Now hold your horses. I am not saying that Beat Saber is a bad game; in fact, I cannot overstate how critical the success of the game has been for the adoption of VR. Ever since it entered Early Access in 2018, Beat Saber has captured the imagination of over a million gamers worldwide, and is the first VR game to receive a Platinum for the achievement. And yes, it’s why it deserves the accolades it received this year. No wonder that Facebook acquired the company; it recognises the talent of the team and how they managed to capture an entire market.
What’s strange is that Beat Saber has been receiving Game of the Year accolades in VR for two years in a row. That shouldn’t happen.
So what tickles me is that it released in 2018. Entering Early Access that year, it built a cult following after several viral YouTube videos and positive word-of-mouth. Over the twelve months, it slowly and steadily grew an audience of passionate people who treated it as a full game – because, effectively, it was. That’s twelve months of hype that backed a game released ‘officially’ a year later.
Early Access success
Back in May 2018, Beat Saber hit Early Access. From there, people shared their experiences – and rightfully, it was very positive. People loved playing it and filmed themselves winning high scores while sharing it on YouTube. The game became a viral sensation, with popular creators playing the game which, in turn, started a new virtuous cycle of positive feedback.
Not only that, but people can import new songs as well, and create their tracks. Now people can share original content, customised and ready to play. The technique is similar to the early days of Minecraft, where player-created content helped to improve the reach of the product.
Over a few short months, the game got a few accolades as one of the most innovative games of 2018. In some cases, it even won Game of the Year 2018. In VR, the impact was vital; finally, the platform has a console game that shifted hardware, similar to Halo with the Xbox and God of War with the PS4.
Beat Saber winning Game of the Year in 2019
Then 2019 came around. Beat Saber continues to have positive coverage, hitting the mainstream news and being played by celebrities like Brie Larson. In the early part of the year, people enjoyed playing the new experience.
The game released officially in 2019, and another wave of coverage came through.
My views on Early Access is that, if the game is a complete product, it is the final product. The devs are confident enough with the game to release it on the platform, and in turn, gather funds for their work. So releasing the final build a year later feels like a misnomer, a final push to a product already in the market.
Dominating the VR market
My other concern with having Beat Saber win Game of the Year awards in 2019 is that it shrouds the success of other games too.
Take A Fisherman’s Tale, a quiet but lovely puzzle game on the platform. The game uses VR fully, with mind-warping tasks that immerse people into the life of the sailor. And while enthusiasts in the community recognise how great the game is, it is still shadowed by Beat Saber.
How about Tetris Effect? Widely said to be one of the best versions of Tetris on the market, it is a trippy experience that immerses people into the gameplay, stacking blacks and entering the focus state more easily. International champions of the game even said that VR makes them perform better, showing how VR has a powerful effect on experienced players. But no, the game was not recognised as widely.
What about Pistol Whip? Similar to Beat Saber, it is a rhythm game which uses legs as much as the arms, with gameplay that makes people feel like a badass shooter. Or Synth Riders, a heart-pounding dance game that succeeds in the same way. These games build on the same genre as Beat Saber, with a twist. But no, the game from 2018 wins again in 2019.
Beat Saber in 2020
A few games will likely grab the light in 2020. Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is a major AAA game that will probably get some decent coverage, as it is a mainstream title used to push VR forward. The same goes for PlayStation’s secret projects. With the rumoured PSVR 2 possibly coming out next year, some of their exclusive IPs will make a stand.
Beat Saber, meanwhile, may get some good interest and playtime. But its time winning Game of the Year awards will pass, and other titles can take the podium and show how the industry has progressed.
I love Beat Saber, and the history books will remember it fondly, I just hope that the books will also not forget other titles too.