Facebook virtual reality content production unit, Oculus’ Story Studio, is shutting down as the company shifts focus to supporting external content makers, two years after the in-house studio launched. Oculus, which makes virtual reality headsets Rift and Gear VR, will allocate $50m to directly fund creators of non-gaming VR content, vice-president Jason Rubin said in a blog post. Rubin added that Oculus is “still absolutely committed to growing the VR film and creative content ecosystem.”
Facebook paid $3bn to acquire Oculus and retain its employees in 2014. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said he believed the medium that offers a 360-degree panoramic view using headsets “will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” Oculus tapped talent from both Oscar-winning animation company Pixar and the video gaming world to head up Story Studio, which it launched in January 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Facebook’s VR ambitions have been threatened by a lawsuit from video game publisher ZeniMax Media Inc accusing Facebook and Oculus of infringing ZeniMax’s copyrighted software code. A jury found in ZeniMax’s favor in February, awarding it $500m. Oculus has asked for a new trial. Vive, a unit of HTC, and Sony are also racing to bring virtual reality products to a mass audience.
Oculus, which in 2016 bought Edinburgh-based immersive audio company Two Big Ears, debuted its first short film called Lost at Sundance two years ago, a story of an animated mechanical creature in a forest. Last year, Story Studio won an Emmy for original interactive programme for its short VR film Henry, and at Sundance this year, it premiered Dear Angelica, an illustrated film of a mother and daughter. But Oculus has undergone changes in its management in the past year. Brendan Iribe stepped down as chief executive in December, saying he was going to head the PC division of the company. In March, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who created the prototype Oculus headset, parted ways with Facebook.