How This Studio Sold Nearly 100,000 Copies Of Its VR Game At $20 Each

by Ian Hamilton • March 16th, 2018

In February 2016, Anton Hand emailed Valve’s Chet Faliszek with details about some of his previous work with Unity and experiments in VR.

Hand was one of the earliest backers of the Oculus Rift on Kickstarter, and earlier at the University of Buffalo, he spent time working with a CAVE VR system. One of the experiments he said he built back then was a shooter level with pistol, shotgun and a few other guns.

Faliszek sent Hand a Vive Pre for free, as he had done many other times for developers looking to explore VR. Using that previous knowledge and experience, after two days with the headset, Hand posted a video to YouTube showing the fundamentals of loading a gun and shooting targets in VR.

When the Vive launched two months later, RUST LTD. put the first version of Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (H3VR) up on Valve’s Steam for $19.99. It has never been on sale and never been bundled with headsets, so when Hand tells me they’ve sold more than 95,000 copies of the game through Steam — the math is neat. At the current rate they’ll clear 100,000 copies not long after the game turns two years old. That’s roughly $1 million in gross sales per year, with Valve taking an estimated 30 percent cut.

The core team at RUST LTD. is Hand (CTO) with Lucas Miller (CEO), Luke Noonan (President), Adam Sulzdorf-Liszkiewicz (COO) working with a “network of friends, colleagues, contractors who have worked with us on past contract work and projects,” according to Hand. The gun models in the game come from a variety of sources, including licensed, commissioned and donated.

“We’ve had people just show up the past two years and just straight up donate to us AAA-quality firearm models,” Hand wrote. “Because they want them in the game, and functional so they can play with them.”

The path H3VR took to selling 100,000 copies of a VR game priced at $20 is remarkable for the absence of traditional marketing. It is unavailable on what is arguably the largest VR platform — PSVR — and they didn’t buy ads or write press releases for its PC-based VR game launch. Instead, the developers focused on constant experimentation in VR and they put that in front of a community drawn in through the Steam page and forum, or Hand’s constant videos on YouTube. If you take a tour through his YouTube channel, it records the complete evolution of the game from its origins in that first video embedded above. There’s also a subreddit dedicated to the game and an unofficial Discord group, each of which were started by members of the community.

This constant show of progress and experimentation combined with obsessive 24/7 responsiveness to feedback — sometimes seeing a request and posting an update answering it hours later — has drawn in a supportive community. Even after two years H3VR remains in Early Access, with the latest “Update 52” marking their progress over that time as they transitioned from updates weekly to every two weeks. H3VR carries an “overwhelmingly positive” rating on Steam with more than 1,500 reviews.

Its features are listed as specifically for the roomscale HTC Vive with:

  • Games and experiments across various genres and degrees of structure.
  • Multiple shooting and demolitions ranges from realist to fantastical.
  • Timed challenges with global leaderboards.
  • Almost 150 accurate simulations of historical, modern and futuristic weapons.
  • Mini-games and challenges that are great for Hot-Headset play with friends!
  • A surreal irreverent vision of the future United States of ‘Murica.
  • And whatever other madness we see fit to add!

I asked Hand how they reached their sales milestone and built their community, and he believes it was a combination of the weekly developer updates followed by streamers who discovered the game and then brought in their audiences by showing the game on their channels.

“Its been about letting the community in, letting them see all the dirty corners, rough edges, trying to pull in their desires and suggestions, and being human to them, instead of holding them at arms length,” he wrote. “So the genre breadth of [H3VR’s] scenes can be seen as a set of experiments…we start with a fairly realistic simulation of a firearm, designed to be accurate instead of make you feel like super hero, and then smash that up with a bunch of game genres and see what works, what doesn’t, what’s fun, what isn’t, and do ‘live’ research on a huge audience. The thing that binds the game together is the detailed simulation, and design constraint that everything is as physical as the engine can handle.”

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  • LowRezSkyline

    Is it a game? What exactly makes it a game?

