On the Preference for Travel by Steering in a Virtual Reality Game
Martin Kraus
a
Computer Graphics Group, Aalborg University, Rendsburggade 14, 9000 Aalborg, Denmark
martin@create.aau.dk
Keywords:
Virtual Reality, User Interface, Travel, Video Game, Gaming, Motion Sickness, Cybersickness.
Abstract:
Travel is one of the most important tasks in virtual reality (VR) experiences. Paradoxically, the most popular
travel techniques in virtual reality games are known to be more likely to cause cybersickness than some of
the less popular travel techniques. Recently, at least one VR gaming company shared quantitative data on this
issue. In an attempt to explain this data, this work argues that steering techniques might result in stronger im-
mersion, better physical ergonomics, and more pleasure than offered by teleportation techniques. Furthermore,
trends are identified that might reduce the preference for steering techniques in the future. The presented dis-
cussion of current and future preferences for steering techniques in VR games might help to better understand
and design for the needs of VR players.
1 INTRODUCTION
Travel in virtual reality experiences is the task of mov-
ing from one virtual location to another virtual lo-
cation. LaViola et al. (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 318)
observed that “travel is easily the most common and
universal interaction task in 3D interfaces. While
travel is not required by all Virtual Reality (VR) expe-
riences, many VR applications and VR game genres
require travel.
Travel techniques are interaction methods that en-
able users of an interface to travel. Travel tech-
niques may be classified by the metaphors that they
are based on. LaViola et al. (LaViola et al., 2017,
pp. 325) distinguish between walking metaphors (in-
cluding real walking and redirected walking), steer-
ing metaphors (including gaze-directed steering and
hand-directed steering), and selection-based travel
metaphors (including selection of a target location
and teleportation or very fast “blink” movement to it),
and manipulation-based travel metaphors.
A well-known problem of many travel techniques
(with the exception of real walking) is that they often
result in cybersickness (also known as simulator sick-
ness or more specifically VR sickness) because
they require a mismatch between the sensory infor-
mation received by the visual system and the vestibu-
lar system of users (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 462).
Therefore, changing the travel technique is among the
most promising methods of preventing cybersickness
a
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0331-051X
(LaViola et al., 2017, p. 507).
However, developers of VR games are facing re-
quests by players to offer travel techniques in par-
ticular steering techniques that are known to cause
more cases of cybersickness. The next section dis-
cusses the specific case of the multiplayer video game
“Rec Room” (Rec Room Inc., 2016); including data
on VR players’ overwhelming preference for steering
techniques compared to teleportation techniques.
Section 3 discusses possible reasons for these
preferences. Comments by players on discussion fo-
rums suggest that many players are willing to go
through a period of repeated cybersickness to adapt
to steering techniques (“getting their VR legs”) such
that they are able to use steering techniques without
significant symptoms of cybersickness. This willing-
ness of VR players suggests that there are significant
benefits to steering techniques compared to telepor-
tation. Specifically, Section 3 argues that there are
features of steering techniques that are likely to result
in stronger immersion, better physical ergonmonics,
and more pleasure than offered by teleportation tech-
niques (including very fast “blink” movement).
Section 4 attempts to identify trends that might
change today’s preferences for steering techniques in
the future. Section 5 concludes this work, while Sec-
tion 6 summarizes suggestions for future work on this
topic.
2 DATA ON PLAYERS’
PREFERENCES
Controlled, large-scale user studies about players’
preferred travel techniques are difficult for various
reasons. One important challenge is that players
might be quick to reject techniques that cause symp-
toms of cybersickness in a controlled lab experiment.
On the other hand, there is anecdotal evidence that
some VR games can provide the motivation to adapt
to such techniques such that players prefer them over
other techniques – a process that might require weeks
of exposure to cybersickness. Creating a VR game
of sufficient quality to provide this motivation is dif-
ficult. Even if a published popular VR game is used,
it would be ethically and organizationally difficult to
provide test participants with the opportunity to adapt
to a travel technique that causes symptoms of cyber-
sickness. This leaves the possibility of finding a rep-
resentative sample of existing players of a popular VR
game that offers multiple travel techniques. This ap-
proach is challenging because of the small userbases
of today’s VR games.
