We recently took a look at IMAX VR, which is already in several cinemas around the world, but could a narrative form of the technology be the next big thing in the entertainment industry?
This year was a great one for virtual reality (VR). The industry is now worth over £3.6 billion in terms of global revenue, and it is estimated that by 2020 that number will approach the £20 billion mark. A quick look on Amazon reveals that there are almost 300 different VR headsets available at the moment, and tech giants Facebook, Google and Sony are investing heavily in VR.
Founded in 2015, London-based Breaking Fourth is a company providing one of the key ingredients to this boom… the content. We spoke to founder & CEO David Kaskel and co-founder & CFO Ken Henderson to find out why 2018 will be a watershed year for narrative VR.
Culture Trip (CT): What do you think the reputation of VR is like at the moment and from a historical perspective? Has that old reputation been difficult to overcome?
Breaking Fourth (BF) : VR is still in its infancy. The hype and excitement of 2015 and 2016 met the reality of moderate adoption in 2017. In the first two years, we saw a lot of short, experimental content released while production studios experimented with the new technology. However, 2017 saw a definite increase in high-quality productions. There’s now good momentum in consumer adoption and continued hardware improvement.
CT: What differentiates Narrative VR from traditional VR we might be familiar with?
BF: Most consumers associate VR with games and think of that as traditional VR. Narrative, scripted VR fits more closely with what people think of as films, albeit films where the viewer is within the drama. Polls on consumer preference mostly indicate that consumers are looking for the latter. They want to be entertained and combining the immersive qualities of VR with great storytelling is an effective combination.
CT: How is Narrative VR distributed at the moment?
BF: Narrative VR is primarily distributed over VR stores such as the Oculus Store, Google Daydream, Viveport, Steam and PSVR. In addition, the more cinematic pieces such as Ctrl are being shown at speciality VR cinemas and at festivals.
CT: What does 2018 mean for Narrative VR in general and for Breaking Fourth in particular?
BF: As new hardware such as Oculus Go comes on the market, consumer take-up should increase significantly in 2018. The new VR devices will be less expensive and provide superior performance. They should also be much simpler to use. The increased visual fidelity will be particularly beneficial for Narrative VR. Breaking Fourth is currently launching four new pieces, which will definitely benefit from the better hardware and increased audience size.
CT: Who are some of the big backers of the format?
BF: The major backers include the platform companies themselves, media companies and a range of institutional investors.
CT: Tell us a little bit about the videos you have available and that are coming up?
BF: Our content spans a variety of different genres. Scripted, thought-provoking drama has been our focus from the beginning with earlier productions Ctrl and Utopia 6. We are continuing this theme with our upcoming drama Lucid, available in early 2018. But we’ve also branched out into episodic comedy (Bro Bots), a satirical music video (Opinions) and a light-hearted Christmas short (An Iceling Christmas). We’d like to do more in music and comedy in VR as these pieces have had a good response from early viewers. We don’t want to be pigeonholed into any one type of production, so will continue to experiment – our goal is to make entertaining pieces that make the viewer think and feel. All of our content is created using CGI (though occasionally with video embedded) and tends to be long for VR – Lucid and Ctrl are each 18 minutes and Bro Bots and Utopia 6 are 10 minutes each. We think 15–30 minutes is probably the sweet spot for longer-form VR.
CT: What technology does one need to access these VR experiences?
BF: Our experiences are or will soon be available on all major VR platforms. Bro Bots and the forthcoming Lucid will be available as stand-alone apps for VR headsets Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR – these connect to either a high-end PC or Sony PlayStation.
All of our experiences will also be available on our free proprietary app called WARP, now on the Oculus Store for Samsung Gear VR and soon on Google Daydream. For these platforms, you’ll need the right headset and a compatible Samsung or Android phone. Finally, for those without a VR headset, or who only have Google Cardboard, you will be able to view 360-degree video versions on our website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Early 2018 should see the release of the new Oculus Go headset, which will allow anyone to access VR with no need for a special phone, PC or console. WARP will be available on that.
CT: What have been some of the major hurdles you have faced and overcome?
BF: While there are technological challenges in working in a new medium, our biggest hurdle has come from the entrenched ecosystem and expectations of the traditional world of media. While many production studios are now realising that VR has its own set of directorial rules and techniques, ie motion, scale and proximity to characters, it seems that many still look to traditional film-makers for answers that they might not have. VR production needs to be treated as a new skill influenced by techniques from various different industries such as theatre, gaming and film, and we need to see production studios embrace all of these.