Frontline Marketing

VC And ‘FarmVille’ Creator Says VR Needs ‘Constant Reinvention’

By | August 30, 2017 |

Do you recall the glory days of Facebook when friends and family gathered on the social media platform to hoe and plough each other’s harvest on FarmVille? Now all they seemingly do is proliferate fake news, but that’s a big bag of manure we won’t unpack in this field.

Amitt Mahajan, the co-creator of FarmVille and formerly the chief technology officer and director of engineering for Zynga, has moved on to greener pastures since creating the game that swept social and mobile platforms by storm.

He exited his post from the video game developer in 2011 and founded Toro before selling the automated mobile app marketing company to Google.

Mahajan then quickly transitioned into being a serial technology entrepreneur and investor. He founded Presence Capital, a venture capital firm focused on the verticals of virtual and augmented reality start-ups, in 2015 with an inaugural fund of $10 million.

He is now a managing partner of the San Francisco-based VC, and has already invested in 35 companies that are bringing new experiences of communicating, working and playing in the VR and AR markets, including Baobab, STRIVR, Harmonix, TheWaveVR, Bigscreen, Resolution Games, Scope AR, and others.

He joined AListDaily for a video interview to offer his thoughts on what makes virtual reality an enticing industry.

Amitt Mahajan

On the VR experiences his venture capital fund is most excited about . . .

“At Presence Capital, we look at a lot of different areas of VR investment. The ones that we’re really excited about are things that use VR to solve problems for businesses. We have traditionally done a lot of work in content. But one of the things we’ve been looking at a lot more recently this year is using VR for training for situational awareness. We invested in STRIVR, which came out of Stanford, and they basically focused on building simulations for quarterbacks and sports professionals. They’re using that to essentially replace more expensive training. But as you can imagine, that same form of technology can be used to solve problems in the corporate world as well. We’re really excited about VR being used for things like that.”

On how VR will influence marketing and advertising . . .

“The way I think VR is going to impact the future of marketing, and potentially brand advertising, is that it allows you to take a small space and turn it into an unlimited show room. Amazon is famously called ‘the everything store’ and that’s because they have a virtual storefront and they’re not limited by space. They can hold any amount of anything. You can imagine that VR allows that same possibility to exist for people who are selling goods. I think there is an opportunity there. On the other side of it, I think there’s this idea of being able to put people into situations, where you get to experience what it’s like to use a product without actually having to go and experience it. Brands could control the way that experience works because they’ve built the VR experience.”

On the marketing challenges of VR . . .

“I think that there are a couple of things that will be a problem. First, it’s the availability of the headsets. They are pretty big set-ups now. They’re not really easy, even if you have the Samsung Gear VR; it’s kind of hard to use. Then getting a lot of people [to experience it] is pretty difficult as well—even if you have an on-location event. You have to clean it, there are just a lot of logistical issues in physicality getting the VR devices into people’s hands. I think that problem will be solved. I think eventually we’ll have VR headsets or glasses and everyone will be able to get around to that eventually.”

On how VR can offer better social experiences . . .

“Social for VR is going to be really important. It’s a topic I think about a lot—what the future of VR is going to look like when you incorporate all of the social stuff Facebook announced at F8 this year. I don’t think we have yet seen the final form of social VR. I think we’re just in the nascent stages. A lot of it’s built for PC or console VR, which is not very distributed yet. I think there’s going to be a future where we all have VR on our phones by default, and we tend to use it. But there’s a couple of interesting things that Facebook did that, if I were a developer or someone that wants to potentially be on top of VR as a platform, I would pay attention to. The first is that they have backward compatibility. Not a lot of people have thought about social that way. Facebook has been a lot more conservative about how much distribution they give their new app platforms. But given how important this is for them, I think they’ll probably be a little more open. It could be a potential way of getting a lot of users really quickly for folks that build on it early.”

On VR sustaining long-term growth . . .

“VR is new and it’s shiny and it is kind of exciting, so people are pretty eager to try it, and that’s great in the short term. But I think in the long term, just with web advertising or with social games or mobile games—or any of the stuff that’s come before—after a while the newness kind of wears off. Then you have to basically find something that’s compelling and interesting. You have to do the hard work of creating compelling narratives and stories. Folks that are doing that right now are building up a lot of that knowledge and expertise. In the future, when it’s a lot more competitive to actually get people’s attention, they’re going to have the expertise to create compelling experiences to make that happen. Just like on the web, you’re going to have to stay on top of new developments and new tricks. It’s a constant reinvention. What worked for web advertising when it started is very different than what works today. Just like any other media, it’s a continuous education process and a continuous reinvention process to stay relevant and actually use the medium to its fullest.”