On the other hand, user data of successful VR
games is usually protected by companies that not only
need to protect the privacy of their users but also
the competitive advantage that their user data pro-
vides them. Due to these difficulties, it is particu-
larly worthwhile to interpret data from “natural exper-
iments” (DiNardo, 2016) that is provided by VR game
companies. While this data usually does not meet the
standards for data from scientific experiments and,
in fact, many “natural experiments” are not scientific
experiments it can still provide valuable insights if
interpreted with care as shown by many examples in
economics and social sciences (DiNardo, 2016).
Here, we cite data provided in September 2019
by Cameron Brown (“gribbly”), Chief Creative Of-
ficer (CCO) of Rec Room Inc., about players of the
video game Rec Room (Rec Room Inc., 2016): “...
looking at VR players only, 90% of our VR users
choose to use smooth locomotion. This is the case
even though teleport is the recommended default. So
fully 90% of the VR userbase is actively opting in to
smooth locomotion” (Brown, 2019). Rec Room is a
cross-platform, multiplayer online game that allows
players to play and create a wide variety of games to-
gether, e.g., sports games, first-person shooters, dun-
geon crawlers, tabletop games, etc.
2.1 Userbase
To understand the meaning of the cited comment
(Brown, 2019), additional information about the user-
base of the game Rec Room is necessary: It was first
published in June 2016 for SteamVR Head-Mounted
Displays (HMDs) with 6-degrees-of-freedom con-
trollers, specifically the HTC Vive headset. Since De-
cember 2016, the game has also been available in the
Oculus store for Oculus Rift headsets with Oculus
Touch controllers; since October 2017 for PlaySta-
tion VR headsets with Move controllers; also since
October 2017 for Windows Mixed Reality headsets
(due to the release of the “Windows Mixed Reality
SteamVR preview”), and since May 2019, for Oculus
Quest headsets with Oculus Touch controllers. The
game has also been available on other platforms but
players on those platforms are not part of the “VR
userbase”.
No accurate figures are available for the number
of active players. In early 2019, Rec Room Inc. an-
nounced that the (free-to-play) game was installed on
more than one million VR headsets (Rec Room Inc.,
2019). Shawn Whiting, Head of Community and em-
ployee of Rec Room Inc., implied in a comment in
early 2019 that there were more than 5,000 daily play-
ers on Steam (Au, 2019). However, this number in-
cludes non-VR players using the Steam version but it
does not include players on PlayStation VR nor play-
ers of the Oculus versions of the game.
For the purpose of this work, it appears safe to
assume that Rec Room has a significant number of
active VR players more than most lab experiments
could include on the most popular VR headsets as
of mid 2019.
2.2 Teleportation
As implied in the cited comment by Brown (Brown,
2019), new VR players of Rec Room have a choice
between “smooth locomotion” and “teleport”, with
“teleport” being the “default. (On some platforms at
certain times, new players have been required to make
a choice between “smooth locomotion” and “teleport”
with the recommendation to choose “teleport” if in
Figure 1: A player in Rec Room, who is selecting a target
position (green) for teleporting.
doubt.)
Until March 2018, the only travel technique for
VR players was teleportation with an arc originating
from either controller to select the target location (see
Figure 1). To avoid spatial disorientation, players are
usually not rotated by the teleportation. An excep-
tion is teleportation onto virtual seats, which automat-
ically rotates players to face in the forward direction
of the seat. Since April 2017, a so-called “motion
teleport” option is the default, which is a very quick
movement to the target location as recommended by
LaViola et al. (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 345).
2.3 Steering Techniques
In May 2018, steering techniques for travel were in-
troduced in Rec Room, which were refined within
a few months. The default option is a one-handed
“hand-directed steering” technique (LaViola et al.,
2017, p. 340) where the user has to specify a “walking
hand” to control travel while the corresponding button
on the other hand’s controller allows virtual jumping.
