Vrse, the company behind some of the best-known virtual reality video, is dropping the "VR" moniker. Today, it announced a $12.56 million fundraising round and a new name: Within. With the change, it’s also planning to expand its scope beyond the documentary work that it’s primarily known for today, experimenting with fiction, interactivity, and other new elements.
Vrse (and its sister company Vrse.works, a production house) is one of the biggest names in virtual reality filmmaking. Vrse.works partnered with The New York Times on its first major piece of virtual reality journalism, a short film called The Displaced — which launched alongside a massive campaign to ship Google Cardboard to Times subscribers. It's also behind the award-winning Clouds over Sidra, as well as ebola mini-documentary Waves of Grace, produced with the United Nations. These can be viewed through Vrse's app, which is already available on iOS, Android, and Gear VR. As "Within," it will be launching on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift today, with support for PlayStation VR coming after the headset's release.
The name change is partly practical — "Vrse" was confusing to pronounce — and partly an effort to move away from a specific technical label that had begun to feel too much like a buzzword. "What we're talking about is something more like immersive storytelling," says co-founder and CTO Aaron Koblin. "It feels like there's tons of companies with the letters ‘VR.’" The Vrse app already lets people watch video without a headset, but Within’s more general name makes it even easier to work in formats that don't fit the current label, or to distance itself from the term "virtual reality" if the current wave of it doesn't do well. "Tying our brand to virtual reality, a phrase we may not even use in ten years, seems inadvisable," explains CEO Chris Milk in a post on Medium.
So far, Within isn’t revealing specific future projects. Koblin says the company will continue to release non-fiction work, but that it’s also looking at live-action narrative shorts, as well as computer-animated pieces. There are "a few directors that we’re very excited about working with," but he also wants to draw talent from the art world and other creative areas.
Like Vrse (and Vrse.works, which will retain its old name), Within won't be focused on work that’s much longer than the current 5- to 10-minute experiences. "The comfortable headsets are out there, I would say, but there's not as many out there as we might like to see," says Koblin, noting that bare-bones Google Cardboard headsets are still the way most people can get access to VR. "I'm optimistic that the [Google] Daydream stuff in a year or two is going to start pulling the duration a little longer."
As for the new name, it's still a reference to the medium of VR. "The stories of tomorrow will be fully immersive. The medium, the place where those stories will unfold, exists within our consciousness," says Milk. "We'll carry the memory of those stories not as content that we once consumed, but as times and spaces we existed within."