PowerBeatsVR, a new indie game for Oculus, Vive, and WME available in Early Access on Steam starting tomorrow at 11:00AM PT, is a fitness game with a lot of dodging and punching and it looks so goddamn fun. And with the blockbuster success of Beat Saber (lots of weaving and chopping) and SuperHot VR (lots of twisty turny tai chi John Wick-ishness), it solidifies my opinion formulated six years ago while jogging on the hotel treadmill in China, looking down at Beijing's horrific smog: The killer app for virtual reality is real life physical fitness.
Because the thing with mass market killer apps is, they have to replace an existing consumer service in an incredibly compelling way. And right now, the only candidate for VR doing that is physical fitness. You could spend say $700 on a bike, $500 on an annual gym membership, $300 on a used exercycle, $200 on running shoes/fitness wear... or you could get a standalone VR rig within that price range and stay physically fit no matter what the weather outside, no travel time needed. And anecdotally, the calorie burn for active VR games like Beat Saber holds up well, compared to traditional fitness options.
PowerBeats VR team member Niklas Weber tells me that the game wasn't actually inspired by Beat Saber, but more my Dance Dance Revolution:
"That's for sure an inspiration," he says. "Besides that, we had developed two VR escape games before and wanted to do something totally different, something where the player really had to move. Our initial idea was to make a rhythm game with a focus on boxing and combine that with EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) fitness suits to further enhance the effect of a virtual training." But then a partnership with an EMS manufacturer fell through. "So we had to enhance the training effect of the game without the EMS part. I would say, that we achieved that quite well on higher difficulty levels."
And unlike Beat Saber and other high energy games, "we wanted to stress the fitness aspect from the beginning. That's why we focus on boxing and force the player to move his entire body to master the game. Standing on one spot won't work in our game. The incoming objects don't have any labels for how you have to hit them, instead, we want to achieve certain movement patterns with our layouts (by placing the objects at certain positions, in a certain way, after certain other objects, etc.). Besides that, we take the hit speed on higher difficulty levels in consideration when calculating the score or deciding whether the hit was strong enough or not."
Weber tells me a version of the game for the standalone Oculus Quest is coming soon. Also the team's to-do list: A tracker to measure calorie burn.