What people are playing, watching and doing in VR in 2017

The most popular VR apps and games and the trends that might last
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It's high time to check in with the most downloaded, most played and most owned VR games and apps of early 2017. It's a year since the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive shipped and six months since the Sony PlayStation VR went on sale, shifting 915k headsets to PS4 owners in just four months. Google Daydream is off to a steady, if slow, start and Samsung has now shifted (not necessarily sold) five million Gear VRs.

As with our survey of what early adopters were doing in VR in mid 2016, the data varies between platforms, so there is some guesswork. And we haven't concentrated on the millions of views for 360-degree videos on Facebook and YouTube, as a big proportion of these will be on phones and desktops, so not really VR. That does admittedly skew this away from VR music videos, cinematic pieces and news coverage towards games - and we're not even going to ask about VR porn.

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What we'd quite like is each VR headset maker to break down the most used apps and games by number of downloads and time spent in them, ditto for 360 video watched inside a headset. But, alas, tech companies, developers and creators tend to wait until they have a stat to brag about before shoving download figures in front of the red curtain.

Here are the trends we're noticing and a few of the big winners so far - it's by no means a scientific study, and we'll check in again in six months time.

Play the hits

We're about to blow your minds with this first observation: build a free or affordable VR experience or game based on an existing property and you'll get eyeballs on it.

Across all of the platforms, movie tie-ins and gaming spin-offs/DLCs are doing well. And on the Samsung Gear VR, there's a lot of high quality, free VR content to watch and explore. This might change as we hear more plans for VR advertisements, so enjoy it while it lasts.

On the Oculus Store for the Gear VR, the top selling titles include games like Minecraft Gear VR, Hitman GO: VR and Gunjack which is set in the EVE: Online universe but they are outnumbered by indie hits like Affected: The Manor and Please Don't Touch Anything.

It's the 'Top free' chart that's particularly stuffed with experiments from big studios which vary in quality from 360 trailers to well thought out experiences: Ghost in the Shell, Jurassic World, Nissan/ Rogue One, Disney Movies VR, Marvel Avengers: Tony Stark's Lab, Power Rangers Zords Rising VR, Dreams of 'O' (Cirque du Soleil), Fifty Shades Darker: The Masquerade Ball. We could go on.

Aside from games and tie-ins, there's still a fair bit of variety: the most downloaded lists include apps like Star Chart, Guided Meditation VR and Public Speaking VR, all of which do what they say on the tin.

What people are playing, watching and doing in VR in 2017

Being the Batman

Over on PlayStation VR, it's a similar story - familiar characters and worlds you can't wait to experience in VR rubbing shoulders with the very best, fresh approaches to VR gameplay and filmmaking.

Sony has given us more data to go on than most. Since the PlayStation VR went on sale, it has been including the top ten in its round-up of PS4/PS3 and PS Vita charts. These are split into US and Europe and we can't see any figures for February or March yet, but there are a few months' worth of top-tens to dig into.

So, in the most recent top ten (for January 2017, post-Christmas sales), the excellent, if gentle, Batman: Arkham VR was at No.1 - following the formula of recognisable IP and a reasonable price. Sure, there are more Cardboards and Gear VRs out there than PS VRs, but we'd wager that Bruce Wayne is well up there in the early list of characters that VR players have spent hours inhabiting. The game is also coming to Vive and Rift at the end of April, so expect popularity to continue.

At the end of 2016, Arkham VR was beaten only by PlayStation VR Worlds, Sony's showcase of mini games and experiences (including London Heist) which was bundled with some headset packages. Further down the lists come Driveclub VR (natch), Fruit Ninja VR (also natch) and Crytek's full-price Robinson: The Journey.

Still, it's early enough that those devs who got into VR quickly enough are reaping the benefits before more AAA titles from the worlds of Star Wars, Star Trek etc arrive later in 2017. It's nice to know PlayStation VR owners are playing creatively designed, VR-focused titles like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, also in January's top ten.

What people are playing, watching and doing in VR in 2017

Young money, young money

Here's one thing everyone seems to be doing in VR: playing Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives by Owlchemy Labs. We've played it a bunch ourselves, so we get it.

We said we only get to know this stuff when manufacturers and devs want to brag, and this January Owlchemy Labs CEO announced that the VR game has made $3 million in sales. And yes, it also makes an appearance in Sony's PS VR top ten lists.

It's not just because it was bundled with the Vive, Rift and PS VR in some cases, as Owlchemy Lab specifically said that this accounts for a small fraction of the money. Job Simulator got in early on all three: it uses the motion controllers, it's accessible, funny and super easy to pass and play in a room full of newbies.

Owlchemy Lab isn't the only developer to share its VR games sales figures: both Cloudhead Games, for The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, and Survios, for Raw Data, made over $1 million from the well reviewed, first-person games last year (Survios in a month, no less). We have our first hit VR games but we're sure they'll soon be eclipsed by the end of 2017.

We had more data for Vive and Rift in mid-2016 when Ars Technica was publishing its comprehensive Steam Gauge analysis. But over on SteamSpy, which does not purport to be 100% accurate, if you search for VR titles you get a sense of how many people own and are playing SteamVR games on Oculus Rift and (mainly) HTC Vive.

To give you a taste here are a few popular, and newly popular, SteamVR games and apps and roughly how many people have been playing them: Surgeon Simulator VR (160K), The Lab (351K), Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope (21.4K), Arizona Sunshine (48.3K), Fantastic Contraption (89K), Tilt Brush (148K) and Google Earth VR (208K).

For big games with VR modes it's tricky to judge but we do know that almost 10% of people playing Resident Evil 7 just after it launched were doing so in PS VR. Or at least they tried the VR mode. Now there's a promising stat.

What are you playing, experiencing and watching in virtual reality? Let us know in the comments below.


How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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