All supported controllers – except the PlayStation
Move controllers – include a two-degrees-of-freedom
thumbstick or touchpad, which optionally may be
used for one of two “Thumbstick Walk modes. If
“Thumbstick Walk mode” is set to “Head”, the steer-
ing technique corresponds to an extension of “gaze-
directed steering” (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 339) that
maps the forward direction of the controller’s thumb-
stick or touchpad to the viewing direction of the
player. Correspondingly, left, right, and backward di-
rections of the controller’s thumbstick or touchpad are
mapped to directions relative to this viewing direc-
tion. As mentioned by LaViola et al., this allows for
the ability to strafe. If “Thumbstick Walk mode” is set
to “Hand”, the forward direction of the controller’s
thumbstick or touchpad is mapped to the direction
that the controller of the “walking hand” is pointing
at. Other directions on the thumbstick or touchpad
are again mapped to directions relative to this direc-
tion. Supposedly, this large range of steering tech-
niques was included to accommodate the preferences
of as many players as possible, in particular players
who are used to one of these steering techniques in
other VR games.
3 REASONS FOR PLAYERS’
PREFERENCES
This section presents potential reasons for the pref-
erence for steering techniques over teleportation by
90% of VR players of Rec Room that was described
in Section 2. This preference is surprising as steer-
ing techniques are known to be more likely to cause
cybersickness (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 462) and com-
ments by Rec Room players in discussion forums
show that steering in Rec Room is no exception.
3.1 Game-specific Reasons
The strong preference for steering techniques in
Rec Room is particularly surprising since all of the
games and rooms in Rec Room were originally (un-
til May 2018) only playable with teleportation and
were designed for this travel technique. Specifically,
many games require a short pause between succes-
sive teleportations, which leads to very specific forms
of gameplay, e.g., a two-player close-range combat
where players alternate between shooting each other
and teleporting behind the back of each other. Some
players prefer teleportation because of these forms of
gameplay.
Since steering has been introduced in May 2018,
the developers appeared to attempt to balance tele-
portation and steering to allow players who are us-
ing different travel techniques to play the built-in
games together. The main exception is a built-in game
(“Stunt Runner”) that was released in September 2019
and only supports steering techniques. It is unclear
whether the data cited by Brown (Brown, 2019) was
already influenced by the release of this game.
Many player-created rooms in Rec Room (which
were introduced in December 2017) only support
steering techniques for travel, which is likely to con-
tribute to the preference for steering techniques. Play-
ers spend about 40% of their time in player-created
rooms (Rec Room Inc., 2019), which means that the
influence of the steering-only player-created rooms on
players’ preferences is somewhat limited.
Presumably, the players of Rec Room are rela-
tively young, which might mean that they are on aver-
age less susceptible to cybersickness than the general
population. However, no information about the age
distribution of players is available.
Since Rec Room is a social game, players inter-
act and, therefore, are likely to influence each other’s
preferences for travel techniques. Players preferring
one travel technique might exert peer pressure on
players preferring a different travel technique, for ex-
ample, because they perceive that the other travel
technique provides an unfair advantage. Such ef-
forts by players in favor of steering techniques as
well as teleportation techniques have been observed.
While this can be a reinforcing factor, it cannot in
itself explain why a large majority of players of a
game that was originally only playable with teleporta-
tion change their preference in favor of steering tech-
niques.
Overall, there are more game-specific reasons in
Rec Room that are likely to increase the preference
for steering techniques over teleportation than to the
opposite effect, but it is unlikely that these reasons
alone could explain the overwhelming preference for
steering techniques.
3.2 Immersion
In this section, “immersion” refers to “the objective
degree to which a VR system and application projects
stimuli onto the sensory receptors of users in a way
that is extensive, matching, surrounding, vivid, inter-
active, and plot informing. (Jerald, 2015, p. 45).
In general, real movement (i.e., physical move-
ment by the player that is mapped directly to virtual
movement) is known to be more immersive compared
to other travel techniques (LaViola et al., 2017, p.
326-328). In a comparison between steering tech-
niques and teleportation for playing, however, it is
less clear, which technique is more immersive.
Some players argue that teleportation leads to a
more “immersive” game experience for them. The
reasoning is that teleportation is often designed to re-
quire small pauses between successive teleportations
(a “cooldown period”). During these pauses, players
can only move by real movement. In shooting games,
these movements include dodging projectiles, taking
cover, peeking around corners, etc. Thus, the usage
of teleportation can indirectly increase immersion by
strongly encouraging real movement to perform bet-
ter in a game.
