Japanese mobile game company Colopl Inc. has established the largest virtual reality fund out there. The Tokyo-based company has set aside $50 million for companies working on virtual reality head-mounted displays, game and 360-degree content, development tools and equipment, distribution platforms, and input devices.
“We see VR’s potential to become the lifestyle disruptor smartphones became under 10 years ago,” Naruatsu Baba, CEO of Colopl, says. “Like PCs and the Internet, it changed how consumers interact with entertainment and media as a whole. Internet giants like Facebook have bet big bucks on the hardware, and the industry’s worth is predicted to reach around $30 billion by 2020. Colopl entered smartphone gaming in its early days, so we see the value in investing in a growing business early.”
CCP Games has raised $30 million to develop virtual reality games internally. Facebook (FB) established a $10 million fund for game developers to make Oculus VR games. And new VC company Presence VR has set aside an initial fund of $10 million for virtual reality companies. That makes Colopl the biggest player in the still nascent virtual reality market when it comes to startups, companies, and developers looking for funding.
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“The Colopl VR Fund represents the single biggest sum we have offered at once to one particular sector of the tech and games industry,” Baba says. “While mobile games will always be the core of Colopl’s business, this is the first time we have invested an amount this large outside of mobile.”
Baba says Colopl is looking for any concept, any product that has potential to shake up the virtual reality industry. This encompasses both hardware and software, which includes games, development tools, content distribution platforms, and more.
“We see VR becoming a platform for many content services that accompany real-life needs: Education, sports, travel, and e-commerce just to name a few,” Colopl says. “For instance, we recently established a subsidiary, 360Channel, Inc., to specialize in 360 video, which we can see being used for VR to serve those needs.”
Cocopl is actively looking to invest in virtual reality games. Baba says the company has already developed an Oculus Rift game in Japan, a port of the company’s most successful mobile game, White Cat Project (a Western version of this mobile game was released as Colopl Rune Story). But this internally developed title is not part of its $50 million fund.
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“It was an exercise for us to see what VR is capable of, and how far we can take the technology when we start developing original IP for it,” Baba says. “We want to see gameplay specifically tailored for the head-mounted displays hitting the market this year. As a gamer, I want VR games to transport me to a different world and put me in the body of a hero, something PC, console, and mobile can do figuratively, but without the full perspective VR can provide.”
Various analyst forecasts believe the virtual reality industry will reach $30- $70 billion by 2020, but Baba believes if more game companies join Colopl in investing in this market, it could surpass those projections.
“Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift really jump started the business and gave it legitimacy to carry its weight through to today, so VR needs more games industry support than ever before as the hardware hits the market this year,” Baba says.
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Baba sees the early virtual reality platforms like Google (GOOG) Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR serving as introductory technology for casual users new to the space who want to get a glimpse of what VR can offer. In the meantime, devices like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony (SNE) PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive, which launch this year, will appeal to core gamers.
“As the industry matures, we believe mobile VR devices like Gear VR and Cardboard will carve their own niche and cater to video, e-commerce, and more touch-and-go needs,” Baba says. “All the while, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR can attract users who wish to engage in activities requiring deeper commitment like playing games, watching movies, etc.”