Last week I was able to attend VRUK, a UK based virtual reality festival, organized by digital design college Ravensbourne and VR marketing agency Virtual Umbrella.
Spanning across six floors of Ravensbourne’s campus, hundreds of entrepreneurs, technologists, filmmakers and students gathered to explore the creative and technological potential of virtual reality.
There was a lot to be excited about during the two-day long festival. From informative talks with leading virtual reality creators and a showcase of innovative VR projects from around the globe, the enthusiasm for VR was evident within the UK community.
What was exciting?
Abundance of creative talent and ideas – Across the talks and workshops, I was continually impressed by the breadth and quality of people focused on developing creative content in VR. HammerheadVR’s new sci-fi cinematic VR short film series “Presence” (and Rob McLellan’s session covering it), The Mill’s immersive journalistic piece on solitary confinement with the Guardian and PlayNicely’s wonder.land with the National Theatre are just some examples of this. I learned a huge amount during the festival on what creative techniques make for good and bad VR storytelling.
Agency and VR production studio prominence – The conference was packed full of internationally acclaimed agencies such as Visualize, Framestore, RewindCo, The Mill and Brandwidth. All had impressive showreels, demos, and industry insights, which showed how the strength of the UK VR scene lies within creative production services.
Experimental VR Hardware and Experiences – Outside of agencies and studios, there were a range of VR startups experimenting with other experiences. ROVR’s walking platform lets you run around first-person perspective games in VR. Playing their Pacman demo was probably the most fun I’ve had in VR to date. Masters of Pie is also bringing fun VR to the animation development process, using the HTC Vive to create a tool to help animators build and manipulate 3D models with haptics and a full room setup where you can walk around your objects.
What I wanted to see more of?
Commercial market ready VR – I was surprised by how little commercial viability was discussed across a lot of the sessions. Despite some impressive demos, there were few experiences that were ready for a mainstream market. This contrast felt particularly noticeable when Michiel Frackers, who was representing US based Jaunt, gave an overview of their company’s developments and their impressive balancing of maximizing long-term opportunities alongside building traction and consumable content products in the near term.
Brand attendance – Related to the above, I was surprised that there were so few brands at the festival demoing experiences they had co-developed or seeking to learn more about how VR can impact their businesses. This could have been due to the nature/purpose of the conference, but as a result there were likely limited business development opportunities for the strong array of agencies present.
Software startups – As a developer myself, I would have liked to see more startups and discussions focusing on the software required to deliver great VR content. In fact, the best technical session I attended was delivered by the Datavised team via Skype from New York — a brilliantly informed session looking at WebVR. This isn’t to say there’s a lack of VR talent and startups in the UK. For example, London-based Improbable gets surprisingly little coverage in relation to VR despite raising $20m+ from Andreessen Horowitz. I was left wondering whether the conflict in timing with the Unity Vision conference may have impacted attendance of more technical participants?
What’s next for the UK?
Growing VR interest – As hype for VR continues to grow, do did the buzz around the festival as well — I believe #VRUKFest was even trending on Twitter in the UK at one point. As a result we’ll see an increasing number of new startups and creative projects emerge. Events like this will become bigger, more regular and higher profile – Google held its own VR symposium literally the day after this conference and on March 15-16 the The Augmented Reality & VR Show 2016 kicks off at the Excel.
Commercialization – As hardware and creative practices mature, focus will quickly turn to establishing profitable business models. This will be amplified by the more conservative funding environment in the UK vs the US. You probably won’t find any Magic Leap esque raises over here where you can land $1bil+ without a “proven” product.
Collaboration – This is clearly already happening within the walls of studios but needs to occur more organically across the community across all spectrums of VR focuses. I expect to see more meetups, conferences and informal networking bring developers and creators together. This is all key to catalyze the development of great consumer VR content products with mass appeal.
How can I get involved?
There are a number of great meet-ups and conferences taking place during any given month (below). They are a great place to start immersing yourself and learning from some of the leading creators in VR.
- London VR for Games
- Augmenting Reality
- Oculus Rift Developers
- The Future of Augmented and Virtual Reality
- Screens, Content, TVCs, AR & Virtual Reality 360
- UX for Virtual Reality
- Homido VR Meetup
- The Augmented Reality & VR Show
- VR World Congress
Thanks again to the organizers for a great couple of days and to all the speakers and attendees – exciting times ahead!
Image Credit: @Ravensbourne / @REWINDco