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If the world of virtual-reality filmmaking has a big future, it won’t be developed within one major company’s offices: Oculus.
The Facebook-owned VR company announced late Thursday that its internal Oculus Story Studio, dedicated to producing short films for viewing within an Oculus Rift headset, has been shut down, effective immediately. Oculus VP of content Jason Rubin confirmed the news in a company blog post. He said that Oculus would shift its resources to “funding and supporting” projects by a growing crowd of unaffiliated filmmakers and design studios.
“In the same way we invested in the third-party game developers who made the incredible content lineups for Rift and Gear VR, we’re going to allocate more resources to third-party creatives to build out the VR storytelling library,” Rubin writes. That sentence spells out a strategy of buying up and securing exclusive rights to other studios’ VR story projects—which will surely ruffle feathers and inspire more rogue installations of compatibility-opening software such as Revive.
“virtual reality comic books” under the moniker Talking With Ghosts. These were slated for public release later this year, but with Story Studio’s sudden closure and no mention of the project in Rubin’s farewell address, Ghosts may well be toast.
Additionally, Variety alleges that “all ongoing projects of the studio are being cancelled” and that the 50 staffers from the Oculus Story team have been encouraged to apply for other jobs within the rest of Oculus. We have reached out to Facebook with questions about those details and will update this report with any response.
From a financial sense, Oculus has less incentive to dedicate an entire staff group to short films, especially now that film festivals tend to be full of amazing VR submissions from independent studios. That being said, a cursory glance at the VR stations at film festivals such as Tribeca and SXSW usually revolve around either cheaper and simpler 360-degree video demos on Google Cardboard or more elaborate and movement-friendly projects on the HTC Vive. Oculus may be shoring up “exclusivity” money to make sure Oculus headsets appear in more of these demos, but it will come at the cost of its former zany-idea incubator.