Written by Colum Slevin, Head of Experiences, Oculus
Colum works with a team of talented producers to help VR creators bring their narratives to life. His early career in production for animated TV and features led him to Industrial Light + Magic, where he was Director of Computer Graphics, and later Vice President/Head of Studio Operations at Lucasfilm, where he was responsible for the animation divisions in California and Singapore. Colum joined Oculus in 2015 from Telltale Games, where he was Studio General Manager. He likes movies. A lot.
The question of whether we can tell stories in VR has been resoundingly and affirmatively answered in recent years. However, the question of whether VR is the best medium for storytelling remains an open and active debate. This debate continues to spark a fascinating and varied array of immersive experiences as creators work to establish the emergent language of narrative in the medium. The answers are still out there to be found, but I have found this space beyond gaming to be the most interesting venue for trial and error in virtual reality.
How does your team work with the VR creator ecosystem?
Experiential creators are diverse and multi-disciplined, definitely not a one-size-fits-all community. Our team at Oculus works to support and guide creators in all aspects of their experimentation, to provide them with a support system and tool set for creative success as well as guidance around business and technical challenges.
One of the most common questions we answer for creators is, “What are my options for distribution?”
Before getting into the various channels and pitfalls, there are some important basic framing questions to consider before you get too far down the path of creating for VR.
Is virtual reality truly the appropriate medium for your narrative? This may seem like a basic concept, but it's surprising how often people fail to have asked this fundamental question. There are many options and media types available to storytellers; What is the key reason to tell your story in VR? What makes VR unique and perfect for your story? As basic as it is, answering this question will help unlock a lot of other answers for you as you forge ahead.
What am I making and for whom?
Ask yourself — what's the feature set, or better put; what's the end user experience? What is the moment to moment experience for the user? Is it an interactive, branching narrative or a blend of real time and video? Is it a fundamentally linear story or a richer, more complex experience that requires user input? This will impact your distribution choices. What's the most suitable format for your experience and the ideal delivery platform? Is 3DOF 360 the best format, or does the experience demand 6DOF? What level of interactivity is required? Is an orientation tracked control input the best option, or is full hand presence essential?
How will people discover my stuff?
A marketing plan is vitally important, and should be a compliment to your creative and production plan. Make a plan to build or capture 2D (non 360) media assets to use for trailers, marketing clips or other promotional purposes. Although there are sometimes opportunities for experiences to be featured and prominently placed on the store, creators shouldn't count on this as there only opportunity for discoverability. Owning your own destiny when it comes to visibility is critical.
Ok, so now that you've thought about the basics, what are your distribution options?
Oculus Video is a dedicated destination within the Oculus store for video content. The Oculus Video app aggregates and features curated high quality 360 video content, as well as enabling viewing of personal rectilinear and 360 media. Many creators choose this option for experiences that do not feature interactivity and are basically video. Content is discoverable within Oculus video via a storefront that features and aggregates the freshest content. “Vanilla” or non-interactive video content that is not within a container application usually belongs here. The submission and review process is under review currently, and our existing process is documented here.
The Oculus Store
The Oculus Store is the primary destination for experiences that are published as individual apps, as opposed to videos. It's important to verify that your app meets our Minimum Technical Requirements prior to upload. Once the app submission meets these basic criteria, our content team will review the experience for quality. Throughout this process, our developer engineer team are your partners and will provide you with guidance and support. The Oculus store is the place for standalone interactive experiences or “container” applications.
There are several of these “mini-platforms” within the Oculus ecosystem. These are typically libraries of video and other experiences that are organized within a container application. Applications like With.in or Jaunt are good examples of these curated libraries. These high quality curators often organize content according to genre or subject matter and are another potential avenue for creators to publish their content.
Film festivals have grown a symbiotic relationship with VR narrative creators over the past several years. Many creators use the annual cadence of a film festival as a cyclical opportunity to showcase their latest projects, meet with potential funding partners, demo to press and gain access to a broader audience. Sundance, Tribeca and (more recently) Venice are great examples of high profile film festivals with dedicated programs for immersive media and VR. There are a multitude of other venues and festivals such as SXSW and VR Days Europe in Amsterdam that are worth considering. However, these are the tip of the iceberg, there are a ton of options. This Variety article has a good overview and list. Research which festivals hold the most potential for your experience, seek out the organizers online and most importantly get to know the submission criteria, deadlines and costs involved with submission to a festival.
Location Based Entertainment Spaces
This is a fast growing space with a fairly dizzying range of options and territories to consider. There are many providers building a business around the idea of showing existing VR content in a theater or installation setting, usually using standard headsets and hardware. As the in-home market continues to grow, it's a fact that these out-of-home VR locations will represent a significant fraction of people's formative first experience in VR. These range from arcade style locations such as MK2 or more immersive entertainment attractions such as the Void, Dreamscape or Nomadic. These are very different experiences, so it's important to do your research and understand what potential options there are for you as a creator.
Partially because there is still so much to discover about what works and what doesn't, it's a great time to be building immersive narratives. There are a range of release and distribution avenues available to creators working in experiential VR, which I have tried to simplify and break down here for creators. Asking yourself the basic questions I listed above is a good place to start. We are here to help and can't wait to see what you make!