Washington State Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy tests out a VR headset during a meeting of the Washington House Technology & Economic Development Committee. (Photos by John Stang)
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Legislators on the Washington state House Technology & Economic Development Committee were given some first-hand experience with virtual reality this week as part of a meeting designed to get them up to speed on the burgeoning industry.
Six members of the Northwest’s virtual reality community briefed the House committee on the topic as a general background lesson — mostly to make legislators aware of the subject as related issues surface. No specific bills are being sought or proposed.
Startup and industry representatives who testified before the committee speculated that as many as 450 virtual reality ventures exist in the Pacific Northwest, when small projects within parent corporations are included. Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group has talked with roughly 50 virtual reality startups in the past six to nine months alone.
Nationwide, $1.79 billion was invested in virtual reality-related startups in 2016, compared to $331 million invested in 2015, according to the New York Times.
Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma.
“This sector has gotten to this point sort of organically,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, and chairman of the House technology committee.
The technology is a work in progress, still facing some video quality and resolution challenges, according to the testimony. A recent New York Times story speculated that virtual reality is now going through the so-called “trough of disillusionment” in which a new technology’s initial excessive hype hits the disappointing reality of actually getting it to work in the real world before beginning a gradual climb to widespread public use and acceptance.
Those who testified drew a picture of lots of virtual reality technology projects in the works around the Seattle region. But they said content to play in the headsets is lagging behind the actual development of the headsets.
Virtual reality stories — plus features for planning and medical applications — need to appeal to regular people beyond hardcore gamers and early adopters in order to become financially viable, said Mischa Jakupcak, joint CEO of Mechanical Dreams VR. “There is a hunger and a need for content,” she said.
“It’s very expensive and time-consuming to create VR video,” said Julia Fryett, marketing and community development director for Seattle VR startup Pixvana. Roughly a month ago, Pixvana released Spin Studio, a cloud-based platform for VR storytelling and delivery.
There is no NBC of VR yet. There is no Netflix of VR yet.
Another challenge, according to the testimony: there is no central clearinghouse for providing VR stories to headset owners. “There is no NBC of VR yet. There is no Netflix of VR yet,” said Sandy Cioffi, executive director of Mad Eye Media and Fearless 360.
The other three people who testified were Amy Lillard of Washington Filmworks, Elizabeth Scallon of the University of Washington’s CoMotion Labs and Karen Olson, chief marketing officer of the Space Needle.
The six stressed that the Northwest’s virtual reality firms cross the entire technology and content spectrums — needing to complement and support each other in order to grow the industry in the region.