Choose Your Own Adventure in VR with Viar360
February 24, 2016, Interview with Viar360, Celje, Slovenia.
I had the chance to meet with Jernej Mirt (CEO) & Dejan Gajsek (Marketing), the guys behind Viar360. They are developing a cloud, web-based platform that will allow VR producers the freedom to create conditional storylines with an ability to measure their audience. Just like in the “Choose your own adventure books”, your actions will determine what outcome you get. As a producer, you will plan out how many branches you have and how interactive it is. If you are a VR producer, I highly suggest to sign up on their website in order to become one of them few alpha testers. These guys truly have a good sense of going with the flow. In the following interview they explain how they all started from scratch and what it means for them to deal with the entertaining world of VR start-ups.
“What would you do, if you could play a part in your favourite movie? Thinking this is science fiction? Not for long. VR is going to be to film, what film was to pantomime.“
Alecz- So, tell us, how Viar360’s project has started?
Jernej- We first went in VR for architects so they could show to their clients what it is like to be inside their building. This happened March last year. At that time, we were sourcing the cardboards from China just like everybody else. The problem was those were in bad shape. The quality was not on the level at which we were selling our services. We had few issues with our clients so eventually we just said – screw it, we can do this on our own. Those cardboards weren’t foldable, comfortable to wear, and they were expensive to ship.
J- We found out that architects are difficult to work with (laughs). We gave up on the segment because our revenue wasn’t growing as much as we anticipated and we needed a new source of income. Companies from abroad started to contact us. They wanted to buy custom-made goggles with branding for specific marketing campaigns. At that time we were like – holy shit, what is going on? Someone is giving us money! We started to shift our focus on that segment and we became custom VR cardboard makers. In November, we had a few big deals lined up, and they didn’t go through. Marketing agencies we worked with originally planned to publish the content on Youtube but then they figured out that Youtube doesn’t work well on iOS. That a huge problem. We suggested them to use applications like LittlStar or Vrideo. They were just like: “well, no way, that’s not going to happen because we ‘re not going to say to our clients to go there and then download the app from Vrideo or Littlstar and then you can finally watch the content that you want to deliver ”. They weren’t ready to pay for something that would force them to download an app from somebody else that doesn’t have anything to do with them. We offered to make a specific app for them for Android and iOS, where they could run their content within. It didn’t work out as the company we were working with already had an app. We were looking hard to find a solution for them and that is when we started to work on Viar360.
A- So you all started on your own, without financial support from any third party? Are you programmers, developers, marketers?
J- Fifty-fifty! Yeah, we got a little bit of investment from a local company here, but nothing big.
A- What I like about your path is that it seems that you’re going within, you’re not planning everything ahead, you’re working with the needs of the day, you have kind of a DIY approach in your start-up in the making.
J- Yeah, because, you have to adapt to the market. We got a really good advice from a Y Combinator mentor. He said to us: ‘guys, these plans they won’t really work out. All you have to do is to follow the money’. That is why we are not trying to do long term planning because we’re always trying to see where the demand is. I think that is the most important part.
A- OK, so tell us guys, when are we going to be able to use Viar360 beta and what are we going to be able to achieve with it?
D- It’s going to start in April. It’s going to be MVP, and it’s not going to include the Editor but you will be able to upload your videos, share it, embed it on your website. After that, we will conclude client interviews, and start building the Editor. Right now, delivering virtual reality content on a OS independent way is a very complex thing. The first problem we want to solve is making it available to every operation system.
J- The Alpha will be private because it’s going to look terrible because it’s …
A- Because it’s an Alpha version!
D- Yeah, exactly! We’re going to keep it with a tight niche of testers, maybe a hundred, two hundred people, and then we’re planning to get to Beta in the summer. We would really love to go abroad during this summer. Actually, that’s almost a necessary thing.
A- What about the Editor, What can I do with it?
J- Most of this technology is based on WebGL, because, Flash is not Apple friendly. When you’re using WebGL you can use “hotspots” to deliver extended information, or they can be invisible and measure what the user is doing. You can measure the user activity, what they’re looking at by creating heat maps. That’s one part and the second part is, and we are really excited about, is creating conditional storylines. When you make a VR experience you usually use some kind of storyboard, right? You have the first scene, the second scene, the third one, etc.
D- We don’t think VR is the same than watching a movie. It ads an element of user interaction, you are able to move around willingly and take some decisions within the experience. As a viewer, you will come to one checkpoint where you decide to look one way and get that interaction. You could look the other way and the outcome will be different. It’s just like those books “Choose your own Adventure” books.
A- Yeah totally man!
D- The VR producers can create and scripted stories but the other thing which is even more interesting is for marketers. They can put two or three products in the video and if the majority of viewers would, let’s say, choose to take path A instead of other, you validate your product before even having it made.
X- We were not thinking of these options at first! We just heard about these issues directly from producers. People are demanding a well made Editor and a way to distribute their content on all operation systems. We are competing with the big boys, but this year we’re going to make something to talk about.
“One the first movies that is embracing VR, is Goosebumps. Sony partnered up with VFX specialist MPC and delivered a live-action VR experience, where you ride shotgun with Jack Black while a giant praying mantis is hunting you down. This is still an early stage, where you are glued to one position on the “set”, however you have the control where you can focus your attention.”
A- Do you think that Viar360 will be a free service in the long run?
D- We will have a free option but as a free user you will have limited access to the whole analytics. You will also have a limit on how many videos you can upload. But that’s something that we will decide when the product will be 75% done. The first users will have full access to the app for at least a year, maybe even longer so don’t forget to sign-up! But we’re not there yet, for now we’re focusing on development and testing. We need to gather as much feedback from the producers as we can.
A- Are you currently prospecting for producers?
D- That’s what I’m doing yes! I’m telling everyone what we are making!
J- Because we are making custom VR cardboards, we have a lot of great people we’re working with already. But we really want to expand our circle of alpha testers when we reach that April stage.
“I think everybody wants to be the next Youtube for VR, even Youtube wants to become Youtube 360.”
A- What do you think of the market right now? How will you stand out from your competitors?
X- Well, I think everybody wants to be the next Youtube for VR, even Youtube wants to become Youtube 360! But I think that, the market has already decided, who’s the king there, and we don’t want to be known as a Youtube alternative. We want to be known as a tool, maybe as the next WordPress for VR. From the viewpoint of a marketing position, we’re not working directly against Vrideo, LittlStar or Youtube360, because they are serving B2C customers. YouTube already covered that area. And the same is happening with VR, you have all these companies that are trying to take over the B2C market, to become the next Facebook … This is not what we want. We want to be more focused to B2B area. We want to have B2B companies to work with us because we can deliver better experience for them. We want to be a tool for them.
D- If you take Youtube for example, you upload your video there and that’s it. What we want to do is, to have several 360 videos, tie them together into one storyboard with alternate paths, and then use the hotspots for your marketing campaign. A bit like Mailchimp does with drip e-mail marketing campaigns. We are creating completely our own category and for now, the Editor is the ace up our sleeve.
A- Well guys, good luck with your projects, it seems like you’re doing a great job so I’m not worried and I already can’t wait to discover the Viar360 Editor this summer!
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