VRTL Summit 2017: What’s coming next in VR?

We were lucky to have been invited to the VRTL Summit held at Paramount Studios on April 26th! Want a recap of the event and some key takeaways from the summit? Read on to see what’s in store for the VR industry! 

The VRTL Summit is a 1-day gathering of 250 investors and executives. Amongst those in attendance were Paramount’s CEO Jim Gianopulos, Robert Strombert (founder of the Virtual Reality Company and Oscar-winning filmmaker), Joel Breton (the head of HTC Vive), as well as many other executives from top virtual reality, gaming, and entertainment companies who are defining the future of VR.

The day started off with opening remarks from Jim of Paramount, as well as Sunny Dhillon and Ned Sherman, the founders of the VRTL Summit.

Robert Stromberg and Janko Roettger's panel

We were quickly led into a fireside chat with Robert Stromberg. Robert is an Oscar-winning visual effects producer who worked on Avatar, as well as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. He also directed Disney’s Maleficent. Robert jumped into the VR industry through founding The Virtual Reality Company. They’ve worked on campaigns such as the Martian VR Experience, allowing people to step inside the worlds that filmmakers and storytellers have created. A struggle Robert mentions is that you can’t approach VR like normal cinema. The budgets that VR experiences have to work with are pennies when compared to the budgets for, say, Disney or Pixar films, even though there’s a lot of work and money needed to create a holistic and engaging VR experience. He does see this changing though and sees VR as a powerful medium with a lot of potential. All the big entertainment studios are working with VR in one way or another, and when a groundbreaking breakthrough happens, the VR industry will see more investments that will greatly help with resources.

Jesse Sisgold talks about Archangel

Next up, we heard from Jesse Sisgold from Skydance Interactive. Skydance is working on a VR game called Archangel that will bring a game of AAA quality to the VR gaming scene. Having worked on games such as Gears of War 4, Fallout 4, and Borderlands 2, Skydance is in an excellent position to boost the caliber of VR games that’s currently available in the market. Archangel is coming in July and will be sharing their official trailer’s launch at E3. Skydance wanted to create a game that could fully utilize the benefits of VR. Amongst these includes the ability for the gamer to experience a story-driven game that has a reason to be in VR. As you’re placed in the cockpit of a mech, you enter the game in VR and find that what you see in your headset flows very well with your situation in-game.

Trying out Archangel at the Exhibitor Booth

We got to try out Archangel for ourselves. The game does a good job of guiding you through your initial steps to becoming a new mech pilot, and quickly gets you established into your role in a post-apocalyptic America. The controls were very smooth and there’s a good amount of freedom when it comes to selecting your weapon and how you’ll tackle your enemies. The entire game is on-rails, so in that sense, you don’t have much control over movement. But the action-packed gameplay will require your full attention in its VR world.

Ebbe Altberg, Jamil Moledina, Chris Heatherly, Graeme Devine and Ray Davis discuss VR/AR and games

After Skydance came a panel that looked at the challenges and opportunities ahead for VR/AR gaming. The panelists for this talk included Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab (Second Life), Ray Davis of Drifter (previously GM of Unreal Engine), Graeme Devine of Magic Leap, Chris Heatherly of NBCUniversal, and Jamil Moledina from Google Play. Some key takeaways from their talk on what’s coming for VR games included:

  1. VR games need to get out of single player experiences. Multiplayer games need to be developed and worked on. Many traditional PC games are built around communities—two popular examples of this are Overwatch and League of Legends. VR needs good multiplayer experiences so that people are excited and have a reason to be drawn back to the VR world repeatedly.
  2. Balance between hardware exclusivity and developer goals. Many hardware companies are keen to secure game titles exclusive to their system, while developers want gamers to be able to play on whichever hardware they want. A midpoint will have to be worked out to balance the two wants.
  3. VR is waiting for a killer app. Like when Nintendo announced the Switch and the unveiling of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild alongside it, VR needs a game that drives gamers to get a VR system. Developers need to work on games that are more than just gimmicks and focus on being genuine reasons as to why gamers should pick up a VR headset.
  4. More games to come. Smaller studios are coming up with amazing VR games. The ease of studios and developers picking up VR and working with it really helps the creation of games. Every headset is also a devkit! The barrier to entry is relatively low when compared to developing for other systems and hardware.

