There are lots of reasons why, as a publisher, it makes sense to commission a VR project right now. Not only do VR projects tend to attract a lot of press attention, the new medium holds heaps of creative opportunity. However, in this month’s column, I’m not going to explore why or how publishers should make VR. I want to map out the reasons for simply educating yourself about it. Because whether or not you are making it now, or are going to make it in the future, there are lots of reasons why you should find your nearest VR headset and simply experience it.
A whole new creative medium is flourishing - and here’s why you should engage.
1. Think you understand story? Think again!
You work in publishing, and story is your bread and butter, so of course you understand it, right? The thing is, because VR is about presence and simulation rather than representation, it opens up all sorts of questions about what a narrative can, and should be. Do enough VR and you might find yourself re-evaluating what a ‘story’ even is.
As I’ve explored in my previous column, VR is particularly good at ‘storydoing’ rather than ‘storytelling’. In a good VR experience, the audience gets the illusion of experiencing things directly, rather than through a conduit storyteller. In this way, VR is a bit like immersive theatre or an escape-room experience.
If you want to get to grips with what makes a great story, it helps to understand the entire breadth of what a ‘story’ can be. Getting a sense of the full story spectrum could inspire you. It might also help you identify books’ sweet spot: what do they do so well that no other medium can do.
2. Publishers are in an advantageous position to make VR
If you work with a particularly well known author, you’re in a good position to make VR with them. Because it is so new, what VR lacks right now is many well-known names attached to it that audiences are drawn towards. This advantage is applicable across all genres, from popular fiction to reference to poetry.
Imagine if one of the great philosophers of our day made a VR experience to peruse life’s big questions? Or if a playwright you work with could write a play specially for VR rather than the stage? I am not saying you should commission this sort of VR project right now. However, if you aren’t engaged with the medium and don’t have a frame of reference, then how will you spot potentially lucrative VR opportunities when they do come about?
3. Other publishers are releasing VR projects already: keep abreast of these developments
The industry you work in is already changing; in the past couple of years a range of publishers have already gone for it and released successful VR projects. DK, for example, have partnered with pioneering startup Curiscope and released All About Virtual Reality. The book, aimed at older kids, comes with a free Google Cardboard and five different short VR experiences, ranging from being face-to-face with a T-Rex to discovering the inside of a volcano. The physical book gives a potted history of virtual reality and helps children begin to engage with it critically.
Another publisher that has invested in VR is Lonely Planet, which has commissioned a range of gorgeous 360 videos from around the world. In the non-book world of publishing, many major broadsheet newspapers now regularly release their own VR content: The Guardian, the Financial Times and The New York Times, to name but a few. My advice to you is to keep an eye out for upcoming VR projects from publishers. When something comes out, don’t just talk about it and share the link around; find a headset and do the experience as soon as you can.
4. Like television, theatre, film, books and radio, VR will become a normal part of our shared culture
On both a personal and professional level, why not get ahead and build up your digital literacy around this new medium while it’s still evolving?