A few days ago, I was having lunch with an indie developer friend whose recent project is a narrative driven experience (‘walking simulator’ as some people might jokingly label them). I asked if he had considered VR as a platform for it and he answered that he hadn’t. Almost as a knee-jerk reaction, I was about to spout “It would do wonders on it!”, but then I thought to myself… “Would it?”. How could I know if his project would work best on it? Was it just my inner VR fanboy talking nonsense or is there actually a valid reason it would do better on VR? That answer is assuredly up to him, the creator, but it nonetheless got me thinking about the decision making process behind it.
Virtual Reality is a medium that big companies and indie developers alike enjoy bringing up frequently in their speeches, often describing it as ‘revolutionary’ and a ‘game-changer’. All of this makes it seem like VR is some kind of ‘savior of entertainment’, when in truth, we aren’t quite there yet. It definitely is a one of a kind experience and has the potential to host a myriad of projects that wouldn’t work anywhere else, but just like we have film, music, video games and books as mediums for creative output, we need to look at VR as another option for your project to live in. And so, you need to be able to determine if VR is the right fit for you and your project. For that, there are a series of questions that could help us make our choice on the matter.
How can VR enhance your concept?
With it being a new medium, VR demands of its creators to think outside of the box for what’s possible and the way a story gets told. It begs to be experimented with and to create a world immersive enough for your audience to live in.
Because your audience will delve inside the world you’re creating, its important to know where to place them. Are they in the shoes of the protagonist or in the villain’s? You have to determine if they are at the center of the conflict or just a witness to the developing story.
All of this can change drastically the way the concept was initially conceived, and it should always be for the betterment of the story you’re trying to tell, not the other way around. Not everything can be ‘VR-ified’ for the better.
There are various different examples in how VR can elevate artistic projects with its medium. Some notable examples include:
- Pearl (Google): It places the audience in a fixed place inside a car, placing them in the middle of an ongoing emotional story.
- Tree (New Reality Co.): It places you from the viewpoint of a tree in the amazon. With the use of the SubPac wearable providing haptics during the experience, it achieves a high level of immersion for the audience.
- Dear Angelica (Oculus Story Studio): It takes the audience on an ‘on rails’ experience through astonishing paintings and voice-overs detailing an intimate mother-daughter relationship.
Who is your target audience?
As usual, one must know its audience when developing a product. Be it to know in what area to focus and invest or even for marketing purposes, this is a must. So for that, we need to examine the state of the VR user base.
At the time of writing this article, high end VR is still sitting behind a hefty price wall. Not only does a consumer need the VR headset equipment to experience the medium, but also the right device to process and play the media. Experts are saying that the technology will be far more accessible in 2019. John Riccitiello (head of Unity), said during his VRLA 2017 Keynote:
My sense is we’re going to see that [of device adoption] in full flower in 2019, and we’re going to see the beginnings of that shape in 2018. […] it will happen, it’s guaranteed to happen.
Until then, the standalone offers from Oculus and HTC, releasing in a few months from now, will be the closest to the premium PC VR with the minimum use of outside devices. For now, high end VR is in the hands of the early adopters, who usually are tech enthusiasts and people who are ready for new experiences.
This user base profile is useful information for the creators, because if they want to develop projects that break out of the mold and that challenge their audience they will likely find a devote audience on the platform. That’s why there’s been so many drama centric pieces on VR: the creators think of their audience as mature enough to appreciate the intricate stories developed for them.
The audience size for a VR project is a lot smaller when compared to other mediums. In fact, it might be the smallest out of them all, but at the same time, it has an incredible room for growth. This is mostly due to its price of entry, but when it gets lower (and it will get lower), expect to get a dramatic increase in its user base. Its all a matter of time before that happens.
What do you hope to achieve with your concept?
As VR is showing its potential for exciting opportunities in the audiovisual field, film and even award circuits are opening their doors to it, with the likes of Tribeca, Sundance and the Academy Awards giving VR the spotlight in their recent editions, just to mention a few of them. Many VR projects, big and small, have seen their presence in these big events. It’s the medium and the innate interest it attracts that gives these varied projects a chance to shine to specialized audiences. This usually results in a big push in recognition for the creators of the VR experience.
Additionally, many socially conscious creators are looking at VR as a powerful medium to make their audience empathize with the problem they’re trying to solve. This is all due to the immersive experience that only this medium offers. This positions VR as a powerful tool for change in today’s society.
What kind of funding are you looking for?
Growth for a platform like VR doesn’t usually happen by itself, it needs to be not only accepted by the consumer, but also supported thoroughly by the content creators and enablers, big and small. This support comes in many ways, and a core one is through funding.
Two of the biggest brands of VR today, Oculus and Vive, have ongoing funding programs for creators, with the latter investing up too $100 million on its funding program ViveX Accelerator during 2017.
Like these initiatives, there are many more from different companies that entice creators with the VR prospect. This feeds into this medium’s ecosystem and supports its growth. It’s up to the creators to seize this opportunity and make the best out of the current stage of the VR industry.
For more information on funding VR projects, there’s this thorough article on the subject by Chris Tan or you can check out this very comprehensive list on the VR industry by vrfund.com.
So VR is still in its infancy and it’s finding its footing in our world, but we can’t deny the impact its had in the last few years. It’s up to you to decide if you want your project to be a part of the wave of experiences that make up this amazing medium. My final suggestions would be to experiment with the tools you have available, like game engines, and try out different ideas on the go. If you have solid concept, it can take you a long way with some experimentation.
And, for what it’s worth, your project might just be the one that transcends into a genre of its own with the use of the VR medium.