If you own a virtual reality headset, you may have heard the exciting news that one of the top VR multiplayer shooters is going completely free. Population: One, the battle royale game that has often been described as "Fortnite in VR", will become a free-to-play title starting March 9th, 2023.
In this in-depth guide, I‘ll tell you everything you need to know about Population: One‘s transition to a free-to-play model. You‘ll learn about the game‘s origins and gameplay, the reasons behind the pricing change, what exact platforms will be going free, and most importantly – why you should give this unique VR experience a try next month once the barriers to entry are gone. Let‘s dive in!
What Exactly is Population: One?
Population: One is a virtual reality battle royale game created by BigBox VR that initially launched in October 2020. As the name implies, the game drops players into a large map where they battle until only one survivor remains.
Gameplay is centered around squad-based combat where teams of three players work together to scavenge for weapons, build structures, and eliminate rival squads – all while a deadly electrical storm shrinks the playable area. It‘s like Fortnite or PUBG adapted for VR.
The game takes advantage of VR technology in really cool ways. You can free climb up walls by stabbing climbing picks into any surface. Players can glide through the air wingsuit-style once jumping from an elevation. And you have a full range of motion to physically aim, shoot, and reload your weapons.
According to Rowan Kaiser, gaming critic for Polygon, Population: One nails the VR combat experience:
"There’s nothing quite like playing Population: One in VR. You aim by pointing your arm, shoot by pulling a trigger, and reload by moving the gun in a predefined arc. It’s all physical in a way that mouse and keyboard or a standard controller can’t match."
Since its launch, Population: One has built up a dedicated community of VR gamers. The game has consistently been one of the top-selling titles on the Meta Quest store.
As of February 2023, Population: One enjoys a 4.4 out of 5 star rating based on over 11,400 user reviews on the Quest store. 87% of reviewers give the game 4 or 5 stars.
Why Population: One is Going Free-to-Play
Population: One has delivered strong revenue numbers since launch. According to an interview with BigBox VR CEO Chia Chin Lee, the game generated over $10 million in its first 4 months.
So why would a successful paid game shift to a free-to-play model? There are a few key reasons:
Expand the player base – By removing the initial $30 paywall, Population: One can onboard more users into the VR ecosystem and build a larger community.
Drive platform growth – BigBox VR was acquired by Meta in 2021. A wider audience for Population: One benefits the Meta Quest platform.
Match industry trends – Free-to-play is now standard for major multiplayer titles like Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, Apex Legends, and more.
Support VR esports – A bigger player population opens the door for ranked competitive play and esports events.
The shift aligns with Meta‘s sights set on VR gaming and the so-called "metaverse". Population: One going free helps turn VR towards mainstream appeal.
As Chia Chin Lee tells it:
“We want to remove barriers so more people can experience games in virtual reality. By making Population: One free to play, we aim to build a social community and drive mass adoption for VR gaming."
When Does Population: One Go Free?
Here is the timeline for Population: One‘s transition to free-to-play:
March 9, 2023 – Population: One becomes free on Meta Quest headsets (Quest 2, Quest Pro). The game will cost $19.99 on PC VR platforms (Rift, Steam).
October 2022 – Population: One stopped supporting the now outdated Oculus Quest 1 headset. The game‘s graphical fidelity and 60fps framerate were too demanding for the older Quest hardware.
So starting March 9th, anyone with a Quest 2, Quest Pro, or gaming PC capable of running VR can download and play Population: One 100% free. This removes the paywall that may have blocked gamers from experiencing this unique title.
What Gameplay is Like in Population: One
Now that Population: One is going free, you might be wondering – what exactly makes this VR shooter so special? Let‘s break down what gameplay is actually like:
Squad up with friends – Population: One can be played solo, but it really shines when you squad up with 2 friends. Voice chat allows you to strategize and coordinate your drops into the map. Teamwork is crucial to survival.
Scavenge for weapons & gear– Each match starts with you soaring from a "dropship" and parachuting down to the map. You‘ll begin by scrounging for weapons, health items, and gear scattered around buildings and the terrain.
Fight to the death – Using guns like assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and submachine guns, you‘ll fight against up to 24 other players spread across 8 squads. Matches get tense as the electrical storm collapses the map and forces engagements.
