Music Is The Killer App of Technology and Gaming
By Anne McKinnon
In January this year, Jan Ilvasky, creator of Beat Saber posted the first teaser for the game on YouTube. Still unreleased, the following YouTube post received over 42 million views with no money spent on marketing. In May, in just the first 28 days Beat Games sold 100 000 units of Beat Saber on Oculus and Steam. They became the global top seller in the VR category, and still hold the highest ranking today. It's finally proof that a crossover between music, technology and gaming exists.
"I think that with Beat Saber, it is the first proof concept that you really can connect music, technology and gaming in a way that can really enhance the experience from listening to music," said CEO of Beat Saber Jaroslav Beck, in an interview with The Boolean at VR Days Europe in Amsterdam October 25.
"Today we listen to music just in soundtracks of games or movies and you can listen to it through Spotify, but in Beat Saber you can actually physically experience the music in a way that you are in VR and the feeling from the music is really strong, and stronger than, in my opinion, than from any other experience that you can experience today," he said.
Many other companies have developed experiences around this concept of experiential music. The Wave VR is a platform that enables people to view, host, and socialize in shows worldwide in VR, Noys VR allows musicians to create concerts natively in VR, Melody VR enables 360 access to live venues in VR, and Electronauts immerses players in an interactive sonic environment where they can build, drop and remix songs.
In all areas, Beat Saber has pulled out way ahead of the game. In his keynote at VR Days Europe, Beck outlined four key points to VR game design: it needs the final touch that takes most of the time of game development, it must not be laggy, it must be intuitive and it must be everyday fun. As always, easier said then done.
Beat Saber took form in 2016 and it took these last two years to complete the last 10% of the game. "It was complicated, for example the slashing sounds it’s a sound that you are hearing over and over again hundreds of times each game play, so there was a lot of tests and experiments involved. I don’t remember all the techniques that I tried, lots of crazy things, but it’s all about testing and to feel the way it should be and sometimes it ends up that the most stupid way how you can make the sound it works best," said Beck. ￼
"We were looking for a sound that tells you that you have slashed something but also enhances the song in any key, which is really a challenge because if you want to make a sound effect it will have some tone or key but we knew that every song in the game will have different key so when you want to enhance music or sound effect in a different key it will sound out of tune. So this was the biggest challenge to find the sound on what can enhance any music in any key," said Beck.
— Jan “Split” Ilavsky (@Split82) January 19, 2018
It's without a doubt that Beat Saber's success in branching music, technology and gaming is tied to the unique music production for the game, with complex custom beat maps for each song and level. "We are taking a lot of time to craft the beat maps so that they will be a lot of fun to play in each level. And of course the priority is that there will be more than 11 tracks in the game and I think that we will achieve that really soon," he said.
Especially as a game that is played everyday by users, and is constantly growing in popularity to reach new fans, the beats must have that replay effect that is only achieved by a small portion of artists in the international music scene. In a way, each of the 11 songs that comprises the full list of songs available for play on Beat Saber have been some of the most epic on a global scale, engaging fans for months on end.
Speaking of limited content, Beck confirms that Beat Games is planning to bring a lot of new content into the game, and that they will be releasing new music pretty soon. "It’s tricky because we can bring in a lot of new music because a lot of artists want to be involved which is amazing but we need to find the right music that will support the game in the first place in the way that it will fit the visuals and the atmosphere of the game," said Beck.
When asked if this means that other artists will be able to contribute to the soundtrack, and if this means that his own music production company Epic Music Productions will grow alongside Beat Saber, Beck said he was unable to disclose information. With music as the core ingredient for Beat Games, it's likely they will progress with caution in this regard.
One of the most popular questions when it comes to Beat Saber is when will multiplayer be ready? It's easy to forget that Beat Saber is still in early access release. Their team is currently finishing Beat Saber for PSVR and, "because we are such a small team, everything is delayed because of this, but we are working on multiplayer and it’s almost done actually," said Beck.
He can’t share too much info about this either, “but that it will definitely be coming really soon to be released by PlayStation because it’s important and it’s aligned with our vision that people should be engaged together in VR and we are still tweaking it. There is already some cool stuff coming," he said.
As is the struggle with any game that tops the chart, especially in a new multidisciplinary medium, is to know what to change and what to keep when releasing new versions. Players need to see that game developers are listening to feedback, but also, developers must find out what new techniques to add to user experience to continue engagement. "Because there may be a lot of changes we need to be sure the game is working precisely, and we don’t want to overpower it with a lot of random stuff, but we are looking for a way to bring new stuff into game," said Beck.
Overall, the game that is the most popular and successful in VR gaming, is quietly getting ready for its next drop on their social channels of what's in store. For one, Beck, who has been living in LA the last two years, announced on Instagram that he will be leaving LA to move back to his home in Prague in the Czech Republic where he will continue to push the boundaries in the way that we experience and make music.
"The Czech Republic and especially Prague has tremendous future potential and amazing history in the classical music scene, game development and technology. I’ve always been fascinated by those fields and the way these areas interconnect. I believe that the right connection of those fields can truly push the boundaries in the way how we experience the music and also how we are making it. Beat Saber is the first proved puzzle in this concept and I am really excited now to fully focus on this concept in Beat Games while keeping an eye on Epic Music Productions. I would lie to say that this step is not making me nervous but as always, this is probably a good sign when you go full steam ahead." said Beck on Instagram.
At VR Days Beck said he's interested to push the experience from listening to music to the next level, and this is what Beat Saber is all about. "So if we will make something future it will try to push the boundaries even further," he said. So if Beat Saber is proof of concept that we can combine the verticals of gaming, technology and music, there are indeed big moves ahead to be made by Beat Games and competitors with a big hint hint; get the music right.