Earlier this week, deadmau5 launched a virtual reality game in conjunction with Absolut Labs. Users get a taste of a day in the life of the producer, interacting with his cars, his cat, and his crowds; deadmau5 also debuted a new track, “Saved,” inside the game.
Billboard caught up with the producer on Thursday to discuss the inspiration behind “Absolut deadmau5,” the importance of getting the virtual reality experience right, and the bright future for virtual reality in music.
How did the idea for a VR game come about?
To do VR, you have to do it well. If you do it poorly, it’s just a bad representation of VR, and you’re also delivering a shit project, and you’re just wasting a whole bunch of time — including your own. I decided let’s give this a shot, let’s talk to some developers and get some ideas together and see what kind of thing we can do to max out quality and produce something that’s good for you guys. Once we started prototyping and working with the studio that was involved, I was super happy with the result — they took the time to do it right.
Usually companies, when they approach other people to do VR, they’re like “we’re gonna offer a virtual reality experience” — to me that usually means they’re gonna put a bunch of 360° cameras in a room, film something, and wrap the video in a sphere so you can head-track and look around. To me, that’s not virtual reality. That’s 360° video. So that’s what initially scared me off.
Once we started going into technical details — like we would be building a game engine for this — I was like, “this is great.” Our interests are aligned. This is a world I’m starting to immerse myself in, and these guys want to be immersed too. This a great entry level project in VR to get my feet wet.
You were closely involved in the process?
As much as I could be. I had to do other things — I’ve got three or four projects at any given moment. I do this sort of thing where even for my own shows, I like to supply my own fingerprint of creativity. Not just ideas, technical things: offering model data, creating visuals for my stage show myself, babysitting renders, learning that technology as I go. That’s what makes me feel like an artist. I’m doing this thing in all these departments to create and release and have that as part of the final product, as opposed to being a guy who only does one thing and then has all these companies and teams that create the rest of it.
Is it difficult to balance all those projects simultaneously?
It keeps me busy; it keeps me satisfied and challenged. I know very well that I can release a song or two and then spend weeks and weeks hanging out by the lake or sitting on my porch. That puts me in a state — if I’m caught idling, I get really fucked up and miserable. The feeling of being unproductive to me does not go over well.
Do you think a project like yours will help to build demand for VR?
That’s the point of this. It’s technologically as fucking insane as it could be, it’s there, it’s working, you can get it in anyone’s hands right now. To build something that can work on that platform is a fucking great way to entice people into VR development. We really stressed quality in terms of performance. It’s a small proof of concept, a demo, an experience that lasts five to ten minutes, you can go check it out and have it work well and then take it off and go, “wow, that was neat.” And then hand it to your buddy.
Virtual reality to me seems to have a number of different tiers. Entry level tier VR is this experience: on a phone, some simple head-tracking, and some quick and dirty, game-engine-quality stuff. The price point is minimal getting in. Up at the top end, you’re looking at $600 to $800 for a headset, and then $1000 for a video card. It gets up there. That’s why there are no true VR games right now. All the major game companies — they put in $200, $300, $400 million to produce a game over a period of four or five years, and then they sell the shit out of it and make all their money back. These games are on platforms that everybody can enjoy: some mid to high end PC specs with a 2D game. That sells; they get their money back. With VR, because the tech is so limited right now, no one has really been focusing on that sort of thing.
Is this the first song debut via a VR experience?
I think so. I whipped that track up out of the vault and said let’s try it out. It’s a risk, but I think the end product, having seen it and babysat it from start to end, is a beautifully well-executed thing for what it is.
Do you have ideas for where you want to go with VR in the future?
I’ve been working with a lot of pretty big companies in VR right now. I’m exploring this world of game development and GPU and getting involved in any capacity that I can to meet talented artists and programmers and developers. That’s what you’re gonna need to get a high-end experience done.
All this technology and this delivery method relies on game engines. Anything short of that isn’t virtual reality — it’s you standing in a room looking around from a fixed point perspective with no interactivity. To be as fully an immersive experience as it can be, it has to be built in a game engine, meaning every component has to be rendered out in real time in three dimensional space.
We’re gonna start to see a merge happen in the industry, where production companies will be talking to game studios. These two worlds are gonna collide, and when they do — they’re already starting to now — it’s gonna be a really big thing you’re gonna really regret not getting into now at this time, not in the future. That’s the next big thing that’s gonna happen to the music business I think. Not in the sense of co-branding, where Aerosmith comes out with a first-person shooter, cool as that would be. The technologies are going to collide: musicians are going to be working with game companies instead of some twat director with a 35 mm shooting a music video.