The tale of the Oculus Rift’s crowdfunding campaign will go down in history as a monumental shift for virtual reality (VR). While the consumer adoption of the hardware has been slow – as many anticipated – modern VR simply wouldn’t exist without Palmer Luckey et al having made the jump to publicly display their wares years prior to launch. It was due to that decision way back in 2013 that today’s VR and augmented reality (AR) industries have generated so much buzz, and have had so much funding available.
However, the tides have shifted somewhat. Despite the likes of Oculus VR and OSSIC making things look easy, financing a project through a crowdfunding campaign was never truly a simple task. In the years since the Oculus Rift surpassed its funding goal by a staggering 875%, the VR audience has become wary; fatigued by demands on their wallet and demanding more than a simple idea to gain their support.
Blair Renaud, CEO of IRIS VR, has gained a reputation in the VR community for knowing how to steer a Kickstarter campaign from inception through publishing and beyond completion. Widely respected for his efforts in crowd-funding and the project that came of it, TECHNOLUST, Renaud recalls how difficult convincing an audience to part with their hard earned cash on a potential product is:
“Running a successful Kickstarter campaign isn’t just hard work, it’s a full time job. You have to a lot of research and build the campaign in the weeks (months?) leading up to launch, then run a full time public relations campaign once it’s live,” stated Renaud in communication with VRFocus. “Getting press is difficult, but necessary. Having a demo and a press kit is useful. You have to use every outlet at your disposal (Twitter, Reddit, Youtube, 4chan, etc.)”
Further to this, Renaud insists that communication with not just key influencers but also individuals amongst the community is hugely important. Crowdfunding is not simply a case of putting up a campaign and watching the dollars roll in.
“For the entire duration of the campaign, you have to be ready to answer every question posed to you on every platform (even the trolls!). This means waking up to a full inbox every day. On top of this, you should still be fleshing out the game and the campaign site, adding rewards, stretch goals and features.”
Of course TECHNOLUST’s successful campaign allowed IRIS VR to deliver the intended videogame experience across multiple VR platforms, but has also afforded Renaud the knowledge required for future crowdfunding endeavours: “When it’s all done you’ll feel like you can write a book on the subject when a publication asks you for a quote.”
IRIS VR’s success story has led to rapid expansion of the studio’s VR agenda, but others have left their backers less than satisfied. The Virtuix Omni was another success story at the time of funding, however even additional investment couldn’t prevent delays and the seemingly inevitable cancellation of international shipping plans. More daunting is Sixense’s constant moving of goal posts for the Stem controllers. Indeed, with Oculus Touch now a core component of the Oculus Rift package and HTC Vive’s Knuckles controllers and Tracker pucks looming, what need is there for a third-party motion-control device?
Delays are one negative aspect of a successful Kickstarter campaign, but these are projects that were funding a long time ago in the relatively short lifespan of modern VR. What about new projects? A recent campaign for a VR retail experience comes close to offering a unique perspective, but is clearly ill equipped for the challenge of convincing VR aficionados to offer their support:
“I want to create an application or experience that will give you the sensation of actually being present in a department store. You can see, feel and touch the items you want to purchase. Put them in your basket and purchase them all with virtual goggles,” reads the description of the campaign, simply entitled ‘Virtual reality shopping’.
A reasonable, if not particularly original, idea for the use of VR. However, when outlining the experience and hurdles that will be faced in the development of the project, campaign creator Jamie England offers no detail of her experience with VR, simply stating: “Risks are not getting the grocery industry to support the application. However I work in the grocery industry so I think any sale at home is good. There will be obstacles along the way.”
Development of the platform is arguably a bigger hurdle than achieving industry support at this point. There is no detail of England’s experience with VR or the development of applications, nor any information on the team she will be hiring. Furthermore, there is no imagery, no video content, no prototype available. England has an idea, but no concept for how this will develop. Sadly, this has resulted in the campaign achieving $0 USD of its reasonably small $50,000 target at the time of writing.
Essentially, the rules of VR crowdfunding have changed. There’s still plenty of room for a developer to get their idea noticed and even gain the support from key influencers needed to be successful, but a good idea is no longer enough. Reaching your goals on a crowdfunding platform should be considered a full-time job, and the support you need to give reaches beyond a Reddit post and e-mailing a few journalists. It’s a daily activity including constant updates, issuing of assets, interaction with those influencers and offering an early prototype of your work. Do this and your idea might just become a reality.