However, this effect depends on the willingness
and ability of players to move physically. If players
do not actually move physically, steering techniques
provide visual stimuli that match the experience of
continuous travel much better than teleportation be-
tween locations. Furthermore, the visual stimuli are
more vivid in the sense of continuous optical flow
during travel. Perceptually, they are usually more ex-
tensive since the apparent movement of a 3D envi-
ronment usually features motion parallax, which is an
important depth cue (Jerald, 2015, p. 118-120).
3.3 Physical Ergonomics
In VR, steering techniques and teleportation in Rec
Room make use of 6-degrees-of-freedom controllers.
These controllers are (at least to a certain degree)
designed for good physical ergonomics; specifically,
they require very little physical effort to use them.
As discussed in Section 3.2, however, the required
pauses between successive teleportations encourage
real movement. Specifically, dodging projectiles en-
courages unnaturally sudden and fast movements that
may result in high physical exertion. In this sense, the
use of teleportation may indirectly result in more ex-
ertion and, therefore, worse physical ergonomics than
the use of steering.
Avoiding the exertion by real movements (specif-
ically dodging projectiles) or the inability to perform
these real movements is therefore a reason to prefer
steering techniques because it allows players to per-
form some of these actions virtually just by pressing
buttons with their fingers.
3.4 Pleasure
This section discusses three features of steering tech-
niques compared to teleportation in Rec Room and
how they may shape players’ preferences: immedi-
ate feedback, integration with other interaction tech-
niques, and matching players’ expectations.
In interaction design, it is well known that “feed-
back should be immediate; otherwise users may be-
come frustrated or give up before tasks are com-
pleted” (Jerald, 2015, p. 283). As mentioned above,
teleportation in Rec Room often requires players to
pause between successive teleportations. If players
try to teleport during these pauses, immediate visual
feedback is provided but teleporting is not possible
until the end of the pause. On the other hand, steering
techniques offer “continuous control of the direction
of motion by the user” (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 339),
i.e., feedback in the form of a new direction or ve-
locity is immediate. Therefore, steering techniques
potentially result in a greater sense of freedom and
control, which may result in greater game enjoyment
(Ryan et al., 2006).
LaViola et al. suggest that a travel technique
should be chosen “that can be easily integrated with
other interaction techniques in the application” (LaVi-
ola et al., 2017, p. 368). Teleportation in Rec Room
is not integrated with virtual “jumping” (i.e., push-
ing the player’s avatar and virtual camera upwards for
a short period of time), presumably because it may
cause cybersickness. On the other hand, steering tech-
niques in Rec Room are integrated with virtual jump-
ing, presumably because players who are not nega-
tively affected by steering techniques are likely to tol-
erate jumping as well. Thus, steering techniques in
Rec Room allow for intense movements, e.g., long
jumps from buildings, jump attacks, and sliding down
steep slopes. Players who want to enjoy virtual jump-
ing or any movement that it makes possible have to
use a steering technique instead of teleportation.
One way to improve the chances of providing a
pleasurable experience to players is to match their ex-
pectations, which are often based on a game’s genre
or more generally spoken on a “schema” (Dou-
glas and Hargadon, 2000) that players associate with
a game. For readers of interactive narratives, Dou-
glas and Hargadon describe the relation in this way:
“Readers’ enjoyment of affective experiences is tied
closely to their expectations, which are linked di-
rectly to the schemas readers identify. By invoking
familiar schemas [...], writers and designers of in-
teractive narratives provide readers with an experi-
ence that closely matches their expectations” (Dou-
glas and Hargadon, 2000). If there is a similar rela-
tion between players’ expectations and game genres,
then travel techniques that provide more features of
an associated game genre are more likely to provide
a pleasurable experience than other travel techniques.
Since many games in Rec Room are strongly associ-
ated with First-Person Shooters (FPS), it is to be ex-
pected that players who enjoy traditional FPS tend to
enjoy steering techniques, which support strafing (and
therefore techniques in FPS such as “circle strafing”)
and jumping (and therefore techniques in FPS such as
“bunny hopping” and “trickjumps”), more than they
enjoy teleportation.
4 PREDICTIONS ON FUTURE
PREFERENCES
The discussion in Section 3 shows that there are
several reasons that might explain the overwhelm-
ing preference for steering techniques in Rec Room.