Josh Austin, Vicki Dobbs Beck, Peter Levin, David Liu and Ted Shilowitz discuss how VR fits with the film industry VRTL SummitThe next panel took a shift from the gaming to the film industry. Speaking to the audience was Ted Schilowitz from 20th Century Fox, David Liu from Viacom NEXT, Peter Levin of Lionsgate, Vicki Dobbs of ILMxLAB, and Josh Austin from Paramount Pictures. The panelists shared what the major Hollywood studios were doing in terms of VR. The general agreement was that “this is going to be a new form of storytelling”. What the studios are looking for are creators who have passion and vision to create something great in VR, just like how some great Hollywood directors can be given an IP and produce great things with it.

Niko Bonatsos, Tipatat Chennavasin, Matt Huang, Amit Kumar, Amitt Mahajan, and Anarghya Vardhana talk about what VCs are investing in for VR

Another panel followed titled “What are Silicon Valley VC’s Investing In?”. This panel had speakers from General Catalyst (Niko Bonatsos), the Virtual Reality Fund (Tipatat Chennavasin), Sequoia Capital (Matt Huang), Accel (Amit Kumar), Presence Capital (Amitt Mahajan), and Maveron (Anarghya Vardhana). So what exactly do VCs look for when investing in VR? First and foremost, it’s the people behind the product or idea. They’re looking for smart, entrepreneurial people who are able to solve the problems we face today in VR. It’s not about making content for VR in a supplemental way, but companies and people who are looking to make content for VR first. One thing to note is that VC’s are less interested in hardware for VR—it’s hard to compete with the big players currently in the industry and they’re not interested in being OEMs.

Taylor Freeman, Aaron Luber, Rob Lister and Joel Breton talk about VR from a platform's perspective

The last talk of the day was a panel of speakers from various VR platforms. We heard from Joel Breton from HTC Vive, Rob Lister from IMAX, and Aaron Luber from the Google VR team. The panelists touched on the importance of not blocking developers from releasing their games on other platforms, but also how it’s a necessary evil to a degree when a platform helps promote or provide funding for a developer. A workaround is to limit that exclusivity—say, releasing first on the Vive, but also being available on other platforms shortly afterward. All the platforms agree that they’re looking for big IP on VR, and that it’s coming. With bigger IPs, a bigger audience will be attracted. Currently, there’s still a bit of hesitance from bigger IPs in investing in VR. Outside of big names, indie developers are working on some multiplayer games that will be key to speed up VR uptake. These games have more repeatability to its gameplay. The key VR platforms are also looking towards exploring the educational aspects of the tech. For example, helping students learn about Mars by actually allowing them to go to Mars in VR. IMAX is also looking towards bringing VR to museums to further enhance people’s vists to these institutions.

We didn’t get to attend all the panels scheduled since the VRTL Summit had an exhibitors hall where attendees can try various VR tech. The hall was located in one of the studios at Paramount, so we made our way there to check out what was on display.

 

Moveo was a huge crowd pleaser! With its 3 degrees of freedom virtual reality simulator twisting and turning on a robotic arm, it looked like something straight out of a sci-fi film! The machine moved according to what the user saw inside their VR headset as they navigated through a few collection missions in the game. When an explosion happened in-game, we watched as the person inside the pod got whipped around in sync with what was happening on their headset.

Trying out Paranormal Activity on the HTC Vive

We tried out the Paranormal Activity and Ghost in the Shell VR experiences. The Paranormal Activity one was filled with puzzles for you to solve that kept you on your toes thanks to its eerie atmosphere and claustrophobic narrow hallways. The Ghost in the Shell one was more of an exploration experience, where you got some background to the film.

The Martian Experience Exhibitor Booth

Of course, we had to try the original Martian VR Experience. Scenes from the movie were spliced into the experience, and would then prompt you to explore the environment around you to carry out certain tasks. People who tried this out had to sit in a D-BOX seat that would vibrate and move according to what was happening in-game.

Trying out Chocolate on the HTC Vive

From Viacom NEXT in the exhibitor’s hall came Chocolate: a psychedelic cat-centric game where your hands transformed into cannons that ejected colorful kittens into the world. The game itself felt more like an interactive music video where you were dropped into a weird, yet silly world and you couldn’t quite expect what would happen next. We came out of the whole experience definitely in a better mood than when we went into it (Who doesn’t enjoy cats raining from your hands?).

It was wonderful seeing what the leaders in the VR industry were focusing on, and we can’t wait to see what next year’s VRTL Summit will have in store!

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