Why early investment is crucial for the success of the UK’s virtual reality sector, according to Dimension Studios’ Simon Windsor

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“So often we’re saying to investors ‘we think we’ve got a hit on our hands – we believe in this and you should too’ but if you’re a young company without a pedigree behind you, it’s far more difficult to convince people,” says Simon Windsor, co-founder and joint Managing Director of Dimension Studios. “This is where Creative England is really great in helping younger companies get a leg up.” Formerly Hammerhead VR, creatives Dimension specialise in making landscapes, characters and worlds in the fertile arena of virtual and augmented reality. Formed back in 2014, these VR experts have seen rapid growth in recent years thanks to a series of successful investment rounds. They’ve partnered with world-leaders like Microsoft and Nikon and developed bespoke work that has disrupted the world of cinema. Their success is a testament to the strength and potential of this exciting new sector but according to Windsor, having early supporters in their corner certainly helped.

“Whether it’s investing in short films, games or emerging technologies like virtual reality, Creative England was very supportive of our ambitions at a time where other investors were more cautious,” explains Windsor. “We raised money in the form of a Creative England business loan to help accelerate the production of an IP we have in development called Abe.” Based on an existing idea from filmmaker Rob McLellan, Dimension took this futuristic short and translated it into a brand new VR product. “Back in 2016, we developed one of the first short films in the Unreal Engine which brought Abe’s story to life as a VR experience. It was the first VR experience to be officially certified by the British Board of Film Classification” he says, detailing Abe’s jump from short film to immersive content. “We were experimenting with virtual reality storytelling and the next step was to take that IP to its next iteration. Creative England invested in the work we’re doing now.”

Specialising in shaping the future of entertainment, pushing the boundaries of virtual and augmented reality and making their products accessible to the wider sector, Dimension has long had an eye on a lucrative future which wasn’t always clear to potential backers. “The market was young and technologies like headsets were still in their early stages,” admits Windsor, recalling the VR sector before they started fundraising. “The concept was still growing. There were lots of factors that needed to be considered for consumers to access the content and enjoy it in the right fashion.” Securing investment at this uncertain time was key for the company to access their full potential. “Creative England’s loans were invaluable for us to create new IP at a time when we were growing and had rising costs,” he adds. “It ensured we could continue to invest in our own IP at a time where we were primarily a services business reliant on commercial revenues”

With grassroot support catalysing their productivity, high-profile collaborations soon followed with the aim of making the sector universally used by companies and understood by potential investors. “We’ve always tried to push VR and create more believable three dimensional worlds and the next wave of that is how we interact with content – not just from an entertainment perspective in how you might play a game or immerse yourself in a movie – but also how we train, learn and connect with people,” reveals Windsor, detailing Dimension’s goals when it comes to working with partners Microsoft and Nikon. “We’ve partnered with companies who are also doing cool stuff in this space and that helps us accelerate our content creation capabilities, production techniques and solutions that help give our audience, customers or production companies the tools to push the boundaries themselves.” It’s a team-up that benefits everyone: “Having someone like Microsoft as a partner enables us to ensure we’re continuously pushing the art and there’s a roadmap for development.”

Thanks to Dimension’s progress, the VR sector has never been more investable – and it’s showing massive returns. “The market is much more mature,” says Windsor. “We’re seeing the widespread adoption of headsets at a lower price point, like the Oculus Quest, and the creation of really compelling content and game experiences which are performing really well in the market.” It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing: “There’s multiple hits that are achieving really respectable revenues,” continues Windsor. “The market seems to be growing in the right direction so raising money for original content isn’t such a challenge now that there are more proof points.” For potential investors, it’s an alluring prospect. “A number of studios have a solid reputation for producing really compelling content – and they’re producing multiple titles that are performing well – so it’s not one hit wonders,” he assures. “The potential is there.”

For young companies looking to follow in Dimension’s footsteps, Windsor has some tips on how to successfully sell your product to potential backers. “It’s the old adage: have something great to show,” he tells us. “It’s pretty standard across the games industry that if you’re pitching for funds you need to have a compelling demo of what you’re trying to create. Bring the vision to life,” suggests Windsor. “In the case of games and virtual reality experiences – give your investor a taste of what it’s all about and how exciting it’s going to be. Having a pitch deck to support that with visuals and videos is great – but ultimately you have to back that up and provide evidence that you and your team are working on something you’re excited about. Here it is, you can test it and see that we’re actually doing this and it’s not just conceptual,” he says. “In the games industry, there are lots of companies with lots of great ideas all seeking funding – you’ve got to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate that yours isn’t just a good idea – it’s good in practice.”

To help companies on their way, Creative England has recently re-opened applications for Creative Enterprise: Evolve, a hands-on programme that helps emerging screen businesses become investor ready. From introductions to industry experts, to bringing you face to face with potential investors, the scheme is a one-stop-shop for high-potential creatives looking to level up. It’s a support system that Windsor feels is invaluable for nurturing tomorrow’s new talent: “The UK has a fantastic heritage and pedigree in the creative services space. We’re seen as world leaders, and to retain that position, build upon it and push it forward with new mediums and ways of telling stories, we need young companies, innovative thinking and new ideas,” he reasons. “We also need people to be able to back those companies and enable their ideas to come to life – because ultimately, without lifeblood you don’t have the next generation.”

Having received similar support through Creative England, Windsor and his team are proof of the lasting power of early stage support. “By having partnerships and supportive relationships where you’re able to push the dials across multiple complementary areas which ultimately overlap – that’s where the magic is made and new possibilities are created,” says Windsor. “We’re hugely thankful to Creative England for having the vision, desire and culture to support nascent creative companies. They play a vital role in being able to support creative ideas, emerging talent and the brave and the fearless to actually realise their visions and take that first step or next step,” he smiles. “That’s integral in pushing the boundaries of creativity in the UK and enabling storytellers to find new formats through which to tell their stories and engage with consumers. Dimension certainly benefited from it.”

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