Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Sep. 29th
2016 is going to be remembered for a lot of things, too many, really. One thing it doesn’t seem to be on track for being remembered for is as “the year virtual reality broke through to the mainstream.”
While the first wave of major consumer head mounted displays have gone on sale from industry pioneers Oculus and HTC/Vive the market is still the playground of early adopters and developers. Some corners of the tech and business press have been eager to bury VR but as a conversation I had with AMD’s Corporate Vice President of alliances, Roy Taylor, reminded me the industry is still in its infancy.
As Taylor likes to point out, it took more than a decade and a half to go from the first motion picture cameras to the arrival of the Nickelodeon ushered in the movies as a mass medium. We’re “about five years in, in relative terms,” Taylor asserts.
Talking about VR in the context of the film business is apt, and not only because I was speaking to Taylor because of the upcoming VR On The Lot conference which will put representatives of the VR and film industries under the same roof on the Paramount Pictures lot on October 13th and 14th.
“To our surprise, some of the major game publishers stood back and didn’t dive in,” said Taylor of the VR market. That left room for the film and TV business to take the lead in making content for VR.
That process has begun, and Taylor notes that we’ve started to see work with budgets in the $250K to $2 million dollar range. That’s total budget, which when compared to the production costs of feature films and AAA games is nothing. Marvel’s Civil War, for instance, had an estimated budget of $250 million for a 147-minute film. That works out to $1.7 million a minute.
Taylor sees a need for studios to start goosing production budgets before we see the first real mainstream VR hits. As recent reports have revealed the talent is coming in— writer-director David Goyer is making a Darth Vader piece with the ILM X-Lab, and Academy Award winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu is teaming up with ILM and Legendary pictures for an original VR short. These
With the right budgets those kinds of names can turn heads, but with the home market still getting its sea legs the question remains about where audiences will connect with the content. Enter the LBE—that’s industry talk for Location Based Entertainment—which would be either stand-alone VR businesses or installations in other spaces. IMAX has already announced that they are jumping into the fray, and then there’s start-ups like Spaces and Awesome Rocketship which are establishing their own LBE businesses. The later is partnered up with AMD, and Taylor debuted that company’s Venue VR Gateway pod at the most recent VRLA expo.
The evolution of LBE will start this year, with Taylor saying that “by the end of next year (there will be) 100’s of centers across America.”
One market that is already exploring LBE is China, where the company 87870 is installing egg-shaped pods in movie theater lobbies and beyond. The rapid development of China’s VR market is something we’ve been tracking, and as the formula is developed there it could become the model that the rest of the world seeks to emulate.
All this is going to be in the air during the VR On The Lot, which AMD and the VR Society are co-presenting. Looking at the sponsors and attendees of the event one finds pretty much every player in the emerging industry, from the major film studios to technology companies. There’s a lot at stake for VR this season, as the media narrative around the industry has entered into a state of quantum indetermination. With the best VR experiences and the business models that will sustain them still in front of us, the task for the industry now is to reframe the consensus around the best available practices.
Between the Oculus Connect developers conference at the beginning of the month and VR On The Lot the week after, there’s a very good chance that the conventional wisdom on VR is going to evolve rapidly as we push towards the holidays. Still, the real effects of these events won’t be felt for some time to come.