Solving VR’s chicken-and-egg problem

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Virtual reality has a chicken-and-egg problem. Any industry needs a paying customer base, but in order to generate that customer base, you have to have a service or product that those customers would be prepared to pay for. In terms of VR, that product or service is content: premium content for modern, media consumers who are used to high production values.

Early leaders in the VR industry have recognised this dilemma and are stepping in with financial support, trial use of VR cameras, competitions and other means to support content creators for VR films and games.

Presence Capital, launched in December 2015 was the first VC firm focused solely on early-stage VR and AR companies. Presence Capital has raised $10 million for its inaugural AR/VR fund and has invested in a number of VR and AR companies. Also in December 2015, the Japanese mobile game developer Kolop,l created the $50 million Colopl VR Fund to provide support for all kinds of VR-related businesses including hardware and software, games, video content, development tools, and distribution platforms. It is the largest fund to date dedicated to investment in startups working in virtual reality.

Virtual reality studio and distributor Wevr provides an open platform for virtual content creation and publication. The company works with content developers to produce cutting-edge virtual reality content that spans music, interactive stories and short films. Wevr has established a $1 million grant program that offers funds of between $5,000 and $50,000 to VR content producers. EEVO, a platform for high-quality VR content, which has raised has $1 million in angel funding, has committed some of that money towards a fund for producers of quality VR content.

Studios active in the development of cameras for VR filming are putting their cameras at the disposal of VR content developers to familiarise themselves with and master this new technology.

Samsung invites people who will use their cameras in exciting and unexpected ways to apply to participate in their Project Beyond and try out prototypes of Project Beyond – the company’s stereoscopic 3D camera. In more support for emerging and independent VR filmmakers Samsung initiated the Gear Indie challenge: “There in 60 Seconds”. The initiative calls on emerging VR filmmakers to transport viewers to a place that is special and unique in 60 seconds or less. The five winners of the first challenge received $10,000 each and their work was shown at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance was also an early promoter of VR filmmaking, allowing pioneers like Chris Milk founder of Vrse and Emblematic CEO, Nonny de la Peña, to show their work at a time when very few believed in VR as a storytelling medium. Now Sundance has initiated an intern program to “empower artists at the cutting edge of storytelling”. The six-month internship will be part of Sundance’s New Frontier program. The virtual reality company Jaunt will provide VR production equipment and other resources.

Jaunt, which has been more successful than most in raising substantial funding ($100 million) has established Jaunt Studios with the explicit aim to collaborate directly with artists and content developers in order to escalate production of original VR content. Jaunt has in its employment some of the world’s most experienced cinematic professionals.

The gaming industry is also acutely aware of consumers’ expectations for out-of-this-world gaming experiences in virtual reality. Unity provides its Unreal Engine4 free on its website for game developers, VR and filming. The German game developer, Crytek provides full source code access to the Cryengine development software through its VR First initiative. Crytek provides the Cryengine development software for free. Samsung support the creation of independent virtual reality content through Gear Indie, a new channel available on Samsung's Milk VR.

These are just a few of the many companies working with programmers and creatives to bring great VR content to a consumer market that is on the threshold of an exciting take-off.

Image: Virtual City by Toni Verdú Carbó via Flickr