Money keeps flooding into the virtual reality ecosystem. Yesterday, the film company IMAX said it was partnering with Acer and Creative Artists Agency to fund at least 25 interactive VR experiences with a $50 million fund.
Over the next three years, IMAX could usher in more high-quality VR experiences, which is what the VR industry needs in order to live up to expectations. Tech advisor Digi-Capital estimates VR and AR could generate $120 billion in revenues in 2020.
“It makes sense for IMAX to be one of the guiding lights in the VR industry,” said Michael Yang, managing director at Comcast Ventures, in an email to GamesBeat. “With their heritage for delivering premium content experience to consumers and their know-how for how to scale location-based entertainment as a business, they can truly help propel VR forward. We hope to see them support the leading VR content creators in the emerging out-of-home VR market. And we look forward to working with them.”
It makes sense for IMAX, which makes surround-video entertainment in circular theaters, to move into VR. The money will be used for partnerships with video game publishers and 360-degree filmmakers. IMAX plans to build StarVR-based IMAX VR centers to draw fans to entertainment locations.
“It’s fantastic that a brand as well respected as Imax is committing energy and capital into a nascent space to ensure that high quality meaningful content exists to help spur adoption and create awareness,” said Gil Baron, CEO of Visionary VR, in an email.
The giant-screen exhibitor is working with Swedish entertainment developer Starbreeze on its VR content, using the Stockholm-based company’s headsets and games. VR content will eventually come from filmmakers using a camera that IMAX is developing with another partner, Google.
“VRcades have the opportunity of bringing back foot traffic to idle real estate in malls and theaters,” said Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Venture Partners. “Shanda’s investment in The Void, Comcast’s investment in Spaces, arcade experiences from Capcom and Bandai Namco, and HTC’s recently announced Vive arcades are all examples of what’s to come.”
He added, “I think the technology to produce mixed reality and virtual reality arcade experiences will become commoditized in the long term. Staying power will come to those who can play the game of well-run maintenance and operational efficiency of physical location-based entertainment terminals, real estate and distribution access for scaling geographic footprint, and access to strong IP to keep folks coming back to try new experiences once the novelty of mixed reality (and the hardware) wears off. IMAX has strong relationships with IP holders and theater owners to help create compelling and scalable experiences, and $50 million seems a relatively significant commitment from a company that did $373m in revenue in 2015. I’m pretty bullish on what this means for location-based VR entertainment.”
The IMAX fund investors include CAA; Acer; China Media Capital; China’s Enlight Media; Studio City; and WPP, the ad services giant. IMAX plans to charge $7 to $10 for VR experiences that last maybe 10 minutes. Similar businesses are being set up for location-based VR in China, where Internet cafes see a new source of revenue in VR.
“Acer is excited to join forces with IMAX and other world-class investors to help foster top shelf content for the thriving VR industry,” said Jason Chen, CEO of Acer, in a statement. “With this strategic investment and our deep collaboration with partners including Starbreeze in the hardware and entertainment sector, we hope to enable engaging and immersive VR experiences in IMAX VR centers and beyond.”