New VR studio and label Creature promises to help developers with a $1 million Indie VR Fund provided by SideQuest.
The just-announced studio is composed of some highly experienced VR developers led by Doug North Cook. The group will be managing the fund provided by SideQuest, which planned for the program as part of the company's Series A investment.
A press release shared by SideQuest suggested the partnership "aims to give independent developers the support they need to close their funding gap while offering the technical and creative support needed to launch on the major platforms." Devs will not be required to release their software on SideQuest, according to the company, though it might be encouraged.
Indie VR developers face a difficult time securing strong partnerships with major platform companies like Meta, Sony, HTC or Pico, and the industry faces a major shift in funding prioritization with Apple pushing toward applications that use hand tracking and your physical environment and away from those that rely on completely virtual spaces and tracked hand controllers.
While $1 million might seem small, a piece of the fund might be precisely what some small developers need to finish off their innovative VR game and find footing on storefronts. Here's how Doug North Cook framed the situation facing developers:
"I think we are currently operating in an environment that is increasingly hostile to artists, designers, and developers across a variety of industries. The music, film, tv, and many other creative industries have been overtaken by several corporations that consolidate enough influence and power that they are able to negotiate with, or acquire, anyone smaller than them from a position of incredible strength.
We see this in the games industry as a whole and in VR as a consequence. What we also know is that [it] is rarely those sorts of companies that have been able to deliver the experiences in VR that truly connect with users. They rarely are able to deliver an experience that invites the user into something that is only possible in VR (SUPERHOT, Beat Saber, Gorilla Tag, Job Simulator, Among Us VR, Walkabout Mini Golf, Red Matter, all of our Creature partner studio titles and so many others) Almost all of them made by small, and independent, teams that deeply understand what is possible in this medium. There is something exciting about a creative space where small collaborative teams are able to create some of the best experiences in a space where large companies haven’t been able to find their footing. It means that VR games often deviate from convention, defying genres, and unlocking truly new ways of playing.
All that to say: we want to support the teams that understand how to build these kinds of experiences - solo developers on up - whose experiences everyone should see. That means working to ensure that they retain the majority of their revenue, that our incentives are aligned with theirs, and pushing for transparency. It means we take less so we can build bigger things with our partners because they are in a position to reinvest in themselves- which also benefits us. We are really excited about the kinds of studios that can emerge from this model.
As for specific payout sizes and funding terms, those will vary depending on the opportunity but we expect that developers will find our funding terms compelling.
Funding VR's Indie Expertise
Back when the App Store for iPhone was coming together in 2008, the $200 million "iFund" was announced and managed by venture capitalists who offered equity deals to developers at a critical time in the development of mobile phones as a computing platform.
How does this $1 million fund, announced as Meta readies Quest 3 and Apple prepares Vision Pro, sit relative to that moment in history? Is VR dead, as headlines seem to say every month even as the market grows larger? Or is spatial computing ready for a steep curve in adoption akin to when iPhone remade the smartphone space?
I asked North Cook to weigh in:
VR having an "iPhone" moment is a very difficult ask due to the array of functions that smartphones play for the majority of the world now. Phones aren't going anywhere anytime soon, because they fit in your pocket and are needed to function in modern society (you can't even order at many restaurants now without scanning a QR code). This level of ubiquity is not achievable until a VR device, likely one with high-end passthrough MR, can demonstrate a similar level of functionality inside the home and office.
Apple and Meta have both presented a vision for this device: not as a replacement for your phone, but as a replacement for your laptop, desktop, television (if you live alone), gaming console, and other connected devices that make up our home electronic systems. We will start to get a glimpse of how users feel about this with Quest 3 and Vision Pro, as full-color passthrough becomes the norm for headsets. As with previous devices, it will come down to the sort of experiences developers are able to deliver, which is why we are investing in supporting more developers to push against the constraints of what is coming next.
For those of us who have been around long enough, the vision of spatial computing is still profoundly compelling. It is an invitation to step back into our bodies and make our entertainment, play, and digital socializing more active and engaging. The reality is that the devices are still cumbersome, and most people have never tried VR. If they have, their introduction may have been to an experience that was either nausea-inducing or didn't connect to a compelling use case. This is why I'm hopeful that Apple's soft approach of going for simple use cases first (and having the physical retail presence to allow for in-person controlled demos) might help to invite in a much broader audience.
That said, I think we haven't even started yet, and over the next couple of years we will see a mixed bag of companies fast-following either Apple or Meta. Ultimately, the users will decide which version of spatial computing they want long-term. I wouldn't be surprised if two years from now we’ll have gone from having two to three viable hardware providers to dozens.
To the question of the "opportunity," that is as big as the iPhone opportunity was. HMDs have the potential to consume as much functionality (and create brand new ones) as smartphones did - they are just coming after a completely different set of functions. Many of those are much more difficult to build, because building embodied spatial applications is a brutally difficult process that already suffers from a massive talent shortage in comparison to the current demand for content. We might be at the start of the first real curve upwards, which is why it is more important than ever to safeguard developers and studios who are capable of building the applications and games that will drive that.
Developers can send pitches to Creature now for funding consideration.