Headset-wearing VR developers are currently up against the same problem the mullet-haired groovers at MTV faced in the early '80s: a lack of content compelling enough to build a substantial audience. However, that may be changing as high tech production companies like Los Angeles-based Wevr tap into successful models from the movie and gaming industries to develop prime VR content for widespread, cross-platform distribution.
Game developer Tyler Hurd, who created a reactive VR music video experience around Future Islands' synthpop hit "Old Friend" for the HTC Vive, is one of a new wave of digital artists now being tapped to expand the content side of the VR equation.
"It's a three-minute music video that is just geared toward making people excited with animation and bright colors," says Hurd, whose decision to make a VR music video had more to do with being a music video fan than having any real expertise in VR or music video production.
"I was listening to this band Future Islands a lot, and whenever the song came on, I was picturing these little guys having a good time, and every time I heard the song, I would picture more and more of the idea in my head."
Hurd brought a background in video game design, digital animation and advertising to bear on realizing his vision in VR.
"You don't have to worry about anything like big, long story lines in movies," he says. "It's just a really free arena to try different techniques, and it gets more into the technical side of filmmaking and effects and animation and all of that ... I just wanted to explore it."
Hurd obtained a grant through OnWevr, a program that provides support and funds of up to $50,000 for VR creatives to produce content for Wevr's Transport network, a forthcoming platform that scored $25 million in funding earlier this year to deliver premium VR content compatible with any headset.
Transport is currently in beta testing with content from Wevr. Along with Hurd's video, which is also available via Wevr's wider publishing and distribution network, the company has produced a VR installment of the horror anthology, Holidays, featuring Seth Green as a hapless dad who's waited until the last minute to get his son a hot new VR headset called the uVu, and Hard World for Small Things, an exploration of the lives affected by a tragedy in Los Angeles.
"I think right now everyone is so hungry for content that it made this a little more possible for me to do it on my own (and for Wevr to) take a leap of faith on someone who didn't have a ton of work," says Hurd. "I had one project under my belt, and that was it."
Wevr co-founder Anthony Batt likens Wevr's one-stop-shop approach to content development and distribution to the Netflix model.
"We look at distribution either as a subscription business or a direct-sales business," says Batt. "We're exploring both of those things. It's a nascent market, so we don't know how the consumer's going to react, but we know that they really want to see great content, so that's what Wevr is focused on: finding people that can produce regularly great content."
Batt is currently drawing many of Wevr's producers from theater and the interactive space.
"We're looking for people that are actually very clear in their mission of telling a story and have the capability of following through with it," he says. Everyone from the professional VR developer to the amateur VR enthusiast is welcome to apply to OnWevr with a pitch in written, video and graphics format.
"It's an easy introduction to VR, and it's something for people to get excited about," says Tyler Hurd. "I'm hoping to make more music videos, because I think the medium is perfect for it right now."
Wevr is available on Steam VR and is slated for release on Android phones, at Oculus retail outlets and through Google Play and iOS as a cardboard app.