As Facebook continues to calibrate its $2 billion investment in virtual reality pioneer Oculus, Jason Rubin — the former Naughty Dog founder turned Oculus VP of content — announced today it was “winding down” its award-winning VR animation studio Oculus Story Studio.
Two years ago, at the dawn of the modern VR revolution, Oculus launched Story Studio to prove the possibility and allure of a new art form: real-time storytelling. Story Studio created a series of cutting-edge VR shorts, including Lost, Henry, and Dear Angelica, that would inspire traditional filmmakers — and a new generation of storytellers — to invest in VR.
We’re now entering the next chapter of VR development, where new creators enter the market in anticipation of adoption and growth, and we’ve been looking at the best way to allocate our resources to create an impact on the ecosystem. After careful consideration, we’ve decided to shift our focus away from internal content creation to support more external production.
As part of that shift, we’ll be winding down Story Studio.
The Story Studio’s first project was Lost in early 2015, followed by the Emmy award-winning Henry, about a cute hedgehog having a birthday party, in 2016. Its final project, also its most ambitious, was Dear Angelica featuring actress Geena Davis. The Story Studio team created the Quill tool in the process of making the film, which it also released to the community.
“Lost, Henry, Dear Angelica, and Quill set the foundation upon which VR storytelling sits today,” Rubin said in his blog post. “The Story Studio team are pioneers in VR development, and their groundbreaking works will continue to be available on the Oculus Store.”
While Oculus is winding down its internal narrative VR team, it remains interested in supporting external development. “We’re going to carve out $50M from that [$250 million] financial commitment to exclusively fund non-gaming, experiential VR content,” Rubin said. “This money will go directly to artists to help jumpstart the most innovative and groundbreaking VR ideas.”
After acquiring Oculus in early 2014 and launching the Oculus Rift in early 2016, Facebook has begun to exert some corporate influence over the one-time startup. CEO Brendan Iribe was demoted to heading up PC VR development in December, while co-founder Palmer Luckey left the company in March, following controversy over donations to a pro-Trump group. In February, a Dallas, Texas jury awarded half a billion dollars to video game publisher ZeniMax after finding that Luckey, and by extension Oculus, failed to comply with a non-disclosure agreement he signed.
While the Story Studio may be closed, Variety reports that the “studio’s 50 staffers are encouraged to apply for new jobs within Oculus,” though “all ongoing projects of the studio are being cancelled.”