Data from VBProfiles shows that Q1 2016 saw the largest amount of investments in the VR landscape in the last five quarters. Compared to the same period of time last year, the budding industry has seen four additional investments and almost $588M more in funding — an increase of over 120 percent. (Disclosure: VB Profiles is a cooperative effort between VentureBeat and Spoke Intelligence.)
Now, adding sizzle to the Q1 VR investment high, the Virtual Reality Company (VRC) announced that it raised nearly $23 million in a new round of investment made by Hengxin Mobile Business, a Beijing-based mobile services and technology provider, securing a platform for VRC for the distribution of its content in China.
The funds will be used for producing original virtual reality content and positioning VRC as the premier VR storyteller and industry leader. Current and upcoming projects include an “original family-oriented VR program” that’s being created with VRC advisor and shareholder Steven Spielberg.
VRC was founded and is managed by two-time Academy Award-winning production designer and Maleficent director, Rob Stromberg, who serves as Chief Creative Officer, and entertainment industry executive Guy Primus. Co-founder Chris Edwards, another founder of VRC, is also a founder of VRC’s sister company, pre-visualization studio The Third Floor.
VRC is a producer of first-class VR content, including the critically-acclaimed VR experience, The Martian VR, a 20-minute interactive and fully immersive journey created for the 20th Century Fox Innovation Lab.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Robert Stromberg and Guy Primus for Venture Beat, and came away with a vision of the future that stretches from the internet of experiences to the fountain of youth, and the choice to experience life again.
VR and the internet of experiences
My first question to Robert and Guy was if VR in 2016 was preparing us for the internet experiences. Guy replied, “I absolutely agree with that kind of thought — that VR does prepare us for the internet of experiences. I think that the key word here is ‘prepare.’ We’re still in the early days of VR, so it’s logical for people to say there won’t be great experiences this year. Although, VRC is planning to release an experience at the end of this year or in early 2017 that we think is not only compelling but will stand up against content in any media,” Guy noted.
Guy continued, “A lot of the challenge with the VR landscape (and I’ll say this in a kind of self-deprecating way because I’m an engineer), but a lot of this is being driven by engineers and technologists, and the core kind of content has just not been fully developed yet. The core storytellers, core artists and core content creators are getting involved right now. We have two of them at the highest level (referring to Robert Stromberg and Steven Spielberg) … That is what will really drive people to this.”
“I look at it as a business opportunity, in that right now, there’s a lot of promise in the technology, but the headsets have not been released en masse yet,” said Guy. “Holidays 2016 and 2017 will go a long way toward determining the success.”
VR gets real
Talking about when VR would “Get Real,” Guy explained, “We did not know Daydream was coming, although we knew more mobile companies would be participating in VR. Seeing Daydream, it seems that now there’s a reason for everyone to be able to participate without breaking the bank. For us, it’s a matter of timing the market to say okay, now we believe there’s enough of a critical mass of consumer adopters and early adopters to warrant putting out fantastic content. That’s why I think 2016 goes a long way toward VR getting real.”
2017 just adds onto that, Guy elaborated, “I am reminded of when my father reminisced about the days of radio, when people experienced radio before everyone had their own receiver at home. Crowds would form and listen to broadcasts, friends held ‘radio parties’ to gather and listen to shows. VR will be similar in its early days. Though at some near point, people will have a good enough experience to want to invest their own money and their own time to build their own content library. That starts to happen around 2017.”
Asked about the first offerings that we can expect from VRC, Robert replied, ”We are working on a few projects, not just one. We want to give people an indication of the breadth of the experiences that are possible, and so we’re thinking about different projects in a lot of different arenas that really demonstrate our creativity. We’re not quite ready to announce something yet, but we probably will start announcing projects around September and expect to release something around the holiday season.”
Robert continued, “I’ve spent my entire career creating worlds and places of wonder to go to. What really excited me about VR is the fact that you can now create a world and literally step into it, which is something I never thought possible in my lifetime.”
Important to note here that VRC recently teamed up with D-Box, the maker of high-fidelity motion systems, on several projects including a feature-length action-adventure virtual reality experience, which is currently scheduled for release in 2017.
Ready player one
It is not possible to have a conversation with the team that will in so many ways define our future experience of VR, and not ask about Ready Player One. “The one thing I will say is that, from our point of view, the landscape is unblemished, observed Robert. There’s a whole new world yet to be discovered. We see the doorway to that place, but the keys have not been mass produced yet. What would seem to be just fictitious dreams … the reality is that those dreams will soon be possible.”
He continued, “There are things in motion that will make it very clear what the power of immersion and virtual reality will offer in the coming years to the next generation.”
The choice to experience life again
The most tantalizing part of my conversation with VRC was when Robert offered me a golden glimpse of what could be in the VR worlds of the future. In reply to my question of how VR could help people with disabilities or injuries, or those with “boomer body breakdown,” and who have issues with mobility experience what it is like to walk or run again, Robert, replied, “It’s really the truth. In a sense, you could look at some experiences of VR as a fountain of youth, as a way to rekindle energy and relive events and things that you experienced when you were young.”
Robert continued, “It gives you the ability on many levels. For people going through tragedies or traumas, it will give them a way to escape and/or relax. The possibilities are really endless. I know that sounds very grand, but there will be the opportunity — not for VR to take over your life, but to give you a choice to experience life again. To me, that is very powerful.”
Robert stressed, “We are not in the game to take over things and make people live their lives in a different world. We are in the game of offering opportunities that we as people never thought could exist and ways to communicate and socialize and experience things that maybe you could not afford to. Travel to places that were not possible before. Whatever it is that you want to do. It gives you options that were never on the table.”
I immediately asked how long it would take before this became a reality, and could not at first process Robert’s reply. I had to spell the words to finally realize that he was saying, “Two years!”
Robert elaborated, “It’s all happening very fast. We feel that the world in the next two years will be very aware of what the capabilities are, what is possible. As the technology allows the price points to come down and there’s a business model in place, and several other factors come together — all these things will drive this. It’s all happening so fast that I can only assume that, within the next one to two-and-a-half years, you’ll really be able to (within reason) do anything you want, and be anybody you want.”
A golden glimpse of what could be
I left my conversation with VRC convinced that beyond gaming, entertainment and the use-cases that have been imagined so far, VR will also be the key to the secret gate behind which lies of the fountain of youth, giving us as Robert described it, “The choice to experience life again.” Or not. The importance being the existence of choice, where before, there was none.
I look forward to that time within the next two years or so, when in combination with my knee-supporting high-tech exoskeleton – fashioned into my form-fitting, shape-enhancing and bottom-lifting leggings – I will have the experience of running again, through virtual worlds and landscapes the wonder of which I cannot now even begin to comprehend.