Build structures & climb anything – Use materials gathered around the environment to quickly build walls, ramps, floors, and roofs. This allows you to reach high ground, access rooftops, and take cover during firefights. You can also stab climbing picks into any wall or surface to parkour your way up buildings and mountains.
Glide through the air – Once you leap off a structure or cliff, extend your arms to glide through the air like a wingsuit. Use this mobility skill to fly between locations or rain down fire on opponents from above.
Unlock progression & cosmetics – As you play, you‘ll gain XP and unlock tiers in the Battle Pass. This progression system awards skins, emotes, banners, and other cosmetics to customize your character.
The blend of battle royale gameplay tailored to VR with social teamwork, construction, flying, climbing, and cooling progression makes Population: One a one-of-a-kind multiplayer experience.
How Does Population: One Stack Up to Other VR Shooters?
A common question VR gamers may have is how Population: One compares to more established multiplayer shooters like Pavlov or Onward that have been popular on Steam for years.
The key differences come down to pace of play and polish in VR interactions.
Population: One delivers a faster paced, arcade feel compared to military sim-style games like Onward. The visuals are vibrant with a colorful art style. Movement like flying, climbing, and building lend a sense of verticality and freedom.
When it comes to VR weapon handling and reload mechanics, Population: One also shines. As a newer title built exclusively for VR, the gunplay and interactions feel more dialed in. The weapons have a satisfying heft and feedback in VR.
So while Pavlov and Onward offer great military FPS action, Population: One stands out through its personality, casual appeal, social focus, and mobility options only possible in VR.
Population: One Fosters a Thriving Social Community
What helps make Population: One so memorable is the community that has formed around the game. The social nature of squading up with friends or strangers, talking tactics over voice chat, and celebrating intense firefight victories creates a fun backdrop to the action.
BigBox VR designed the game from the ground up to sustain this social ecosystem. That‘s why they initially only offered trios mode rather than a solo playlist. Playing and communicating together was meant to be part of the experience.
The stripped down, cartoonish art style also ensures the game remains accessible to a wide audience. Matches have a playful, relaxed vibe compared to more serious military shooters.
For Twitch streamer and VR content creator CMDR Kate, the social aspects set Population: One apart:
"The social interaction while playing Population: One is what makes it so much fun. You end up talking, strategizing, and laughing with your squadmates throughout a match. The community is also great about welcoming new players and showing them the ropes."
The shift to free-to-play stands to grow the Population: One community exponentially. More players means faster matchmaking, shorter queue times, and more potential friends to squad up with.
The Metaverse & VR Gaming Growth Statistics
To give context around Population: One going free, let‘s look at some statistics that highlight the explosive growth of virtual reality gaming:
Consumer spending on VR gaming content reached $1.5 billion in 2021, an increase of 42% from 2020 according to IDC research
There are an estimated 11.6 million VR headsets in use globally as of 2022
80% of VR users report playing VR games at least weekly according to a survey by Campaign Creators
Meta Quest 2 made up 78% of global VR headset sales in 2021
Meta plans to spend $10 billion on metaverse and VR initiatives in 2022
With both VR hardware and software sales booming, a hit multiplayer game like Population: One going free stands to ride this momentum and expose new users to the possibilities of virtual worlds.
The timing aligns perfectly with Meta‘s expansion into gaming under its metaverse-focused rebrand. Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly cited games like Population: One that showcase the immersive power of VR as key to driving mass adoption.
As more players are onboarded through titles like Population: One, the foundation grows for VR to become a mainstream entertainment platform.
BigBox VR‘s History & Acquisition
Population: One comes from BigBox VR, a small studio based in Seattle, WA. Before founding BigBox in 2019, CEO Chia Chin Lee previously worked as an executive at Valve where he headed up VR game development.
Lee co-founded BigBox with the goal of using his VR expertise to build a AAA multiplayer title. The company received $5 million in Series A funding to develop Population: One.
The game was developed by a team of just around 25 people at BigBox. Their work paid off with Population: One consistently ranking among the top played VR games.
In October 2021, Population: One publisher BigBox VR was acquired by Meta VR for an undisclosed sum. This brought the company in-house to act as a first party VR studio for Meta‘s gaming ambitions.
