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Asia Gets up to Speed With VR

Variety logo Variety 5/31/2017 Vivienne Chow
© Provided by Variety

Picture this: you are the only male student at an all-female university and the most sought-after bachelor among some 100 model-looking female students. You are free to choose to date whoever you want. If you play your cards right, not only will you get yourself a perfect date. You might even get to share an intimate night with your dream girl.

What sounds like a heaven to many men is the plot of “Crush Academy,” a virtual reality (VR) game in-the-making developed by Hong Kong company Go VR Immersive. Starring real models and actresses and shot on location, the VR game is the company’s next ambitious move following its production of “Infernal Affairs,” a VR mini-series with Media Asia and iQiyi adapted from the iconic 2003 Hong Kong crime thriller film of the same title.

“The plot is similar to some dating games available in the market, but we will star real actresses and shoot on real locations instead of computer generated visuals. It is an immersive, interactive drama targeting a pan-Asian audience,” says Howard Tian, co-founder of Go VR Immersive, which is still in the process of raising funds for the VR game.

Go VR Immersive is not the only one that has high hopes for the future of VR in Asia. Content developers across Asia are placing their bets on VR as the source of entertainment for the next generation. Companies across Asia Pacific are racing to develop content that will please young consumers who are looking for experiences beyond the one dimensional, traditional cinema storytelling.

Industry forecasts believed that the market growth for VR in Asia, particularly in China, will be unprecedented. Market research company IDC last year estimated that by 2020, the global revenue for VR and augmented reality will reach $162 billion, compared to $5.2 billion in 2016.

A research published by the China Electronics Standardization Institute and Xinhua News Agency estimated that China’s VR market was worth just $725 million (RMB5 billion) in 2016, much of that generated from the 5,000 VR experience stores in China at the end of September 2016. IDC estimated that the VR market in China will grow more than 400% in 2017.

While global tech leaders like Google and Apple may lead the race, they are followed by Asian hardware players HTC, Samsung Electronics and Sony. Chinese companies such as Huawei, LeEco and Xiaomi are also in the chase.

“There just isn’t enough content,” said Sophie Chui, Hong Kong community director of Kaleidoscope VR, which recently held the first VR festival in Hong Kong at the end of April. “A lot of people do not understand the nature of VR. It’s not just 360-degree videos. VR involves a different kind of storytelling. It creates an environment that audience can interact with.”

The “Infernal Affairs” VR series was a four-episode VR series went online at iQIYI’s streaming video platform in China. Since December, one episode has accumulated more than 430 million views. The last episode was released at the end of April.

Sony PlayStation, which has sold 915,000 pieces of its PlayStation VR worldwide as of mid-February, is also engaging mainland Chinese content developers to produce VR games through its China Hero Project. Shanghai Oriental Pearl Culture Development has already produced two PlayStation VR games. Sony PlayStation is expected to explore the development of entertainment content with Hong Kong companies in future.

The VR trend is also growing in South Korea. Currently there are several companies specialized in VR content production, including music videos and short films. Among them, Verest will develop content aiming at a global market, while Mooovr is developing VR content for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Australian VR content developer Brett Heil set up The Pulse in Hong Kong in 2015, eyeing on the potential of the China market. He says demand for content is outstripping supply in Asia but finding investors for production of VR content remains a challenge.

“While investors are searching for yet to be proven returns on premium titles, we’ll see independent studios like ours thrive through partnerships. Once the market is proven we will see the large studios jump in,” said Heil.

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