In February 2018, the company opened a VR arcade in Torrance to give consumers a chance to explore the technology without having to purchase a full set of hardware.
Survios decided to close the arcade during the fourth quarter last year to focus on home-based VR games — a fortuitous move, considering that Covid-19 would arrive a few months later.
TQ Jefferson, chief product officer at Survios, said the pandemic has driven up demand for the company’s offerings.
“Home entertainment allows us to create longer-form experiences — bigger worlds that users can engage in for extended lengths of time, whereas with location-
based entertainment or an arcade, you are designing against a very limited amount of time, maybe 10 to 15 minutes,” he said.
Survios is just one of many companies developing virtual reality and augmented reality programs in Los Angeles, which has become a major player in the industry thanks to its extensive tech and entertainment talent.
“People that know how to build (content) in three dimensions have been doing it for decades in the visual effects industry in Hollywood — and in the gaming industry that sits in Los Angeles,” said Jacob Mullins, a partner at Shasta Ventures.
Businesses dotting the VR/AR landscape around Los Angeles include Santa Monica-
based Snap Inc., one of the most successful adopters of AR technology.
There’s also Culver City-based Dreamscape Immersive Inc., which specializes in location-based VR experiences, and Culver City-based Within Unlimited Inc., which has a portfolio of products — including VR fitness services and an AR storytelling and interactive app for kids. And there are multiple VR game developers, such as Venice-based Wevr Inc.
Several local companies, including Survios, Venice-based Camera IQ Inc. and Culver City-based Talespin Reality Labs Inc., have managed to secure new funding during the pandemic.
A turning point
While AR and VR investment has been limited for the past five years, 2020 could be a turning point, according to Mullins.
“Investments have been slow because there have not been a lot of devices for virtual reality or augmented reality,” Mullins said, adding that the scaling of consumer-facing VR products is heavily dependent on the accessibility of VR hardware, such as headsets and controllers.
Facebook Inc.’s Oculus virtual reality division plays an important role in making this cutting-edge content accessible to consumers. In May, Facebook said it had sold $100 million worth of content for Oculus’ Quest VR device.
And in October, Oculus released Quest 2, a new generation VR headset. Starting at $299, it’s the lowest-priced headset in the category, which includes products by competitors such as Sony’s PlayStation.
Shasta’s Mullins said he sees these developments as signs that the industry’s technology readiness problem is easing. “I do expect funding into AR and VR companies to increase over the next two years,” he said.
Survios’ Jefferson said the rollout of VR headsets and controllers by Oculus and Sony has driven “a significant uptick in home-based entertainment that simply didn’t exist five or six years ago.”
Jefferson acknowledged that the cost is higher to consume VR games at home, compared with location-based games. He added that the company has brought its titles to non-VR platforms in an effort to draw more first-time players.
Survios still has games distributed to VR arcades in Asia where location-based VR games gained in popularity earlier than in the U.S. market.
“We’re always monitoring the market and looking to remain flexible,” said Michael Medrano, vice president of marketing at Survios.
Hollywood Hills-based Redpill VR Inc. is another company that benefits from the increasing demand for home entertainment during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Redpill creates photorealistic avatars of music artists and livestreams their performances in the virtual world where the audience can join remotely.
“You could be here in Los Angeles. Your friends could be in New York and Miami. … You can put on VR headsets and meet each other in that virtual world — interact, talk, dance, see your favorite artists and have a social music experience,” said Isaiah Martin, Redpill’s chief magic officer.
“There’s definitely been a tremendous shift in inbound interest,” Martin said, adding that Covid has driven the company’s target clients, such as nightclubs and music festival organizers, to look for digital alternatives to reach their audiences.
In addition to upgrading entertainment experiences, VR and AR have a broad range of use cases in business-to-business models.
Talespin creates VR learning modules to help companies train staff. These modules allow participants to practice in VR before being thrown into real-life situations, such as terminating an employee or responding to a bad pitch.
In addition to providing training geared toward human resources needs, Talespin’s insurance-focused modules create VR settings for participants to recognize residential construction materials and identify damage within a home, the company said.
“I think the VR and AR, or collectively immersive learning, is a new and valuable tool in learning, but it is by no means meant to replace everything that has come before it. … These learning modules are meant to accelerate and augment learning in a way that current training modalities can’t possibly accomplish,” said Stephen Fromkin, Talespin’s founder and chief content officer.
At Century City-based AppliedVR Inc., the technology is used to help treat patients. The company has developed a digital wellness platform to ease acute pain and anxiety.
The platform is a combination of the software system designed by AppliedVR and a set of hardware, including a VR headset, made by San Francisco-based Pico Interactive Inc.
There are more than 50 modules on the platform, including 360 videos and pieces of interactive content. The modules are designed to teach patients different skills to help them manage the pain, according to a company spokesperson.
In one of the modules, the patient enters a foggy forest. As the patient breathes at a smooth and even cadence, the fog eventually clears out, according to AppliedVR co-founder and Chief Executive Matthew Stoudt.
The company’s devices are being used by about 200 health centers in 10 countries. AppliedVR charges an annual subscription fee for each device.
It plans to roll out a platform that can be used by patients to treat chronic pain at home, with therapeutic modules prescribed by a doctor, a pain psychologist or a gerontologist, Stoudt said.
“Covid is really accelerating the acceptance and adoption of digital health, especially for those things that are in the home,” Stoudt said.
Another group looking for digital alternatives is advertisers as Covid has shut down in-store marketing channels. That has given Camera IQ a boost.
The company has created a platform where brands and advertisers can access a set of tools to add AR capabilities to marketing campaigns for audiences across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and Zoom.
Camera IQ’s technology has been used by beauty brands to create virtual try-on experiences. It can also be used to promote games, albums, films and TV series through what the company calls “camera marketing.”
Consumers can use AR cameras to insert their own videos into a movie scene or music video, for example, according to Allison Ferenci, Camera IQ’s co-founder and chief executive.
The company charges customers monthly or annual subscription fees to access its platform. The price depends on the number of features the customer requests.
“In traditional marketing and advertising, we’re served an ad to look at. But in AR … I’m putting myself in a music video, I am actively participating,” Ferenci said. “(The engagement) is quite impactful, because we would rather be hearing from our friends about a brand than being served a passive video or photo to look at.”