Virtual Reality

Today, there are over 100 different virtual reality (VR) startups in Los Angeles. While this may not sound like all that many, this represents a huge growth of the VR industry in a fairly short period of time. After all, virtual reality is a relatively new field, one which only took off in LA around 2016.

But VR certainly did take off with a bang – in 2016 alone, hopeful investors put over $250 million into VR and augmented reality startups in LA and Orange counties. Today, the global VR market is expected to value over 450 billion USD by 2030.

So how did this massive growth in VR technology affect the world of entertainment in Los Angeles? Let’s dive in.

Hollywood Gives It a Go

In the beginning, major movie studios were wary of stepping into the world of virtual reality. While they looked at VR giants like Oculus (owned by Facebook) and Samsung with respect, Hollywood largely steered clear of incorporating the exciting new technology into their work.

But that all began to change in 2016, when major companies began to realize the promise of VR as a new medium in entertainment. In a span of only around 6 weeks in the summer of 2016, several major entertainment companies began funding VR startups. For example, multiple companies, including Los-Angeles based Fox, invested $43 million into VR ventures, while Sony created a VR branch of their studio and named the first ever VR department head at a Hollywood studio.

In November 2016, Fox made history by releasing one of the first VR movie-like experiences, The Martian VR Experience. The “experience,” modeled after their movie of the same name, was an interactive narrative, in which participants could view the screen from the main character’s perspective and perform tasks to help him survive on Mars. First available to players with the HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, The Martian VR Experience has since been released for players on the Oculus as well. While not strictly a movie, Fox’s “experience” proved that traditional studios were starting to take the leap into VR.

By 2018, more and more major entertainment businesses were beginning to pursue VR “experiences” – not quite a movie, but not just an interactive game. For example, the startup Dreamscape Immersive, backed by major theater company AMC, was moving forward with plans to build the first VR gaming center in Los Angeles that would feature several narrative-based VR experiences. Major Hollywood names, from Hans Zimmer to Stephen Spielberg, also put their money behind the venture, putting stock in the notion that VR would play a role in the future of entertainment. And they were right– as of now, the Dreamscape center in the Westfield Century City mall is thriving, and they’ve expanded to locations as far away as Geneva, Dubai, and Riyadh..

Today, VR has blown up in Los Angeles’ world of “hands on” entertainment through the creation of multiple VR gaming venues throughout the city. For example, 60OUT, an escape room in downtown LA, has expanded their offerings to include nine different virtual reality escape rooms, in which players can play an escape room in virtual reality. There are several other VR gaming arcades throughout the city, helping to bring what was once a pricey technology to the Los Angeles masses.

What’s Next?

While traditional movie-watching experiences will certainly stick around, many are turning to the VR movie as the movie of the future. In fact, streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have already created apps for the Oculus VR headset – all users need to do is download the app, pop on their headset, and sit back and relax. However, while the VR movie experience today does provide a more intense viewing experience than your TV at home, it’s not particularly interactive. Users typically have an avatar that sits in a virtual movie theater with a regular screen.

VR movies will likely continue evolving to become more and more immersive and interactive. Some companies are already experimenting with interactive VR movies, such as AmazeVR, whose movies allow viewers to make choices – that the plot will then adapt to. We’ve seen a few streaming services and studios dip their toe into the interactive movie world, such as Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but very few mainstream studios have yet produced a full-length, interactive VR movie.

If we learned anything from the beginnings of VR in Los Angeles, it’s that the big names in entertainment often wait for smaller tech companies to lead the way on new VR technologies. But now that the VR movie has its foot in the door, you can expect to see new and exciting interactive movies coming out of Hollywood in the very near future.