Wands is a VR spell-flinging success — now, its studio wants more | Gaming

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Cortopia has been playing with magic since 2016. Its virtual reality dueler Wands started out on Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream, but since then, its wizarding empire has expanded to Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and, most recently, Oculus Go in May. PlayStation, one of the leading platforms for VR, is missing from that list, and that’s due to the challenge of porting between platforms. For now, the studio is focused on deepening the gameplay, reaching a broader audience, and fostering its nascent esports scene.

Wands is a 1-vs.-1 battler in a 19th-century steampunk world where magic is alive — and so is dueling. Players face off by casting spells and flinging fireballs. The Swedish studio released an update on June 26, Sanctum of Sahir, that includes new characters, more customization options, and a new map that centers on the tomb of an ancient king. It also features a new onboarding process, which Cortopia CEO Andreas Skoglund says is key to the studio’s strategy moving forward.

“What we’re working on now is the onboarding aspect of the game, making the appeal wider, to also reach not only the kind of super-competitive players that understand these mechanics by heart, but also trying to ease in players who appreciate competitive play, but need some hand-holding as well,” said Skoglund in a phone call with GamesBeat. “It’s just really straightforward UX improvements on some things. We previously, as the game has grown very organically from the beginning — we kind of put the player in the midst of the game and trust that they’re, on their own devices, going to learn how everything works.”

According to Skoglund, Wands has evolved based on player feedback, describing the 2016 version of the game as “an embryo of what it is today.” He says that they try to keep in touch with the community, setting up a Discord where players can discuss different spells and debate strategies. Though the new onboarding process is aimed at new players, the target audience is still hardcore and mid-core players who want to climb the leaderboard and perfect their gameplay.

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“Our focus going forward is to capitalize on the success of Wands, making it more anchored in the competitive esports scene,” said Skoglund. “At the same time, we’re building our portfolio and delivering more diverse VR and AR experiences from the studio. We have some quite aggressive plans on making Cortopia one of the most productive and renowned VR studios out there.”

In pursuit of building up a stronger esports scene, it hosted an in-game tournament, Ready Wielder One, in April. Not much of an infrastructure exists for competitive VR — the esports organization ESL launched its VR League in 2017, but most esports tournaments focus on PC or mobile. That doesn’t stop Cortopia from pushing forward, though.

In addition to growing Wands, the studio has raised $2.48 million in January and another $1.4 million in June. In May, it acquired the studio Zenz VR, who developed the zombie rail-shooter HordeZ and is currently working on two Early Access games and a third unannounced title. Cortopia making strong moves in both VR and AR, which it’s experimenting with, and part of that strategy is to continue to build up Wands. In addition to Sanctum of Sahir, it has another update coming later this year.

“We’re also looking forward into the future and having strategic discussions about where it makes sense for us to be,” said Skoglund. “There will be a lot of new platforms popping up and other platforms will die out. But when it comes to the actual porting work, it differs. Sometimes it’s really easy, like between Oculus Go and the Gear VR. They’re both owned by Oculus, so they share a lot of the same APIs and things like that. Porting to PSVR would be a much bigger undertaking for us.”

PlayStation VR is a big gap for Cortopia, but Skoglund says that porting between platforms isn’t so easy. Not only does the team have to factor in different controller schemes, hardware performance, APIs, and account management systems, but it also to think about the maintenance cost and update schedule. When it rolls out updates and patches to Wands, it does so to all platforms simultaneously, and it also has to make sure those same updates don’t break cross-platform play. It’s a lot of moving parts.

The Swedish studio has discussed internally whether or not it could develop a version for arcades, but that would require some redesigning so that players could quickly jump into the experience.

“Wands is clear opportunity for going into a VR arcade. Picking it up and dueling someone, that could be super cool, and we believe in it,” said Skoglund. “We also believe that for that to happen, we need to cater to that and create a true arcade easy-in experience. Wands is a deep, strategic game today. We basically need to look at what it would take for—to have a true VR experience you need to get in and play and understand what the game is all about in like two minutes or less. We’re interested in it. We don’t have it live today. But we’re evaluating the work against the opportunities we’re talking about with partners.”

Though Cortopia is bullish on VR, the team benefits from moving cautiously and not overextending itself. Skoglund has a long-term perspective on the projects that the team undertakes.

“We’re going on a journey with these projects, and we’re polishing each while also building new, exciting, yet-to-be-announced experiences within both VR and AR,” said Skoglund.

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