With companies like Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Valve, and HTC investing billions in virtual reality, former Electronics Arts executive Bing Gordon sees content creators facing an “innovator’s dilemma” at this early stage of VR technology.
“There’s a conundrum now for people who can make money doing the current gaming content on mobile or on console,” Gordon says. “How can they afford to do VR? And at some point if it works, you can’t afford not to have done it. The companies that are really profitable right now in the mobile games space are making so much money that it’s hard to imagine taking 50 people and doing a science project in VR instead of making another $100 million this year.”
But the risk of missing out on VR is considerable, as Digi-Capital projects virtual reality will generate over $30 billion by 2020.
“VR looks like a new step-function generational change in player technology that could create this early couple of years for creating brands and franchises,” Bing says. “In my experience over the last 30 years, it’s always a good bet to try to time Moore’s Law with the first two years of new technology in games because that’s the cheapest time to introduce and create lasting new franchises and brands.”
Gordon has a long view of the gaming industry, as he spent 26 years at game publisher and developer Electronic Arts (EA), with ten years as chief creative officer. Currently, Gordon is general partner and chief product officer for venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Gordon has seen many of the existing game publishers take a wait-and-see approach, which is one reason companies like Electronic Arts, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (TWX), Activision, and Ubisoft have yet to show any VR content.
“The companies who are most leaning into VR are probably advertisers and GoPro fans,” Bing says. “So it might be that music videos and brands and 13-year-olds who like to kill themselves with tricks on a bike is where the leading edge street cred of VR will be. Then there’s another company, Magic Leap, that’s mysterious and is doing a kind of manufactured reality with a different approach to VR. And it may be that Magic Leap and Microsoft (MSFT)—with its augmented reality plus virtual reality HoloLens—turns out to be a more scientifically valid approach. Or it might turn out to be like BetaMax versus VHS and audience traction matters. There are a lot of moving parts, but the consumers are extremely excited about the concept. VR is coming back strong, and that’s partly technical and partly the caliber of the people working on it can afford to be better.”
Gordon believes the financial risk is that VR may be the highest cost ever per minute of making interactive entertainment because it’s a new and developing market and developers’ efficiency is about half the speed and the cost of creating content is twice as expensive. And given it might be a small, slowly developing market; the reward, or profits, may not be realized for quite some time.
That’s where it helps to have companies like Facebook, Sony, Samsung, HTC, and Valve fully vested in pushing things forward, both on the platform side, as well as on the development side. Gordon admits things have come a long way since the last VR attempt in the ‘90s, which never took off. He believes that the sheer amount of investment and creative energy that is being placed in VR today will result in a new generation of developers ultimately getting it right, eventually.