Syfy Talks About The Future of VR Storytelling at Silicon Valley Comic-Con
We came away from the Syfy/Digital Domain panel on VR with one conclusion: if VR is going to succeed as a medium, there have to be stories that make sense for it. The novelty has started to dry up, and like 3-D movies, it's time to figure out if it's actually enjoyable and useful on its own. As the rep from Digital Domains said: "We've tried a lot of things out, and a lot of them haven't worked…the hype cycle is starting to die down, and the mainstream is starting to buy more units…we're still experimenting."
The Syfy Channel has doubled down on VR in the past few years, especially when it comes to shows like Incorporated and The Expanse. Some of the VR projects have been promos, meant to build hype for the shows, but others are bona-fide experiences that tell a story. One good example is the VR interrogation scene Syfy did for Incorporated, which has viewers take the role of a prisoner being interrogated by a character played by Dennis Haysbert, culminating in a moment where the bound viewer has their skull opened with a drill, demonstrating just how brutal and dystopian the show's world is.
Another example was the VR experience for Mr. Robot, shown below. Both panelists pointed to this feature, written by Salim Ismail, as the model for what they hope to do with VR storytelling in the future:
In the meantime, the Syfy rep explained, we're left with a "chicken and egg problem": manufacturers are reluctant to build VR hardware without content for it, and no one is going to make the content if no one's buying the hardware. Mobile VR, the panelists said, is going to be "the best way to try and get in on the ground floor" of VR storytelling—smart phones are already ubiquitous and multi-use, and represent a much lower barrier to entry than a $3000 computer and headset.
In the meantime, the panel consistently pointed to video game writers/designers as the pioneers of storytelling in the VR age—with open worlds and user-driven plots, video games offer a better model for an experience where the viewer is an active participant in the story. Location-based entertainment, or LBEs, are also coming back, especially in China—these take the form of something like a VR arcade, where people come to a dedicated place to play VR games and watch VR movies instead of buying the hardware themselves. In the US, the Void offers something similar. Here's a sample:
Looking toward the future, Mark Zuckerberg has said publicly that VR is going to be the most social medium ever, and both panelists agreed that the best things happen when you're connected to other people. If it can expand itself beyond gaming and movies, gain higher resolution, untether itself from costly computers and cords, and become the next essential tool for staying connected (and immersed), VR could move beyond being a gimmick and start being the transformative tech we all hoped it would be. That's a lot of qualifiers, but that's the truth.
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