“I would like to establish Bristol and the South West of England as the Cannes of the virtual reality industry – the place where technology companies and developers come to meet and show off their products.”
Ben Trewhella, organiser of the SW VR Conference, is clearly not short of ambition but from the perspective of his day job as managing director of games developer Opposable Games he sees virtual reality as the next big wave to revolutionize both gaming and narrative film making. And given that Bristol and the surrounding region is home to a growing community of small, innovative games companies while also hosting major media players such as Aardman Animation, his goal is to connect developers with the big hitters of VR technology.
As he see it, there is a lot to play for. With a background in the mobile industry, Trewhella saw at first hand the impact that the arrival of the iPhone and Android had on the then nascent app development market. “There were smartphones before the iPhone and Android but it was difficult for small, independent developers to build apps and make a living from it before Apple and Google provided the platforms.”
Trewhella believes that VR is reaching a similar point in its development. “What we’re seeing now is that VR companies are very keen to get their platforms out and into the hands of the developers,” he says. As such, he sees VR SW as an important forum to put some of the latest technologies into the hands of the games companies and film makers who will ultimately be creating virtual reality experiences for the public at large.
But the conference is also a showcase for what has already been achieved – a chance to let the public see just how compelling a VR experience can be. “VR will probably have a bumpier ride to the marketplace than, say, smartphones,” says Trewhella. “Smartphones are on sale in every high street and everyone can see their value. There are a lot of different VR devices at the moment and only a few have made it out to customers, so it’s important to get the technology out there and into people’s hands.”
Trewhella argues that Bristol is an ideal location for the VR conference, not least because of its growing importance as a technology and media cluster. “We have a lot of independent games developers down here and there is also a legacy of film making. Added to that, this is an important centre for engineering and aerospace,” he says, noting that all these sectors have an interest in the development of VR.
And in its first year, the conference has already attracted some notabler names, including Oculus (creator of the Rift headset), Alchemy VR, Atlantic Productions, Unity 3D, nDreams, and Aardman Animations. Trewhella is particularly pleased at the inclusion of Oculus. “They don’t normally attend conferences “ he says.
The Next Wave
With systems from Oculus and Samsung bringing new life to the market and Sony and Microsoft reasdying their own platforms, Trewhella predicts that games developers will be the first to take advantage of new, consumer-friendly VR technologies, creating a wealth of opportunities not only for the giants of the industry but also for independent companies. Beyond that, he expects to see an increased interest in the narrative possibilities of virtual worlds on the part of TV and film makers. “I think that some of the things film makers are doing with 3D would be much better accomplished by VR,” he says.
He acknowledges, however, that it’s very early says. “Games developers in particular have the skills required to create VR experiences but we’re still learning about what a really good VR experience actually is,” he says.
VR is one of those technologies that has been around for a long-time and while its close cousin,augmented reality, has achieved a certain amount of traction in mobile phone apps, it has yet to become a significant technology in the consumer market. Trewhella believes that is about to change and that VR SW will play a part in creating a market while also putting the games and media companies in Bristol and the West Country of England on the virtual map.
VR SW takes place at Bristol Science Centre on February 24
This article was written by Trevor Clawson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.