Oculus is closing Story Studio, the in-house virtual reality film studio known for producing the Emmy Award-winning short Henry alongside other pieces. In a statement, Oculus VP of content Jason Rubin explained that the Facebook-owned company was shifting its focus to funding outside creators, putting $50 million toward artists making non-gaming “experiential” VR. Oculus will also provide resources like tutorials, development best practices, and networking opportunities.
“We're still absolutely committed to growing the VR film and creative content ecosystem,” wrote Rubin. However, “now that a large community of filmmakers and developers are committed to the narrative VR art form, we're going to focus on funding and supporting their content.” An Oculus spokesperson said that some of these experiences could be released through Oculus Studios, which currently publishes major VR games like Rock Band VR and Robo Recall. The two-year, $50 million pledge is supposed to be a minimum figure; it will be drawn from an existing $250 million fund that currently supports both games and films.
The spokesperson says that members of Story Studio’s core team may either transition to new roles in Oculus or leave for other creative pursuits. Oculus will maintain Quill, the VR illustration tool Story Studio created for its latest (and, apparently, last) film Dear Angelica. But it doesn’t sound like there will be further development, and it’s not clear whether Oculus will continue its work with artists who used Quill to develop virtual reality comics.
Story Studio opened in early 2015, and it’s produced a total of three short films: its debut Lost, the followup Henry, and Dear Angelica. All three were critically praised, and they remain some of the best-known pieces of virtual reality cinema — which makes it unclear whether the industry is actually mature enough to fill the gap Story Studio will leave. However, Rubin wrote that closing Story Studio was “the best way to allocate our resources to create an impact on the ecosystem.”
The spokesperson said that this move was not directly related to last year’s reorganization of Oculus, which saw former CEO Brendan Iribe step down to lead a high-end PC-based virtual reality division. Combined with the recent news that Oculus will not have a booth at this year’s E3 gaming show, though, it does raise questions about how large a role Oculus will play in future VR entertainment — as opposed to the social virtual reality that Facebook seems more enamored of.