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Winnipeg Companies Creating New (Virtual) Realities

Until recently virtual reality has always been the stuff of episodes of Star Trek and movies like Dark City and The Matrix, but for a handful of Winnipeg-based companies, it doesn’t just represent current opportunities, but unlimited future potential.

The buzz around virtual reality (VR) has been building in tech communities since 2012, when the American virtual reality development company OculusVR announced that they would be launching a Kickstarter campaign which raised $2,437,429 and gave away development kits to backers. Since then, developers and VR enthusiasts have been furiously developing exciting and immersive experiences using this new and quickly-changing technology.

“Virtual Reality is more than just a new technology, it’s a whole new medium” says Lesley Klassen, Chief Innovation Officer at The Campfire Union “like any new medium, virtual reality is opening up a whole new set of possibilities that we’ve only just begun to explore.”

Campfire have developed a variety of VR experiences, including a virtual relaxation app called Yana, which is available on the Oculus Store, and whose most recent project has been the development of a VR version of the popular tabletop game, Lost Cities, which landed them an interview with VICE’s Motherboard.

It might seem like shooter-style video games would be an immediate go-to for VR developers, Klassen says that there are more possibilities in VR, and more ways to effect positive change:

“Virtual Reality is a chance to solve some problems that technology hasn’t been good at in the past, solving more human problems, and increasing both our physical interaction with computers as well as connecting people together in more meaningful ways” says Klassen.

Devin Reimer, Chief Technical Owl at Owlchemy Labs, likens the potential of virtual reality to that of mobile phones “it will be disruptive in ways people can’t even imagine. People should be interested because this will not only change every industry, but change the way people live their lives.”

Owlchemy have been pushing the envelope since the early days of VR, developing the extremely popular title Aaaaa! for the Awesome! which was one of the first and most-downloaded games on Steam, speaking at festivals and tech conferences like SXSW, PAX East, and Steam Dev Days, to name a few. Most recently the team at Owlchemy have been working with Valve to develop original content for their hardware collaboration with HTC, the Vive and Valve’s SteamVR store.

The new hardware goes beyond just a VR headset and allows users to experience a fully physical, immersive 360° room-scale VR experience, and earlier this year Owlchemy began development of Job Simulator: the 2050 Archives, a cartoony experience where users prepare food for a robot in the future.

The ability to use a headset and controllers is one of the most promising things in VR, says Dylan Fries, Director of Interactive Media at Electric Monk Media. “VR is creating an ecosystem for input controllers to catch up with current technology” he says “hand sensors are hard to use when you’re looking at a 2D screen, but when you put on a VR headset suddenly the controllers, and what you’re doing with them, make a lot more sense. It becomes a fully immersive experience.”

Fries also believes that this new form of media is a boon for Winnipeg-based companies, because developing for VR doesn’t depend on your geographic location. “We can develop and and connect with anyone, anywhere” he says excitedly “which means that the work that we do can reach many more people than before, and reduces our disadvantage to certain markets.”

Electric Monk Media is using VR to accentuate what would normally be a passive experience: “The Great Grey Owl Experience” is an accompanying piece to the documentary “The Private Lives of Wild Creatures” which will allow users to get up close with Great Grey Owls, which are extremely magnificent birds but are difficult to find in the wild.

Lesley Klassen agrees that VR has the potential to change the way we live our lives, stating “VR will disrupt and change pretty much every industry, from engineering, to medical, to training. It is a very exciting time and we are very thrilled to be at the forefront of this upcoming tech shift.”

Has your company made use of virtual reality technology yet? Tell us your story and we’ll feature you in an upcoming article.

Alyson Shane

Alyson is a Winnipeg writer, content marketer and social media manager. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric & Communications from the University of Winnipeg and runs her own business providing businesses and individuals with their copywriting, content marketing strategy and social media needs. She lives and breathes digital culture and has been nicknamed the "Queen of the Internet" by her Twitter followers. When not online she can be found gardening, riding her bike or sipping fancy coffee.

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