Darknet launched two weeks ago on the Gear VR. The hardware wasn’t produced in huge quantities, and it wasn't advertised much, so I knew that it would be a pretty quiet, gradual launch. Despite the slow start, some reviews, comments, and testimonials from players have started to trickle in. I was curious to see what real-world players would think of the game, and I’ve been eagerly stalking every mention of Darknet on the web.
So far, the comments from players have been very positive. As I write this, the game has a 4.5/5 rating on the Gear VR app store with 126 ratings. Unlike Google Play, those reviews don’t include any explanatory text, but I’ve been collecting some choice quotes from players who wrote about the game online:
There was also one player who said it was "lots of fun to play", but he didn’t “get what all the hype was about”, which I take as a great compliment toward my humble indie marketing efforts.
Of course, Darknet is not alone in any of this; almost all of the games on the Gear VR are getting positive comments and reviews from players (of the ten games on the system, eight of them have a 4.5/5 rating). To some extent, this is a testament to the quality of the initial launch titles, but I also try to keep in mind that it's probably also a reflection of the fact that the audience is mostly composed of VR enthusiasts who want to like the experience. Compared to a more general gaming audience, they’re biased in my favor, so I take all of these player comments with a grain of salt.
As of now, there haven’t been any actual press reviews of the game, which I would usually trust to be more neutral and grounded than player comments. I suppose that this makes sense; the market for Gear VR software is tiny, and most sites can’t afford to focus on such a small audience. Darknet has gotten a lot of passing mentions in the press, and it has received a few kind blurbs, but I think it may not receive a real review until after the PC version comes out.
There have been a few bits of feedback that I really feel I can trust, though. The game has received a few personal reviews from people that I already know and respect, and I value those perspectives a lot. For instance, Adi Robertson, a reporter for The Verge, included Darknet as an Honorable Mention in her Best Games of 2014 list, putting the game among very good company.
A more striking bit of feedback came from Brian Sharp, an engineer at Oculus. I’ve admired Brian for years, thanks to his very thoughtful writing and conference talks, and I trust his opinion. He played Darknet soon after it launched, and contacted me on Twitter. “I cannot stop playing Darknet,” he wrote. “Put probably 12 hours into it over the last two days. Incredible work on a truly excellent game.” Based on his later tweets, it sounds like he’s on track to be the first player to “beat” Darknet by conquering the biggest, baddest level in the game.
When I read comments like Brian’s, I feel like I must have done something right. Even in a worst-case scenario, if nobody else likes the game and it fails in the general marketplace, at least I know that somebody else can see what I see. Somebody gets it! I’m not just crazy! That’s all the proof I need to be satisfied with what I built.
I still hope to go further, of course. Ideally, there will be lots of other players who dig into the game like that. I don’t have download statistics yet, and sales don’t exist at all, so I almost feel like the game still hasn’t launched. Who knows whether it will catch on with a wider audience? But at least some people love it. That’s success, in my eyes.