As a little-known initiative, Oculus is actively funneling in talent with the promise of training, tools and other resources that developers — new and old — can use to build projects for the Oculus platform as well as for the greater VR ecosystem.
Each June, over 100 participants are chosen to attend the official Oculus boot camp in Menlo Park for a full weekend. While most participants receive hands-on VR development training followed by three months of video tutorials, a select few receive grants worth thousands of dollars; in fact, Oculus awarded a whopping $620,000 in 2017 alone.
“Virtual reality is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing branches of the tech industry, but to reach its full potential, it needs a diverse team of creators,” Oculus states on their official Launch Pad page. “That’s why we started Oculus Launch Pad—a program designed to support promising VR content creators from diverse backgrounds, so they can take their unique ideas and bring them to market.
“VR is for everyone, and the best way to grow a vibrant content ecosystem with mass appeal is to incorporate the full range of unique perspectives from our development community.”
That philosophy, and the resources placed behind it, is what drives thousands of developers to apply for the program each year.
“We were given three months to develop a short demo that we delivered to Oculus along with a pitch deck. Then production hit a lull for around two months as we waited to hear back from Oculus,” wrote Brenda Chen, a 2017 Oculus Launch Pad Sponsorship Recipient and the director of adventure game Chrysalis. “Once we found out that we had been awarded the grant, we started working again and were in production for around six months.
“The Oculus Launch Pad program takes place once a year, so there is a new cohort of around 10-15 projects that are funded a year. Receiving funding was not only a blessing, but an incredible learning experience for me. I learned how to create a budget, produce a game, draft contracts, work remotely with international contractors, run a large team efficiently, and market content among other things.”
Even if you’re a developer who’s on the fence about applying for the Oculus Launch Pad program, or you think that your project is too small to receive funding, you may be surprised at how far that application can go.
“The majority of our team consists of USC students. I’m a current student there, so I just recruited all my friends and my friends’ friends to work on Chrysalis,” Chen explained. “We also had a few contractors that I hired to do additional animations and rigging who I found through
recommendations from professors and by posting in the GDC Party Facebook group.”
In fact, Chen was so passionate about her project that she didn’t let time differences or communication overhead stop her from organizing it.
“Some of my team members were based in Singapore, India, Canada, Hong Kong, and New York, while I was working from California,” Chen continued. “Because of the time difference and distance, we communicated through Facebook messenger, kept all our assets on a shared google drive folder, and built the game using Unity’s collab version control system.”
While Oculus Launch Pad has worked out particularly well for content creators like Chen, not all of Oculus Launch Pad’s recipients seek assistance or funding for the development of their specific projects.
“I see no reason to not look into the Oculus Launch Pad program,” wrote Moni Garr, the founder of MoniGarr.com LLC and an Oculus Launch Pad 2018 fellow. “It’s a positive, life changing program that really does support diverse, non-mainstream project ideas. And it provides positive tech & moral support to those of us that show we have the abilities and willingness to start with ideas and build them out into fully-functioning VR experiences.”
Garr offers a service that helps other developers produce and develop their own projects in environments such as Unity, which is something that Oculus gives steady training for during their program. The support that she received from Oculus Launch Pad has helped her conduct even better client work.
And despite not necessarily working on a singular experience, she had no problems applying for the program.
“I answered all the questions on their online application,” Garr explained. “It was super easy, I just entered the information that was relevant to my own ideas for an experience to build for Oculus devices. Then I received an email response about a month later that I was accepted.”
Oculus can also provide pivotal resources to platform builders such as Callie Leone, CEO and Founder of BRAVR LABS.
“When I tried VR for the first time over 5 years ago, I realized the immense potential that it has to transform the way we live, work, and play,” Leone explained. “Anyone who has tried it, knows this to be true.
“However, adopting VR is a different story and there are a number of hardware, technical, design, and social obstacles that stand in the way. These obstacles can seem overwhelming to those who are new to the space, whether they are developers, investors, customers, or consumers.”
How is Leone tackling the problem of VR accessibility?
“Through MANIFEST, BRAVR LABS is standardizing collaboration and communication throughout the VR ecosystem by enabling anyone to annotate any 360 or interactive content from inside VR so that feedback can be captured and scaled in-context.”
Even from a bird’s eye view, it’s clear that this type of feedback platform would provide key insight to developers across the entire VR ecosystem, not simply those who develop Oculus-exclusive content.
But according to Leone, that speaks to Oculus’s determination to build community around the VR medium.
“The most important assistance that I could get from Oculus Launch Pad is personalized feedback and support on the development of my platform,” Leone explained. “Oculus has an incredible team and they have a lot of insight to share. Their feedback during the early stages of my product development process has been and hopefully will continue to be instrumental to the platform we are building.
“That said, relationships are just that — they are not a guarantee of anything in the future other than honest feedback designed to help me and my team improve our work.”
And, despite the limited number of grants given out per year, Leone advises developers to continue applying.
“More than anything, winning a grant from Oculus ultimately gives you an opportunity to work even more closely with their team as you continue developing your project,” Leone continued. “That said, for me it all comes back to developing a meaningful relationship with Oculus and learning how to refine your craft.
“Whether I win the grant or not at Oculus, I will be pursuing this platform further. I believe many of my peers will be doing the same. That’s why this is a great program to jumpstart a VR initiative and everyone who goes through it will gain something valuable.”
Oculus will announce the grant winners of the 2018 Launch Pad program in late Q4 2018. If you’re interested in submitting your own project to Oculus Launch Pad, the next application window will likely open during April 2019 and close before the end of May 2019. The next boot camp will take place in late June 2019.
Image Credit: Oculus Launch Pad/ Brenda Chen / BRAVR LABS