First stop on our virtual world tour in the flesh, LA. We didn’t have much of an agenda here but to network and attend VRLA, probably the world’s largest VR conference. The networking went exceptionally well, the conference, however, was the pits.
One of our networking standouts was Marco Demiroz, from the VR Fund. Kat (Wrestler co-founder and my wife) was introduced to Marco by a VR entrepreneur she met at a conference called Dent, hosted in Sun Valley, Idaho, that she attended in March (side note: interesting conference if you’re into the Medici effect). Marco took an immediate interest in our business. Which was a good sign seeing as he gets pitched VR ideas all day, every day. His interest stemmed from the fact that we’re looking to create content that is based around empathy and making people better humans in the real world, through VR. It seems this is where the largest gap in the market sits. First of all content is sparse. Secondly, it’s all of the same genre, typically zombie games and shoot 'em ups. Thirdly, it’s all demos. Aside from a few rare examples, no one seems to be seeking to make fully immersive experiences that take viewers on a complete journey.
That brings me to my first major observation of our trip; There is a massive disconnect between the VR makers, funders and market. It’s a chicken and egg situation like no other. If you think about new mediums in the past, they are fuelled by content. People didn’t buy a PlayStation to own the console, they purchased it to play Crash Bandicoot. VR is the opposite. The hardware has been developed yet the content hasn’t. So you have a small market of VR hardware owners, who want content. Then you have content funders who are waiting for the market to grow, which will only happen when the content is there to drive hardware sales. And then you have hardware makers selling new units every six months so no one is willing to invest in hardware as it’s moving so quickly. It’s a clusterfuck.
So the opportunity is in content creation. Whoever can crack a sustainable business model around VR content creation is onto something. There’s funding there too. Marco’s VR Fund is a $50 million fund exclusively focused on VR, and he’s looking for businesses like ours to invest in. He even expressed interest in investing in Wrestler. Luckily we’ve got a steady business in advertising and can hopefully bankroll our own content in-house to maintain equity. That’s the dream...
So, onto VRLA. It was so shit. A dark, giant hall in the LA Events Centre full of demos that you can find online. Nothing new, nothing game changing. The speakers were sponsors who simply peddled their products without any flare or discretion. It would have been more beneficial spending one hour on Steam exploring new experiences.
What I learnt from that was very important though: we’ve reached critical buzz mass. The hype is fast fading from VR and reality is setting in. And the reality is revealing that we’re in desperate need of new and imaginative content. We need experiences that take us further into the medium. We need complete experiences that users can lose themselves in for however long they desire, always wanting to come back for more. In the VR world people always talk about 'Sleep No More', an interactive theatre experience in NYC. We need a VR ‘Sleep No More’ and we need it fast, otherwise we’re looking at another 3D wave. A lot of hype and a crappy experience that will ultimately fizz.
Next stop, San Francisco.
Ben Forman is founder/director at Wrestler.
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