Vreal has raised $11.7 million in venture capital funding for its platform for streaming virtual reality experiences to both VR users and spectators on 2D screens.
Axioma Ventures led the round, with contributions from new investors Intel Capital and the Akatsuki Entertainment Technology Fund. Existing investors who also participated included Upfront Ventures, Vulcan Capital, and CRCM Ventures.
Seattle-based Vreal will use the funding to further develop and launch its platform, which it hopes will pave the way for gamers to create, share, and enjoy video game content within virtual reality. The money will give the company some runway to work on refining its platform and content creation tools as the market for virtual reality gaming starts to take off. So far, the market growth has been slower than expected.
Vreal CEO Todd Hooper said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company is watching its expenses in light of VR’s gap of disappointment, and that was one of the reasons why it was able to raise the money. He said the funding could give the company time to get its platform right as the market for VR livestreaming developers.
“If there was a boom mentality in previous years, some of the forecasts have been unrealistic,” Hooper said. “I’ve been conservative. What we are building is really ambitious and we’ve known that it would take time to build the tech and get it right. I think investors are looking for ambitious plays, but they aren’t looking for entrepreneurs that have that boom mentality.”
I tried out the Vreal game spectating last year during a visit to Vreal’s headquarters. It was a pretty immersive experience. When I first went in using an HTC Vive VR headset, I was greeted in a social lobby by a big panda. He was talking to me and waving his hands around. I could teleport around the lobby, view movies, or go into games. I teleported into the VR game Surgeon Simulator, where I watched someone else hacking into a cartoon body on an operating table. I could resize my avatar to a tiny character.
I could position myself anywhere in the room and place cameras to record from a certain view. Those cameras enable people who don’t have VR to use the platform and watch on a 2D screen. You can see everything happening from the camera’s point of view, but you can’t move as easily in the 2D view.
At the moment, the closed alpha test is working with a total of four games (Surgeon Simulator, SuperHot VR, Gorn, and Arizona Sunshine). Over time, the company will open the beta test to a larger number of people. Vreal will work directly with content creators and networks like Rooster Teeth, Machinima, Intel, and Hyper RPG. Hooper believes business models will likely involve advertising, subscriptions, or tips. But he doesn’t expect a lot of revenues and profits to come in during 2018.
“It’s difficult for VR companies to make a business in 2018,” he said. “We don’t have a killer headset in the market yet. We have seen some good things coming. There needs to be enough headsets in the market and enough content so we can understand what people want to do in VR.”
To date, the company has raised $15 million, and it has 24 employees. Hooper said that Chet Faliszek, a former Valve VR leader and now a Bossa Studios studio head, and Pocket.watch CEO Chris Williams will join the company’s board of directors.
“As VR becomes more accessible, so will the need for compelling VR broadcast content that moves beyond simple 360 video,” said Faliszek, in a statement. “Viewers will demand the freedom they have in VR games to be in their viewing experiences.”
Rivals include Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. Hooper said his company is supporting PC-based VR products such as the Oculus Rift and Steam VR headsets such as the HTC Vive, but it will be tech agnostic.
“Our focus is around games and content creators, similar to the social experience around a Twitch stream,” Hooper said.