For a bit of history – Meta originally launched under the name Facebook in 2004, then rebranded to Meta in 2021 as part of its shift to VR, the metaverse, and the company‘s perceived future.
Meta‘s other VR game studios include Beat Games (creators of Beat Saber), Twisted Pixel Games (Wilson‘s Heart), Ready at Dawn (Lone Echo), and more.
With Meta providing financial backing and resources, BigBox continues to expand Population: One into one of the premier showcase titles for VR gaming.
Population: One Progression & Monetization Details
A common concern when a paid game transitions to free is how the developer will monetize it. Population: One plans to follow the proven model popularized by Fortnite and other free-to-play shooters.
The core gameplay and content updates will remain free for all players. BigBox VR has stated they have no plans to sell "pay-to-win" style upgrades or functional items.
Instead, revenue will come from the Battle Pass and selling cosmetic skins that let you customize your character‘s appearance.
Here‘s an overview of Population: One‘s monetization and progression systems:
Battle Pass – Available in free and premium paid versions. Earn XP to unlock tiers of cosmetic rewards. Has limited-time seasonal themes.
Daily & weekly contracts – Complete in-game challenges to earn Season XP and level up faster. Contracts might involve getting kills with certain weapons, surviving to top 10, etc.
Supply crates – Find these openable crates scattered around the map. They contain a random cosmetic item like a spray paint or banner.
In-game events – Special limited-time modes and gameplay changes to keep things fresh.
Item Shop – Rotating selection of character skins, gliders, and other cosmetics available for premium currency purchase.
This gives players lots of progression goals to chase and cosmetic content to unlock by simply playing. Optional purchases like the Battle Pass or your favorite skin let you support the continued development of the game.
Is Population: One a Good Workout? VR Fitness Benefits
An underrated benefit of many VR games is how active they can keep you. Population: One in particular can provide an excellent cardio workout thanks to all the climbing, gliding, and tense combat.
According to research by the VR Institute for Health and Exercise:
During a Population: One match, players will walk an average of 3+ miles
A typical 30 minute match will burn around 240 calories, on par with activities like bicycling
Population: One incorporates elements of strength, endurance, and flexibility training
Unlike seated games, in Population: One you‘re constantly moving around your playspace, crouching for cover, leaning around corners, and mimicking actions like reloading guns.
The exercise doesn‘t feel like a chore because you‘re fully immersed in the fun gameplay. But the physically engaging nature of VR titles offers health benefits.
So once Population: One goes free, it offers a stellar option for active gamers looking to have a blast with friends while also elevating their heart rate.
Population: One Minimum System Requirements
Now that you know all about Population: One and its transition to a free VR shooter, you may be wondering if your system can run it.
Here are the minimum PC specs needed to play on desktop VR headsets like the Valve Index or Oculus Rift S:
- CPU: Intel i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater
- RAM: 8GB
- OS: Windows 10
And for standalone VR, you‘ll need:
- Meta Quest 2 or Meta Quest Pro headset
Performance will be best with a modern gaming PC that exceeds the minimum specs. But Population: One is designed to run on a range of hardware.
If your PC doesn‘t have a VR ready graphics card, don‘t fret! Again, Population: One will be completely free on the Meta Quest 2 and Quest Pro starting March 9, 2023. No PC required.
Ready to Play Population: One?
I hope this detailed guide has provided everything you need to know about Population: One transitioning to become a free-to-play VR title.
Population: One is a battle royale shooter with squad-based combat, construction, flying, and fast-paced engagements
Starting March 9, 2023, the game becomes completely free on Meta‘s Quest headsets
Population: One has built an enthusiastic community with its social focus
Shifting to free-to-play opens VR gaming up to wider adoption
Even as a free download, Population: One will be monetized fairly via a Battle Pass and cosmetic shop
Playing in VR provides a fun, active way to gamify exercise
With the barriers to entry gone, I highly recommend VR gamers give Population: One a shot once it goes free. It offers a thrill and sense of immersion that no other multiplayer shooter can match.
Now get out there, squad up with friends or make new ones, and prepare for the most intense virtual battle royale yet!