    • koenshaku

      no idea, some people say it is their favorite game. It looks like a $hitty demo with a bad name which is why I never bothered trying it. They say the gun physics are really good though.

      • polysix

        Bascially it gold rushed/capitalised on a dearth of software early on for tracked controllers and done what literally 1000s of indie devs could have done (but didn’t because they have quality control and ethics). This should have been released for free or not at all.

        • SimonH

          100,000 people disagree with you or they would have refunded. I still don’t see a link to an example of your work. You’ve told us 3 times anyone could have done it… so post back in a couple of months when your done. I’ll pay $19.99 if you have H3VR realism, plus say a team co-op attack the bot-defended objective mode. Unless you ethics go along the lines of “I’m too lazy to do stuff other than moan about other people’s creations without actually thinking about the amount of work that went into creating them”. Personally I don’t play H3VR all the time, but check back in every couple of months to see what’s changed. I still love lying on the floor with a Barrett 50cal taking out water melons at 400m with a 32x scope.

    • Caven

      It has various mini-games in it–similar to the way The Lab does. It also has scored events that approximate real-world firearms competitive events. But it also provides sandbox environments that let you experiment with the various firearms and other items included.

      Even disregarding traditional gameplay elements, the simulation of the firearms is very accurate. They operate just like their real-world equivalents. For example, if you’re using an AK in the game and attempt to chamber a round while the safety is on, you’ll be unable to do so because the safety blocks the bolt from pulling all the way rearward–just like the real-world firearm. If you’ve loaded a magazine in an open-bolt SMG and pull the bolt back to prepare it for firing, the bolt locks in the rearward position as it would in reality. The developer minimizes abstraction wherever he can, so you have to physically place magazines in the firearms, manually cycle their actions, and even manually install attachments. Want to stick a silencer on a rifle? You have to physically screw it onto the barrel. Want to look through a red dot sight or scope? You’ll have to attach it to an accessory rail on the firearm.

      The realistic operation of the firearms feature is the real star of the show, but for people who want a bit more to do, the mini-games offer some variety, and it’s not all just shooting. One mini-game was a cross between ski-ball and the core-launching mini-game from The Lab. The ski-ball ramp allows you to roll grenades past a transparent barrier to knock over obstacles. Since the grenades have time-delay fuses, you have to cook them off and time your throw so that they explode in just the right spot at the right time.

      • LowRezSkyline

        Yeah I own it. I still don’t think it qualifies as a game. It’s a cool tech demo, my friends are always impressed by it. But it’s not really a game in the same way Space Pirate Trainer is.

  • iUserProfile

    Anton is awesome. I’ve been following his development vids since the beginning and I love what he does with his game even though I don’t even own a PC-HMD yet.

    • polysix

      FTR “VR” makes many things awesome just by default. that’s all this guy did. The rest was done by the game engine he used. Not much thought went into any of this. He basically cleaned up by taking advantage of new vive owners.

  • Liam Mulligan

    Huge credit owed to Anton for his down to earth approach combined with passion for detail. This experience has been very strong and unique from the start, all that feels is missing is the smell after that cartridge ejects and something to physically grab.

  • PJ

    I can see major developers appproaching these guys in a few years to make and animate guns for there own AAA VR shooters.

    My dream VR Arma game may not me too far away!!

  • polysix

    probably because he spammed dafuq outta the vive reddit since day one with this basic tech demo.

    Ridiculous he’s made so much out of something any of us could have knocked up.

  • polysix

    “Its been about letting the community in, letting them see all the dirty corners, rough edges, trying to pull in their desires and suggestions, and being human to them, instead of holding them at arms length,””

    No, It’s been about letting the player’s cash stream into your bank account while offering up a basic tech demo anyone could have done, but didn’t because they have ethics.

    • Rob

      If it’s such a basic tech demo, that anyone could have done, why didn’t you do one and offer it for free? Whether or not h3 is worth 20$ you might be able to argue, but the things you have spammed on this comment section are vitriolic and nonsensical