It’s the year 2050, and robots have replaced all human jobs. Yet out of sheer benevolence, the machines have provided humans with some amusement: A simulation of what having a job used to look like.
Welcome to Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, a game by Google’s Owlchemy Labs. The virtual reality (VR) game has amassed a cult following. it allows players to experience what it was like to hold a 9 to 5 job, and relive the glory days of working in an office. The game has a comedic bent, as robots who have imagined the simulation often misinterpret facets of office life for humans.
Since its founding about seven years ago, Owlchemy Labs has gone on to release several games. It first designed mobile and PC games, before transitioning to VR. In 2017, the company was acquired by Google, where Owlchemy continued to put a unique spin on its offerings in a gaming world dominated by the wildly popular battle royale format.
“In video games in particular, the amount of companies that build…funny games by nature is actually kind of tiny,” CEO Devin Reimer told CNBC in a recent interview. “A lot of it has to do with the size of the market [and] what genres of game have been popular.”
The player experience
Job Simulator, which crossed $3 million in sales last year and retails for $29.99, was the top-downloaded game on the Playstation store in both 2016 and 2017. Owlchemy’s games are available on HTC Vive, Oculus and Playstation VR.
In the virtual environment, there are many factors to consider in making sure players feel motivated to continue playing the game. In Job Simulator, rather than moving a player around the environment, players are fixed until they decided to move around themselves.
Reimer and his team came up with the format through trial and error. They discovered that people were pretty task oriented, and actually preferred to perform tasks one after another, rather than indulging in the traditional gaming experience (i.e. shooting at targets, operating a vehicle or role-playing).
Traditionally, games might have a first task to accomplish followed by a second in quick succession. In Job Simulator, players are encourage to explore a bit more by creating breaks natural breaks. For example, a kitchen simulation involves order tickets getting pulled for a next job, which allows players some down time they can use to explore the game.
When Oculus Rift first began raising money, Reimer and his team researched VR, ultimately deciding it was time to dive head-first into the space. As cell phones became more advanced, they led to a rise in higher resolution display panels, and gave users a superior viewing experience that didn’t exist in the past, Reimer stated.
With the exception of a few companies, smaller upstarts at the time didn’t have the resources to compete. As new entrants into the markets and developer kits started being released, the flood gates began opening to both progress and funding in the VR space.
Reimer and his team were experimenting with various ideas, and were approached by video game developer Valve to work on a project that eventually became HTC’s Vive.
Then Owchlemy came calling, along with other companies, to take a look at what the company was proposing to do. HTC 3D printed a prototype they shared with Owlchemy, which at the time had four employees. In Reimer’s basement, the team built the first Job Simulator prototype.
The company is currently working on other ways to make the game more inclusive of others in the room that aren’t the first person player in the game, experimenting with Google’s ARcore software. They are also set to release Vacation Simulator sometime this year.
“It turns out if you build something that gives the user a lot of agency they want to play with that agency,” Reimer told CNBC, “so you end up playing with the world closer to the way a child will interact with the world for the first time.”