The discussion also showed that preferences for travel
techniques in Rec Room changed over time. There-
fore, this section presents some factors that are likely
to change future preferences for steering techniques
in VR games.
4.1 More Casual Players
As more powerful VR equipment is becoming more
affordable and more attractive VR games are be-
ing published, the VR gaming audience is likely
to shift from early adopters to mainstream, includ-
ing many casual players. This larger audience will
probably be less motivated to suffer cybersickness
in order to adapt to steering techniques than today’s
early adopters; thus, future players are more likely
to avoid steering techniques by choosing alternative
travel techniques (including teleportation) or games
that do not require travel as a core game mechanic.
4.2 Longer Play Sessions
While more casual users are probably less likely to
use steering techniques, some “hardcore” players who
want to play longer play sessions (i.e., multiple hours)
might also prefer alternatives to steering techniques
since they can cause discomfort that builds up slowly
over time. Anecdotally, even the self-proclaimed
“hardcore VR enthusiast” and YouTuber Thomas Po-
ersch (“VoodooDE”) admitted that he only plays VR
sessions of up to one hour (Poersch, 2019). The au-
thor is also not using steering techniques in VR for
more than an hour but is regularly using teleportation
for multiple hours at a time.
4.3 More Real Walking
Many location-based VR experiences employ real
walking and redirected walking (sometimes described
as “free roam(ing) VR”), which is more immersive
than steering techniques (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 327).
As more VR players are exposed to these experiences,
they are more likely to appreciate or even expect sim-
ilarly immersive experiences at home. The popular
VR game “Tea for God” (Ciupi
´
nski, 2019) provides a
preview of the potential of such games at home.
4.4 New Travel Techniques
LaViola et al. suggest that “researchers who come
up with the most effective methods [for prevent-
ing cybersickness] will have a huge impact on com-
fort in AR and VR” (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 508).
While new travel techniques that prevent cybersick-
ness might have a strong impact, the VR game
“Tea for God” (Ciupi
´
nski, 2019) points to a dif-
ferent solution: previous research using real walk-
ing in self-overlapping architecture and impossible
spaces (LaViola et al., 2017, p. 329) was usually con-
cerned with users noticing the self-overlapping nature
of these spaces. “Tea for God,” however, does not at-
tempt to hide the self-overlapping nature of the proce-
durally generated levels. On the contrary, this feature
becomes a kind of optical illusion that many players
appear to enjoy. This opens many possibilities for
level design (in particular in small physical spaces)
that were not considered in previous research. Thus,
the solution might not be a new travel technique but
new ways of using old ones.
5 CONCLUSIONS
This works presents data showing that a large part
of today’s VR gaming audience prefers steering tech-
niques over teleportation. Therefore, it might be com-
mercially reasonable to focus on steering techniques
in some VR games even if it means that many po-
tential players are not able to enjoy these games due
to cybersickness. It also means that non-gaming VR
applications might benefit from an option to use steer-
ing techniques as many VR players will prefer these
techniques compared to other travel techniques.
Multiple reasons for preferring steering tech-
niques have been discussed. Combined, these reasons
show how challenging the problem of finding prefer-
able travel techniques is. Even the more immersive
real walking techniques fall short in terms of exertion
and meeting expectations of some players.
As LaViola et al. state, cybersickness from a VR
product “is a serious problem—if someone gets seri-
ously sick [...] they may not want to use it again or
recommend it to their friends” (LaViola et al., 2017,
p. 507). Some trends have been identified that might
lead to preferences for other travel techniques with
a smaller risk of causing cybersickness in the future.
Supporting these trends might help to accelerate VR’s
development into a mainstream entertainment tech-
nology.
6 FUTURE WORK
The data presented in this work does not meet sci-
entific requirements. It is presented here as starting
point for a discussion of potential reasons that could
explain it. More data about players’ long-term prefer-
ences for travel techniques is needed. While the pre-
sented reasons are based on scientific literature, their
relevance should be confirmed by studies on VR play-
ers. Similarly, the effects of the trends discussed in
Section 4 are speculative and should be confirmed by
studies on VR players.
Assuming that such studies would confirm some
of the presented hypotheses, this work could encour-
age and – to a certain degree – guide research on VR
travel techniques that prevent cybersickness and are
attractive to VR players at the same time.
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