Virtual reality is still a niche hobby, but a small British startup is one of the first-movers in building games for the emerging medium.
Curiscope is a 10-person, Brighton-based startup which raised $1 million (£748,000) in seed funding from LocalGlobe in October. It has just released its second VR experience, “Operation Apex”, for the HTC Vive.
The game was produced in partnership with HTC’s Vive Studios, a subsidiary which publishes longer games for the Vive in-house or with partners.
Curiscope hasn’t disclosed how much it was paid to develop the game, but chief executive Ed Barton said “Operation Apex” was more than a year in development.
The new game builds on Curiscope’s first VR hit from 2016, “Great White Sharks”, a 360-degree YouTube video where viewers watch great white sharks circling around them. The video has racked up 26 million views to date, making it one of the most popular 360-degree videos on the platform.
“When we launched on YouTube two years ago, we wanted to do something like [‘Operation Apex’],” Barton told Business Insider.
The original concept was inspired by news stories in January 2016 about a great white shark dying after it was kept in an acquarium for three days. “We were like, ‘Why not teach people about the wonders of the ocean without capturing a great white shark and killing it?'” said Barton.
Google spotted Curiscope’s original YouTube video, and featured “Great White Sharks” at its I/0 conference in 2016, ahead of the release of its DayDream VR headset. That publicity helped put Curiscope on HTC’s radar, leading to the longer “Operation Apex.”
The new game costs £15.49 from the Steam store or HTC’s equivalent Viveport, and will be available on the Oculus Rift in 2018. Unlike its predecessor, “Operation Apex” is an interactive game that requires using the Vive’s controllers. Players take a deep dive into the ocean as part of a research rig, in search for great white sharks. As with all of Curiscope’s products, there’s an educational twist. In this case, the game was produced with research and conservation organisation Oceans Research.
Barton said the aim was not to be “preachy” but to teach people about conservation and the environment in an entertaining way. All in all, he said, the game should take about two hours to complete.
The future of VR is still uncertain. Sony announced in November it had sold 2 million PlayStation VR headsets, but shipments of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive remain in the hundreds of thousands, according to estimates.
Barton acknowledged VR is “not super mainstream”, but explained it was still more engaging and interesting than mobile gaming, despite the relative ease of scaling on mobile. “It might not be mobile-level in scale, I think it’s something completely different,” he said. “It’s people willing to spend more money on creative they like, you can do new and different stuff. You’re not in this hugely saturated, highly strung environment.”