What do players of virtual reality exercise games want? A thematic analysis of online reviews of virtual reality exergames
Background: Physical activity (PA) is associated with a variety of physical and psychosocial health benefits, but levels of moderate-to-vigorous intensity PA remain low worldwide. Virtual reality (VR) gaming systems involving movement (VR exergames) could be used to engage people in more PA. Objective: This study aimed to synthesize public reviews of popular VR exergames to identify common features that players liked or disliked to inform future VR exergame design. Methods: We conducted a thematic analysis of 498 reviews of the 29 most popular exergames sold in the top 3 VR marketplaces: Steam (Valve Corporation), Viveport (Valve Corporation), and Oculus (Oculus VR). We categorized reviews as positive and negative as they appeared in the marketplaces and identified the most common themes using an inductive thematic analysis. Results: The reviews were often mixed, reporting a wide variety of expectations, preferences, and gaming experiences. Players preferred highly realistic games (eg, closely simulated real-world sport), games that were intuitive (in terms of body movement and controls), and games that provided gradual increases in skill acquisition. Players reported feeling that they reached a high level of exertion when playing and that the immersion distracted them from the intensity of the exercise. Some preferred features included music and social aspects of the games, with multiplayer options to include friends or receive help from experienced players. There were 3 main themes in negative reviews. The first concerned bugs that rendered games frustrating. Second, the quality of graphics had a particularly strong impact on perceived enjoyment. Finally, reviewers disliked when games had overly complex controls and display functions that evoked motion sickness. Conclusions: Exergames prove to be a stimulating avenue for players to engage in PA and distract themselves from the negative perceptions of performing exercise. The common negative aspects of VR exergames should be addressed for increased uptake and continued engagement.