Today marks the first anniversary of VRFocus, an enterprise which has reached far beyond any initial planning that anyone could have afforded. In that short space of time the website has seen many changes; not in and of itself per se, but rather in the industry around it. The virtual reality (VR) landscape has grown and begun to take form. The previously unaware public are becoming informed of the potential of the new medium. And many of the people involved have had their lives changed irrevocably. Mostly for the better, I would say.
VRFocus began almost as an experiment. It was clear that VR was going to be big, but was there an audience ready for it? Moreover, was there a large enough percentage of that audience prepared for a daily ingest of news and feature content ranging from hardware manufacturers, publishers and indie developers? Those questions have since been answered, of course, and in an almost overwhelming fashion.
The original idea to launch a UK based VR specialist website came from nDreams’ CEO, Patrick O’Luanaigh, who himself is a huge fan of the emerging medium. It was his vision and support that lead to me leaving my previous employment of more than a decade to try something new. Moving from a secure position at the helm of a videogames specialist website into a space where there were no guarantees was undoubtedly a risky venture, but looking back I can see that the excitement of beginning afresh most certainly outweighed any nervousness about the possibility of failure.
In the months that followed an independent relationship was assured and the foundations of the website were established. O’Luanaigh and I agreed very early on that the ties between VRFocus and nDreams had to be very distant; that the website should treat nDreams in the exact same fashion as any other developer working in the VR space. One year on this relationship has remained untouched; the VRFocus buck stops with me and neither O’Luanaigh nor anyone else at nDreams has ever once tried to influence the editorial policy I take so much pride in. For that I am thankful.
Coming from a background of many years in videogames a number of relationships with other publishers and developers followed with me, however it’s been those new bonds that have formed that have perhaps surprised me the most. Matt Sonic’s particular eagerness to introduce me to the San Francisco VR community will never be forgotten; the first meeting with Karl Krantz and Bruce Wooden (aka Cymatic Bruce) that proved VR could be more than just a basement dweller hobby; the friendly face that Matt ‘Stompz’ Carrell always brings to an event; the constant source of sarcastic amusement from Nick Pittom and Blair Renaud; the openness of the Project Morpheus team; the welcoming smiles of CCP Newcastle; the humanness of Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell. These are just some of the many people that have made VR a wonderful space to work in.
Internally VRFocus is an incredibly enjoyable place to work also, of course. While the first few months was a solitary existence – spreadsheets, databases, an Oculus Rift DK1 and myself – it wasn’t long before our first writer, Jamie Feltham, came on-board. Much like myself, Feltham’s anticipations of the working environment were somewhat misjudged (for which I take a large part of the responsibility!) however, he has faced the many challenges of an incredibly demanding workload and unquestionably antisocial hours with nothing short of chivalry. His initial months saw him grow from a particularly green writer into a dependable problem solver, while the latter part of the year turned him into nothing short of one of the best news hounds I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. The team is now growing and should you still be with us in a year you can expect to see many more names credited for their involvement.
In this second year VRFocus will not only be growing in terms of bodies, but also in terms of assets and projects. The first of which, GearVR.uk, a microsite dedicated to Samsung’s Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD) launched last month and has quickly established a keen following. There are several other new ventures in the works too, the next of which will be arriving sooner than you might be expecting.
A year in the making, then, and VRFocus has become something quite different from the original vision of what we had anticipated. It’s a news source, it’s a factual space for reveals, announcements, industry opinion and informational relay. The opinions of the VRFocus team have become a sideline to the importance of delivering facts to an audience that is already informed and have their own established opinions. This is not what we expected, not what we intended and not what we had planned for, and yet I couldn’t be more proud of what we have achieved in just that one year.