This March has proven to be a major month for virtual reality entertainment, with multiple experiences launched to engage audiences and expand related brands. The new wave shows film and TV brands deepening their VR approach.

A quick recap:

  • Earlier this month, Nickelodeon launched the SlimeZone multiplayer VR experience at select IMAX VR Centres across the US as part of a broader effort to engage families with its television shows, which is crucial at a time when more kids are turning to YouTube, Netflix and other online platforms for entertainment.
  • Arcturus Studios, the first incubated company to come out of the DMG VR umbrella, launched its debut game, The Way of Kings: Escape the Shattered Plains on Steam. DMG Entertainment, the Hollywood studio behind Iron Man 3, expanded into the VR development last year with the goal of creating interactive narrative experiences based on its IP licenses.
  • While not yet officially launched, VR game studio Survios announced it is making Creed: Rise to Glory for MGM. The game is being demoed it at the Games Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco this month using stations made to look like boxing rings.

Reasons for developing VR content are as varied as the experiences themselves. For Survios, it was to solve a technical challenge of creating a realistic boxing game that’s wrapped in the Creed universe.

“What sets us apart [from other boxing games] is the Hollywood spectacle,” explained Survios VP of marketing Michael Domaguing, speaking with AListDaily. “When you look around in the headset, you’ll see 10 million fans cheering you on, shouting your name, giving you the feeling of what it’s like to be a fight champion.”

Similarly, Chris Young, SVP at Nickelodeon’s Entertainment Lab, said that SlimeZone started as a tech exploration of cooperative network play that grew into a multiplayer slime arena where players can dress as their favorite cartoon characters. Offered exclusively as a location-based experience, SlimeZone lets attendees play games, watch cartoons and create art together in VR featuring shows such as The Loud House and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Arcturus wants VR to be seen as more than a marketing tool, but Escape the Shattered Plains was originally conceived as a means to pitch the movie to production studios.

“It seemed to us that it couldn’t just be a character experience or a way to look around the environment,” said Piotr Uzarowicz, marketing director at Arcturus Studios. “As we developed it, we realized it was much bigger than a pitch tool. There was a lot more here that we desperately wanted to show fans.”

Escape the Shattered Plains is designed to be a standalone experience, created in coordination with author Brandon Sanderson and Chris Cowles, creative producer for the film adaptation, to ensure the look and feel of the VR experience matches that of the book and movie. It showcases the fantasy world, introduces key characters and lets users cast spells while fighting off enemies.

But unlike Survios and Nickelodeon, Arcturus doesn’t regard Escape the Shattered Plains as a VR game, even though it has distinct gameplay elements. In fact, DMG separates virtual reality from its film and gaming divisions, treating VR as a new medium that can enhance engagement with a brand.

“Our goal with this piece was to show that narrative and interactivity can merge in this new medium, and that film tie-ins in VR can be more than a marketing gimmick,” said a DMG Entertainment spokesperson. “VR provides an opportunity to create a new entertainment format, and this new medium works in conjunction with film and game productions, allowing us to expand the universe of entertainment.

“We believe that in the expansive world of entertainment, each medium—TV, film, VR and others—work in conjunction to develop different viewpoints and moments within the larger universe. This cross-platform approach increases the depth of the world and allows fans to experience it in the medium they most enjoy.”

However, having a new category of entertainment is distinction that is likely lost on Steam users who primarily come to the digital platform to purchase PC games. To that end, Survios wants Rise to Glory to be seen primarily as a quality VR, and it believes a positive reception by gamers will elevate the Creed franchise as a whole.

“For marketing purposes, I think it’s important to create a solid product,” said Domaguing. “That enhances the authenticity and the brand that it’s associated with.”

Although both Escape the Shattered Plains and Rise to Glory will both be commercially available, the developers are presenting their experiences at public venues to give fans a chance to try them out, take videos and spread awareness of VR through word-of-mouth.

“Trial is an important piece when it comes to getting people to understand and experience VR,” said Domaguing. “We do everything we can to get everyone through it, understand it and then evangelize for us.”