scattered around the room and putting them into their specific categories. Once all the artworks for a room are sorted, they can proceed to the next room. The categories that we used for this limited-scope experience were art subject, movement, and culture. By turning the primary study activity of art history into a cooperative social VR experience, we hoped it might provide a companion activity to learning in the classroom and improve motivation for study and discussion in art history students.


    Figure 3 - A screenshot of all the rooms of Art Sort inside of the Unity game engine

     

    The total development time of art sort for the code functionality of the serious game took around 30 hours of work. My teammate handled all the art and modeling for the world, which would be a comparable working time to creating content for a non-VRChat game. Prior to developing Art Sort, I had around 1,500 hours of experience developing games in Unity, 100 hours of experience developing VR games using SteamVR, Oculus SDK, and VRTK, and 15 hours of experience developing in VRChat. Therefore, the amount of time spent on a simple game like this might be longer if a developer does not have a similar prior level of experience.

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