2015: The year VR came out to play
The next positive friction between tech and entertainment — the road traveled since April 2014
I wrote The Age of Oculus, part I in April 2014, shortly after Facebook had bought Oculus for $2B. Having observed some key developments in VR over the past few months, it felt like the right time to revisit my initial forecasts and look into the immediate future.
- the almost exclusive focus on gaming of 2014 has been replaced in 2015 with experiments in narrative storytelling
- VR helmets could be nothing but a transition product for immersive entertainment
- The trifecta of branded content, creatives and tech wanting collectively to push the envelope make VR the platform of choice for 2015
Now let’s go back and break down my post from April 2014.
April 2014: When Mark Zuckerberg announced the Oculus acquisition on March 25, I had a similar epiphany, that FB was making a bet that entertainment, most of which is now online or streamed, will accelerate its gamification and that the 2 experiences will merge. This merging of experiences will accelerate yet another friction between entertainment and tech, rife with positive repercussions. I’ve written on the historical perspective of this creative tension here and here.
2015 update: Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe (the duo at the helm of Oculus) were laser-focused on gaming in 2014. Sundance 2015 and the launch of the Oculus Story Studio is a sign of their expanding worldview, and it seems that content is exciting imaginations in Hollywood and beyond. After the Game of Thrones VR experience at SXSW 2014, Hollywood studios are warming to VR and using it to create forward-looking promo pieces for traditional content. For example, Fox Searchlight selected Wild (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée) to be one of the first films to have a VR experience as part of its roll-out. Montréal-based Felix&Paul Studios shot and post-produced the experience, more on Felix&Paul below.
April 2014: So where is Oculus headed ? As Pete Rojas eloquently recapped, it’s “computing’s next big reset”. Pete makes a strong point that, just like mobile and perhaps more significantly touchscreen, VR has the potential to change how we interact with data. The entertainment/gaming potential of this new interaction mode is self-evident.
My personal take is that VR has the potential to be bigger than the gaming “niche” (not such a niche anymore btw). I foresee that VR helmets, coupled with advances in 3D will usher in 3D holographic projection and that we haven’t yet seen true “immersive” entertainment yet.
2015 update: the first product reviews of the Samsung Gear, which was introduced to retailers around Christmas, reveal the flip side of the exciting potential for VR, the potential for many people to feel nausea and physically sick. This should not stop creators from pursuing immersive projects. The continuing development and refinement of 3D holographic projection is allowing startups to launch dome-like projectors for the home such as Immersis from France-based Catopsys, in partnership with Ogilvy Lab Paris. Immersis just completed its Kickstarter goal this week.
My personal take is that helmets/headsets will readily appeal to the core group of gamers and early adopters that Palmer Luckey built Oculus for. On the other hand, until the nausea-inducing effects of VR are tamed, it could prove difficult for VR headsets to become fully mainstream. Room-sized immersive projection is therefore an interesting evolution from VR headsets to be monitored. There is the clear potential to see these immersive projectors rolled out in third spaces ie outside the home, which could start an alternative network for VR and immersive work to be distributed and showcased.
April 2014: What this means for entertainment creators is near limitless boundaries in their craft, and a possible re-invention of storytelling techniques to fit within a new paradigm where the spectator is no longer one but an active participant in the story. We’ve all been bathed in the scifi tropes of Johnny Mnemonic et al and can see the potential. This re-invention is already underway with multiplatform projects like Defiance, conceived as a tv show and a game at the outset.
2015 update: my colleagues at Felix&Paul Studios, a Montréal studio on the cutting edge of VR content production, have repeated to me over the past few months that storytelling in VR needs to be its own, that it cannot be the mere transferring of techniques from cinema. One example of immersive entertainment they’ve given me is Punchdrunk Collective’s Sleep No More “ play, described by NY Magazine in 2011 as “A six-story Jazz Age haunted house for grown-ups and anyone who’s ever entertained sick cineast-y fantasies of living inside a Kubrick movie”.
My friend Leigh Ferreira is a NYC-based Digital Strategist who has been to Sleep No More and shares her experience below:
I’ve been to Sleep No More 3 times and I would easily go again. I just had friends visiting from San Francisco and the one thing I said they couldn’t miss was seeing Sleep No More. It is unlike anything I have ever done before and the most incredible experience you can have in NYC right now.
Without giving too much away, you don a mask and set out to tour The McKittrick Hotel (3 massive warehouses built out as scenes) and along the way encounter actors performing a crazy Macbeth/Kubrick like play and can touch/explore all of the various scenes/rooms/artifacts. Immersive theater. If you have not been, go! I see VR being able to take a user on an experience like this and then be able to choose the various rooms and scenes they want to watch.
I hear Punchdrunk has teamed up with Chris Milk on a VR project. Can’t wait to see what they do.
April 2014: If you combine this creative freedom with the potential of VR, where viewers are no longer 2D spectators of Frank Underwood’s machinations, you get a gamified entertainment experience that won’t be limited to “shoot’em up” environments.
2015 update: the barriers keep crumbling between what has been considered purely tv and purely cinema, to the point where I’m using “stories” as opposed to feature film and tv series for certain projects. This focus to the core of the storytelling craft will serve as a spark to creators to experiment and harness the VR medium. The gamification element has not yet infused narrative storytelling but it has gotten brands interested.
“I think the next step for us as filmmakers is to figure out what narrative filmmaking looks like in virtual reality. The profound thing about virtual reality is the immersion of it and how interactive it has to be immediately is up for debate. I don’t think this is cinema. I think this is something completely new.” Chris Milk said to the Hollywood Reporter in a 2014 interview.
In the same article, Paul Raphaël, the co-founder of Felix & Paul Studio said “You’re not just telling a story. You’re making a viewer experience a story. Everything from where the camera is placed to the type of agency that a viewer has in a virtual reality film will impact how effective that ends up being — and the only way those dynamics will be discovered is for artists and filmmakers to continue to explore the medium.”
April 2014: How fast will this shift occur ? My response is the following: was it clear to the entertainment business that Netflix was rewriting the rules when they greenlit House of Cards in 2011 ? It was to a few of us, not necessarily the ones sitting atop the pyramid though (that’s another story for another day ☺).
2015 update: Palmer Luckey started tinkering in 2011 and launched his Kickstarter for Oculus in 2012, only to be bought out outright by Facebook in 2014. The speed at which the VR industry is making a comeback from the limbo of the 1990s is simply astounding. In a report released by MarketsandMarkets, the Augmented and Virtual Reality market is expected to reach $1.06 billion by 2018.
“The major driving forces of augmented reality technology and virtual reality are the advancement and in computer technology and internet connectivity. The increased demand in virtual reality and AR application in healthcare industry is a direct cause for a tremendous growth in AR & VR market. The other driving force for virtual reality and AR technology is the consumer demand in m-commerce industry. The technology used in augmented reality applications, i.e. marker-less is at the apex and is expected to grow rapidly. Major driving factor in this marker-less is use of GPS and compass which are used commonly in smartphones. The technology used in virtual reality application, are in the emerging trends like goggles and contact lens.”
Both Leigh and I are excited about VR finally coming to life in 2015. We are going to be monitoring VR closely and will offer insights through posts here and some thought pieces we plan to produce.
Leigh was recently at Sundance where she was able to experience a number of VR projects featured and will share highlights in a separate post.
We see incredible opportunities to tell stories with VR and we’re discussing doing some consulting work to bridge the film and tech worlds and possibly hosting a VR Festival.
We would love to hear feedback on what you would like to see featured as well as ways we can work together. Please leave a comment here or email us at email@example.com
Stay tuned !